Renée Vongai Mutare (SFS’24) was born and raised in the city of Gweru, a vibrant farming and business community in the heart of Zimbabwe. Gweru is home to several colleges and universities, earning it the moniker “City of Progress.” It’s also where Renée, as a young Black woman, has dedicated her efforts to raising awareness for a host of issues in her community. Leaving home for the first time to start her college career at GU-Q, Renée hopes to connect global solutions to local problems, and gain the skills and experience she will need to continue fighting for the issues she cares about.
Renée learned the lessons of compassion and empathy for others from her first teachers, her parents. “My mom is a nurse, and growing up, she would take me to work with her and we would spend a lot of time with children with developmental disabilities, abandoned at the hospital by families unsure of how to care for them,” she said. These encounters ingrained the importance of social support systems in disadvantaged communities to prevent children from experiencing the pain of losing their family, a vital source of love, resilience, and support.
At 14, Renée experienced a painful loss of her own. “My aunt, my mom’s sister, died during childbirth from complications caused by high blood pressure. Her high risk condition should have been monitored, but she was living in a rural area and had no access to the regular health appointments available to pregnant women living in urban areas.”
That moment of grief drove Renée into deep contemplation of the connection between poor healthcare and adverse health outcomes, and the global reality, according to the World Health Organization, that Black women face higher risk of death during pregnancy. “What am I doing right now? What do I want to do?’ I felt so powerless at that moment. I resolved then that the health sector is where I belonged, ” The details were still unclear but she knew the first steps would be to get the best education possible, and to take it back to Zimbabwe to try to make a change.
But she wasn’t going to wait until college to take action. As a teenager, she became involved with a local chapter of Lions Club International, an award winning NGO founded in Chicago. She took part in breast cancer awareness efforts, marches, drives, and any healthcare related campaign to raise awareness in her community, a foundation for her future plans to work in the healthcare field. She felt an added responsibility to advocate for her community, knowing that racism drives many of the inequalities in healthcare.
While an intern in the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe, Renée met staff working with Médecins Sans Frontières who introduced her to a field she hadn’t considered before: international medical volunteering. “One of the doctors was telling me about his experience during the ebola crisis. Despite the risks, he was so happy in his work, and I realized that this is what I want to do, and this is how I want to feel. When I’m passionate about something, I give 110 percent, 120 percent, whatever it takes.”
Globally, Renée notes, there is a critical shortage of healthcare workers and resources, with the greatest impact felt by low-income countries, and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in particular, which is now facing a catastrophic shortage of medical personnel. According to the U.N., volunteer efforts will be essential to meeting U.N. Sustainable Development Goal #3 to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, and successfully implementing the 2030 Agenda.
Renée is committed to that effort, and plans to apply to medical school after graduating from GU-Q with a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service degree in International Economics. Her multidisciplinary pre-med strategy often invokes the question, “How is it going to work?” She answers with a quote by Nelson Mandela. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Renée also likes to add her own perspective. “There’s nothing stopping me. I think only I can hold myself back.”
Her education plans are helping to carve out a unique skill set that could help address medical as well as policy-driven structural problems. “I love numbers and graphs. And I come from Zimbabwe. Everyone knows about the 2008 economic crisis. We have so many economic issues, and the problems in health and unemployment are all connected to it. If I can understand how it’s falling apart, maybe I can do my part in rebuilding it one day.”
In 2022, the Georgetown community is celebrating the Spirit of Georgetown, a 500-year old educational tradition inspired by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Renée lives the values of that tradition through her fearless and inspirational dedication to overcoming roadblocks to equity and justice, and to improving the health and welfare of her community at home and around the world.