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Global health student plans career of service in native Zimbabwe

ASU undergrad Charity Bhebhe
November 04, 2014

Before leaving Zimbabwe to study at Arizona State University, Charity Bhebhe had already made a positive impact on her community by volunteering in children’s homes and selling baked goods to fund sending disadvantaged kids to school.

That spirit of giving and leadership, and an impressive academic record, landed her at ASU as a MasterCard Foundation Scholar in the undergraduate global health program.

Bhebhe – who is especially concerned with children’s welfare – has witnessed first-hand the need for well-rounded health professionals and improved health care systems.

Though she was raised and schooled in cosmopolitan Bulawayo, she was born in the nearby town of Plumtree. This developing community claims a single clinic – a small facility with no electricity and few supplies – where patients wait long hours for insufficient care.

One of Bhebhe’s ultimate goals is to change this situation by opening and overseeing a more modern and effective health clinic.

A global view

Through her introductory global health class, taught by epidemiologist Megan Jehn, Bhebhe is discovering that Plumtree is like many other communities in the world facing complex health challenges with no easy solutions.

As part of her program, she is exploring the biological, cultural, environmental and societal roots of pressing health issues, and learning how to address them in a holistic way. Bhebhe understands that behind each global health need is a story with many chapters. She is dedicated to deciphering the story of Plumtree’s health care system so that she can bring lasting change to it.

Jehn, an associate professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, enjoys having Bhebhe in her class. She says, “Charity is a very thoughtful, engaged and bright-eyed student who is clearly passionate about global health.”

Though Zimbabwe is where her heart is, the entire world is within Bhebhe’s scope of concern and interest. She wants to travel broadly and learn about other cultures and their unique – and shared – health crises in a hands-on fashion. Already she has decided how to fulfill her program’s study abroad requirement: an internship program that will involve promoting HIV/AIDS awareness among youth in India.

Bhebhe welcomes the opportunity to take on extra learning opportunities. As a first-generation scholar, she is grateful and determined to succeed.

“I am excited to do what no one in my family has done before, and I plan to make the most of my options and time at ASU,” she explains.

A new way of life

Getting used to Arizona and campus life has been challenging for Bhebhe. The transition started with her arrival at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport on one of the hottest days of the year. It was a huge climate departure from Zimbabwe, where the temperature peaks around 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

“People had warned me about that, but I went from the plane into the airport and thought, ‘This is not bad.’ Then I walked outside,” Bhebhe says with a laugh. “I could not believe how hot it was!”

While living in a dorm is not much different from the boarding school situation she experienced for the last six years, Bhebhe understandably feels the distance between her and her mother and two sisters. She is also having a hard time finding food that she enjoys, and misses the traditional maize porridge with vegetables commonly served in her homeland.

But Bhebhe has a natural optimism and keeps herself busy with studies and a variety of interests. She is an avid reader, who especially likes suspenseful and action-packed novels. Music is another diversion, and she appreciates everything from country to R&B. She names Katy Perry as a favorite.

In the short term, Bhebhe looks forward to seeing snow this winter in northern Arizona and spending the holidays with her host family in Scottsdale.

In the long run, she is excited about reuniting with her family and putting her education to work in Zimbabwe. She intends to pursue a graduate degree, and is weighing her options for studying here or at home.

In the meantime, she continues to focus on health and service to others. Bhebhe has volunteered to assist with a research project for the Refugee Women’s Health Clinic. She says it is “one way I can give back to my local community here in Arizona.”