Rimel Mwamba: ‘I want to give back’

NEW CLASS, NEW FACES: They’ve built schools around the world, published books, conducted research and apprenticed in family businesses. This year’s incoming first-year class of 3,988 enrollees at UNC, coming from as far away as Singapore and as close to home as Chapel Hill, features award-winning scientists, artists, champion athletes – and the recipient of a Purple Heart. They are diverse. They are talented. They are hopeful. And this week, we meet five of them.

Despite being a founding member of her high school’s Call To Action club, which serves charities such as UNICEF, Girls Learn International, and Equality Now, Rimel Mwamba never thought of herself as selfless. What others would call “selflessness,” she said, is a great effort in which she plays only a small part.

“It’s not just me,” said the incoming member of Carolina’s Class of 2018. “You can be selfless too.”

Born in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mwamba immigrated to the United States by way of the Congo capital city of Kinshasa and Belgium when she was 6 years old. She saw her chances in life as a reason to give back to the world.

“I was given the opportunity to get out, and I want to give back for those who weren’t as lucky as me,” said Mwamba, now 18. “It should be a standard to want to help others less fortunate than you whether it is here or anywhere.”

Mwamba credited her parents for her love of giving. Her father worked in a gas station upon his arrival to the United States in 2000 and had to repeat medical residency and training despite his status as a surgeon in the Congo. Her mother moved to South Africa when her father came to America and sent her daughters to Belgium to live with family. They reunited in 2002.

“It was tough,” Mwamba said of the time she lived apart from her parents “I missed them … I thought it was like a vacation that lasted too long, but it was more depressing than anything.”

As she settled into her life in America and found herself at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, S.C., Mwamba read Nicholas Kristof’s “Half The Sky,” which strengthened her belief that a group effort could do more than one person. She then joined her sister Yasmin and friends in fundraising for causes such as Doctors Without Borders and educating their community about the outside world.

“I always wanted to let people learn about the problem,” Mwamba said. “I felt like if people didn’t have a reason to give already, learning about a cause gives a reason.”

One of Mwamba’s most memorable projects hit close to both her native and adopted homes. Knowing her grandmother planned to build a school in DRC – and believing her high school community could help – Mwamba invited her grandmother, Alphonsine Kalunga Mpundu, to visit the U.S. for the first time and speak to her community. With Mwamba translating Mpundu’s native French to English, her grandmother spoke of the necessity of education to make change in the war-torn Congo. Ultimately, they raised $7,000 for the school in just one week.

The school “Maana-a-Maana” – or “Intelligence is Intelligence” – now boasts two buildings and accommodates 200 students.

“Education creates empathy,” Mwamba said. “No one wants to do boring things, and I want people to have the inclination to do good things. I have seen firsthand what teaching people about causes can do, and I love being a part of that.”

Mwamba, who plans to double major in biology and psychology at Carolina with hopes of going to medical school, said she’s most excited about the global impact and opportunities UNC offers. Though she hasn’t picked a project or volunteer group, she said she is grateful for the opportunity to attend Carolina and looks forward to being a part of something big.

And selfless.

“I want to bring excitement, I want to make people want to get up and do something about what is wrong with the world,” says Mwamba, “If you’re not making an effort, you’re wasting your words.”

By Helen Buchanan, Communications and Public Affairs

Published August 12, 2014

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