By Sloane Barlow
When third-year Lyman Briggs student Aya Abu-Zama saw the email presenting her with the Ubuntu Award from the Refugee Development Center (RDC), she couldn’t begin to describe how overwhelmed she was with gratitude.
Aya Abu-Zama’s journey to this award started two years ago with HC IMPACT, the Honors College’s pre-first year service week. As part of the HC IMPACT program, participating students are encouraged to take a community-engaged learning class during the fall semester of their first year, UGS 101H (now 201H). In the class, Abu-Zama’s instructor and mentor Dr. Bess German, suggested that she look into volunteering at the Refugee Development Center (RDC). Ever since, Abu-Zama has mentored a newcomer student at the RDC, helping her advance her education, reach her goals, and build skills for young adulthood.
Abu-Zama has also been able to connect her work at the RDC to her role as the president of MOSAIC, the Honors College multicultural student organization, by leading their brand-new partnership. “It’s been beyond rewarding to connect with the RDC youth community by helping provide a series of development workshops catered to them, along with an MSU student volunteer base,” said Abu-Zama.
Ubuntu is a word that originates from the Zulu and Xhosa languages and is an all-encompassing way of life that had its origins in South African culture. It is rooted in unselfishness, humanity, and care for the community. Cultural activist and politician Nelson Mandela described ubuntu as the aspect of an individual performing an act of service, in order to enable the community around them to improve (Modise, 2006). Abu-Zama’s service in helping the community around her is the reason why she was chosen to be honored with the Ubuntu Award.
“To me, ‘ubuntu’ is a way of life grounded in the appreciation of community,” Abu Zama said. “I believe it describes our responsibility to lift each other up, whether friends or strangers, and to foster humanity within ourselves as we interact, help, and connect with one another. I was and continue to be honored that the RDC recognized it in me, and I plan to continue working towards embodying this philosophy in all aspects of my life.”
Reflecting on her work with the RDC, Abu-Zama emphasized her gratitude towards her mentee in allowing her to become part of her story. “I also owe so much to the wonderful RDC staff, especially the Youth Mentoring Coordinator Jackson Schooley,” she said. “I truly believe that the RDC is a special place, and it has been crucial to my growth as a student and a human being.”
For those interested in joining MOSAIC or volunteering at RDC, please contact Aya at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, the Michigan State College of Arts and Letters will be holding a conference discussing ubuntu this September 2023 (date and time to be determined).
Modise, T. (2006). The Concept of “Ubuntu” – Nelson Mandela. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2lWQ6XvVgY