Dr. Nche Zama is a nationally recognized cardiothoracic surgeon. Although some may say that he has attained the American dream, the road to his success began with tragedy.
Dr. Zama was born in Bamenda, a small African village in Cameroon. As a child, he watched his mother die during childbirth.
“I was standing there as a little boy holding her hand when she kept telling me she was going to die, because she had given birth to a child. And she started to bleed. The nurse kept crying: ‘There’s no doctor! There’s no doctor!'” Dr. Zama recalled.
This tragic event set him on his path.
“I wanted to be a doctor because I didn’t want another mother to die needlessly. And I didn’t want a child to lose a mother,” he said.
At the age of 14, Dr. Zama came to New York City with only $20 which was given to him by the people of his village. It was not easy for him after he arrived in the United States.
“Then I worked very hard. It was very difficult. I lived in the YMCA, and I lived in the streets for a while,” he said.
However, he persevered in his educational pursuit and overcame many challenges. Today Dr. Zama has several advanced degrees. In addition to his medical degree, he has a master’s degree in management from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Chemistry.
Education: A Gift to Others
Just as the villagers gave Dr. Zama a gift of $20, he has given others the gift of an education.
“The beauty and the greatness of education allowed me to be able to enable others to attain these possibilities in their lives,” he said.
Dr. Zama has financially supported over two dozen family members through college. “Every one of my nieces and nephews, and even children of my cousins, I pay that tuition from elementary school through college,” he said.
“So, I have nephews and nieces who graduated from universities in Belgium, in France, in Canada, in the United States all over the world. All of my scholarship.”
Dr. Zama is very concerned that without additional schooling, children are at high risk for repeating the cycles of poverty, becoming prey to human traffickers, experiencing early or unplanned pregnancies, and surviving only at a subsistence level.
Several years ago, Dr. Zama decided to reach out beyond his family to make educational opportunities available to others who are disadvantaged.
In his home country of Cameroon, although more than 90 percent of the children attend primary school, only 55 percent of youths attend secondary/high schools, with only 6 percent graduating.
He singled out a Cameroon elementary school with a 30 percent dropout rate due to the students’ parents being unable to afford tuition and books. “I offered [the] entire student body scholarship. And so, it would enable every child to stay in school and graduate,” Dr. Zama said.
A year later, Dr. Zama received a thank-you letter from the headmistress of that school, which is Musang elementary school that educates some 300 students.
“During the past year, we have had no dropouts, and the enrolment has increased by 30 percent. Every child had the books they needed for their classes. There could be nothing more emotionally gratifying,” he said.
— The Cameroonian 🇨🇲 (@mbenjumafany) June 15, 2021
As vice-chair of an American educational empowerment organization, Good Shepherd Sustainable Learning Foundation, Dr. Zama contributed to constructing a new academy, Good Shepherd Academy in Africa, a residential high school. Its mission is to educate and train innovative thinkers and future leaders.
Dr. Zama noticed that many children today do not have the focus they should have or the social support they need.
“I’m a strong advocate for educational determinism because I believe that every child needs to have a focus,” he said. “And a child with a focus becomes an adult with a focus; and it is that adult that brings value to themselves and the community.”
Dr. Zama’s personal experience has made him devote his life to serving humanity. He has also founded a humanitarian organization that provides medical and surgical care to disadvantaged people in Asia, Africa, and South America. He is also a pediatric heart surgeon and has done free surgeries for babies around the world.
Today Dr. Zama is running for Pennsylvania governor as a Republican to “make an even greater impact in serving humanity.”
Yvette Scarlett contributed to this report.