DURBAN: Giving up on her education was never an option for Dr Moleen Zunza.
The Zimbabwean granddaughter of a traditional healer on Wednesday graduated with PhD in paediatrics and, later that day, with a BCom Honours degree from Stellenbosch University.
The Zimbabwean mother of two, currently living in Stellenbosch, relocated to South Africa when her husband received a post-doctoral position at Stellenbosch University in 2008.
Zunza, 37, had to leave her job as a registered nurse at the Parirenyatwa General Hospital in Harare after working there for four years.
“When we arrived, the plan was to work here as a nurse and study at the same time, but I was unable to register with the South African Nursing Council. Luckily I had applied to do my masters in clinical epidemiology and I was accepted.”
Zunza began studying in January 2009 and, with the support of her husband and two teenagers, graduated in March 2011.
“My plan was to continue with my PhD, so I started working on my proposal and registered in 2012. My research focused on the methods of infant feeding of HIV-infected women and the effects these had on the infant’s growth and mobility. I was doing my honours at the same time.”
Juggling two degrees was difficult, but Zunza managed her time well.
Between her studies and research, Zunza worked at FamCru, a unit in the department of paediatrics and child health at the university’s faculty of medicine and health.
“It was a stressful journey because of financial constraints.”
Support from her supervisors kept her going during difficult times.
“My husband and my kids have been really great. I spent the last three years in a library, from January to December. I missed hearing my children playing outside while relaxing in the house.”
Now that she had qualified, Zunza planned to work as a researcher at an academic institution and consult part time.
Growing up in Wedza, Zimbabwe, her grandmother, a traditional healer, raised her and 19 other children. She put her through primary school and her cousin paid for her high school tuition.
Zunza said she came from a broken home but she always had big dreams.
“After high school, I got a government scholarship to study nursing. My father wanted me to become a policewoman but I wanted to become a nurse because I loved the way they carried themselves and the way they looked.”
She realised later in life that there were more career opportunities for her.
“I have always wanted to be an independent thinker, and I think my biggest lesson in life is that the sky is really the limit and that working hard and perseverance does really pay off.
“Never give up on your dreams,” she said.