From Zambia to Pittsburgh to Carlow adjunct: one dreamer’s journey

Mpande Mwape ’19 grew up in the suburbs south of Pittsburgh, went to Mt. Lebanon High School and entered a community college program in nursing. In many ways, she was like other college-bound teenagers in America, except for a critical detail: American citizenship.

After a difficult divorce, her mother brought 9-year-old Mwape and her three younger brothers to the U.S. from Zambia in 1999 to pursue a brighter future. When Mwape graduated from high school and began preparing for a career, uncertainty loomed over her head.

Mwape was eventually granted employment authorization under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The journey left her “helpless and frustrated” as she watched others enjoy freedom in their daily lives while she was held back. Among her struggles, she waited two years after earning a nursing degree before she was permitted to take a licensure test (which she passed the first time).

At times during the harrowing process, she faced the prospect of deportation to a home country she could scarcely remember.

AJAPO (Acculturation for Justice, Access and Peace Outreach) is a Pittsburgh nonprofit organization that helps refugees and immigrants become self-sufficient and better integrated into their communities. With AJAPO’s support and legal consultation, it took 10 years for Mwape to transition to permanent residency status. She, her siblings and her mother now have green cards.

She recently earned a master of science in nursing, education and leadership at Carlow, where she now also serves as adjunct faculty.

“Carlow helped me develop all the skills to be an effective leader in nursing. I really did need all of that preparation that goes into my daily responsibilities to be able to navigate difficult conversations, oversee a budget, manage employees and a variety of other tasks,” Mwape said.

At an AJAPO fundraiser in June, Mwape spoke about her experiences. She credited her mother for never ceasing to strive for a better life for her children, and she thanked Carlow University for her education.

Sister Susan Welsh, RSM, and other board members of McAuley Ministries attended the event. She saw Mwape’s mother “beam through her tears as her daughter spoke.”

“What most impressed me was the arduous process any refugee faces; it takes years, not weeks or months. The bureaucratic changes they faced, the ‘starting over’ when barriers were met, dogged persistence and final achievements of each speaker were a testament to the work of AJAPO,” Sister Susan said.

The immigration process gave Mwape not only permanent resident status but also a deep sense of empathy for others, especially people in need, that she applies in her everyday life.

“Many people granted me the miracle I needed and were there for me during suffering. Volunteering for AJAPO, nursing, teaching and being a mentor is my way of giving back. If others are facing the struggles that I did, I want their hard efforts to manifest as hope in times of despair,” she said. 

In addition to serving as a Carlow adjunct, Mwape is a clinician in nursing management at UPMC Passavant.

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