If you asked a Zambian teenager boarding a Nigerian-bound plane what her expectations were, Zunzika Thole of the AUN pioneer class of 2009 would have responded: “fear, anxiety, and culture shock.”
For Zunzika, looking back at her then 18-year-old self, these feelings capture her mood when she first left her home country.
One can only imagine the courage and faith it took to entrust her future to not just the newly founded institution, but to Nigeria, her new home.
She took the leap of faith, but nothing really prepares anyone for Yola’s harsh weather, especially the unforgiving sun, which sometimes scorches at 45 degree Celsius. “Back then, we used to equate being in Yola to being in hell. It was not just the heat; the lack of activities also contributed to the hell.”
This was coupled with the difficulty of adjusting to the Nigerian cuisine, quite different from her usual Nshima, a Zambian staple of stiff porridge made from ground maize. “I had running stomach trying to adjust to the Nigerian food. But everyone in AUN back then was very helpful in ensuring my adjustment was seamless.”
Four years after graduating with honors (Summa Cum Laude) Zunzika left Nigeria for a Master’s program in International Business at the Hult International School of Business, Dubai. On completion in 2011, she returned to Zambia, and a year later started working for Barclays Bank as a customer relations officer. While at Barclays, she stood out once more and was rewarded for outstanding performance that came with a promotion.
Unsatisfied with that career path and a yearning to serve humanity, Zunzika returned to Nigeria, got a job as a Finance Officer at a clinic, and worked her way up to where her humanitarian contributions would have an even wider impact.
Today, Zunzika Thole is the public face of Gede Foundation, one of Nigeria’s leading civil society organizations.
“My role at Gede allows me to work closely with those who have undeserved and stigmatized health burdens. I work with them closely because I have to tell their stories, in their own words. If their stories inspire someone or get to the desk of decision makers, and they get the much-needed help, it is an added bonus.
“Working at Gede has opened my eyes because I'm now aware of certain health burdens that others either completely ignore, or stigmatize. I am aware of how the stigma affects victims and I work to ensure that others are aware as well.”
At AUN, Zunzika acquired the passion for helping humanity, “Yola shaped me into the person I am today. I can adapt quickly, I can work anywhere, and I can learn as quickly as needed on any new job. I have always wanted to help people, and AUN shaped my mind that way. In addition, I am not afraid to try anything new.”
For someone who works with rural communities to advocate and sensitize people about public health, she remembers that although the job is often tough and frustrating, she has always carried around a very profound quote from one of her professors at AUN, Dr. Ahmad Hosseini, “Where there is a problem, there is opportunity."
Zunzika believes that those words have helped her in the journey of life, “I carry those words with me all the time. Instead of complaining in certain situations, I think of the opportunities that lie there. Be it for business or personal growth - whatever it may be - there is an opportunity.”
By Nelly Ating