“Cold. I was cold.”
Zawadi Mayeka, 23, remembers his first weeks in Canada as being drastically different than his home in Harare, Zimbabwe.
From an all-boys high school to a co-ed university, from a subtropical African country to Newfoundland and Labrador’s continental climate, from the security of family life to an entire city of new faces, Mr. Mayeka recalls feeling “overwhelmed.”
“Everything was different,” he said. “I didn’t know where anything was because I was fresh off the boat, as people would say. But after the first month or two, I became adjusted and everything started working out and I started enjoying it.”
Memorial alumni family
Mr. Mayeka wasn’t entirely alone, however.
His brother, Asante, also went to Memorial and still lives in St. John’s where he works as a financial advisor. (Asante graduated with a bachelor of business administration in 2016.) His sister, Amina, also a Memorial graduate (BA’15), now lives in Victoria, B.C.
To help with the transition, Mr. Mayeka immersed himself in university and city experiences. He found teammates first in the Swilers Rugby Football Club and Newfoundland Rock rugby team, and later as a Sea-Hawk on Memorial’s track and field team.
The student-athlete also found jobs, working as a customer service representative at TD Canada Trust for the past few years and completing work terms with Canada Revenue Agency and Seafair Capital as part of his bachelor of commerce (co-operative) (honours) program in the Faculty of Business Administration.
That sense of community became important when, in the second year of his program, Mr. Mayeka’s father, Ivo, became ill and was diagnosed with liver cancer in the spring of 2017. A year later, he died.
“I managed to get back [to Harare] the day before he passed away. His condition was worsening, and I wanted to go back earlier to see him but I still had exams,” Mr. Mayeka said. “I was going to defer, but he insisted that I finish. So I did.”
Value of education
Ivo, a pharmacist and business owner, had earned a doctoral degree at the University of Birmingham, U.K.
Born in a small village, Ivo’s own father died before he was born; it took much hard work and perseverance to earn an education.
“I looked at it as pursuing this program in honour of him.”
Mr. Mayeka says his father therefore placed a strong value on education, and instilled the same values in his children.
“It was education that helped him get through things when it was just him,” said Mr. Mayeka. “No one can take that away from you. He was an awesome guy. He was always giving great advice. He taught me about accountability at a young age [and] empathy, that everyone goes through things and it’s difficult to judge someone from a sole interaction. Inside, everyone has a lot of things going on.”
So, faced with the prospect of travelling back to Memorial from Zimbabwe to finish his program, Mr. Mayeka didn’t hesitate.
“I had the desire to stay with my mother but it didn’t make any sense in terms of, if I halt my progression, I’m going to be a year or so behind, and my mother is still going to be sad and now she’s going to be worrying about my education on top of all that,” he said.
“I didn’t look at it like me mourning my father is taking away from progressing in my program. I looked at it as pursuing this program in honour of him. He wouldn’t want me to drop out of school because he’s ill or no longer around.”
Mr. Mayeka found support from his teammates, his coaches, his employers and staff in the business co-operative education office, who helped him adjust his work term schedule to ensure he was able to meet program requirements.
“I found a great deal of solace in focusing on my training, as when I was doing that, my mind was free from the grief,” he said. “The same with my studies.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Mayeka’s mother, Norgaitty, has since been diagnosed with leukemia and is currently undergoing treatment in Zimbabwe.
“I did want to go home but treatment is not free. Insurance only covers so much. So you work and you send back what you can,” he said, adding, “I’m worried more about her than myself. I’ll be fine.”
‘Finding my footing’
Mr. Mayeka intends to stay in St. John’s following graduation. He’ll start work at PricewaterhouseCoopers in September as a staff accountant. He also plans to pursue the chartered professional accountant (CPA) designation.
“With the CPA, I can venture into so many things,” he said. “I’m kind of finding my footing to see where I want to go after that.”
Mr. Mayeka will receive his commerce degree during convocation at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre on May 29.