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World Communion scholar hopes to improve health access in Africa

As she approached her teens, Runako Masline Katsidzira often accompanied her father, the Rev. Misheck Katsidzira, on hospital visits in her native Zimbabwe.

"We were staying at Mutambara Mission Center," she recalled. "I would visit maternity wards, holding newborn babies, asking their names and any other issues that intrigued me. Infant mortality was one of the problems that really pricked my heart. I developed a strong passion to pursue a health-related career."

A 120-bed facility in the Chimanimani District of Eastern Zimbabwe, the mission hospital serves a population of more than 140,000 people with two doctors.

"We grew up poor and struggling," Runako said. The sixth of eight children, she helped her mother, Agnes Katsidzira, with gardening and sewing to supplement her family's income. It wasn't unusual to have unexpected visitors seeking counseling and shelter.

Some of Runako's first playmates were children with physical challenges. At the mission center, she received her primary education and learned Braille and sign language. She said she "realized the circumstances I grew up in could not compare to challenges [others] face in their everyday lives."

The Katsidzira family moved frequently as Misheck accepted new pastoral appointments.

"The United Methodist Church was fully involved in my upbringing," Runako said, "for my father was a committed and full-time pastor from 1975 to 2016. The church gave me a strong foundation of Christianity."

Thanks to a World Communion Scholarship, supported by generous gifts on World Communion Sunday, Runako intends to make a difference in her home country and beyond.

"The scholarship," she said, "made it possible for me to achieve my educational dreams and goals. Being a pharmacist and a researcher … will allow me to promote health by designing, developing and distributing medicine to the needy around the globe." She studies at North West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa.

As an undergraduate, she often experienced difficulty fully grasping concepts because classes were taught in Afrikaans, "a foreign language I cannot speak or understand," Runako said. "However, it was a great joy to be a part of the rainbow nation of South Africa and to learn about different cultures and backgrounds."

Runako treasures every opportunity to interact with experts in her field. "I was exposed to the latest technology and equipment used in drug design and development not available in most countries in Africa and even in some developed countries," she said. "My PhD studies focused on improving the efficacy of antibiotics used in the treatment of HIV/AIDS co-infections."

Telling others about Jesus is important to Runako. "As a pharmacist," she said, "I will be able to partake in health mission-outreach trips in communities/hospitals, an opportunity to encourage and share the gospel."

Facilitating access to cost-effective medicine in low-income communities and contributing to "the design, discovery and development of innovative drugs" are her primary goals. She hopes to develop a community-based pharmacy program that includes health literacy, peer education, a pharmacy-education center, counseling and income generation.

Zimbabwe, Runako's homeland, is close to her heart. She hopes to assist in establishing a pharmaceutical-research entity at Africa University.

Wherever her career takes her, Runako will always appreciate The United Methodist Church.

"Thanks to you all for such a wonderful gift," she said. "I could not have made it without the scholarship, and words cannot express how grateful I am."

Barbara Dunlap-Berg, freelance writer and editor, retired from United Methodist Communications

One of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings of The United Methodist Church, World Communion Sunday calls the church to reach out to all people and model diversity among God's children. The special offering provides World Communion Scholarships, the Ethnic Scholarship Program and the Ethnic In-Service Training Program.

When you give generously on World Communion Sunday, you equip gifted, qualified students from around the globe to become the world changers God created them to be. Give now.

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