One week into his first semester at Houghton, Simbarashe “Simba” Kamuriwo ’14 /MM’16 learned he would have to go back to Zimbabwe. No financial support had been found to pay his remaining tuition bill. Already well known on campus for what one faculty member called his “infectious enthusiasm for life,” Simba said goodbye to friends and prepared to return home.
He was just two days away from returning to Zimbabwe when enough support came in to pay for his freshman year.
Today, Simba is easily recognized by Houghton students for his rich singing voice and gregarious personality. “Simba is one of those people who lights up a room when he walks into it,” said Kelly VanKirk ’13/MM’15.
One need only watch Simba perform or conduct a choir to know how much deep joy he gains from making music. “He’s a natural performer. When he is on stage, you can’t help but watch him, because he is so at home in front of an audience,” commented Kelly.
Simba first knew he wanted to go to college in the United States after his high school music department toured New England—a trip that was a miracle in itself. An economic crisis in Zimbabwe had caused both the loss of his father’s savings and a decline in the quality of public schooling. After being enrolled in a better public school, Simba was sent home several times because his family could not pay the school fees on time. Despite these financial challenges, Simba became a successful student and an invaluable member of the high school music department—a fact that caused his plane ticket for the tour to be sponsored.
Students in Zimbabwe who desire to study Western music often attend college in the United States, and Simba believed that, since God had given him a musical talent, he needed to come to the States to develop it. A friend told him about Houghton, a college she had discovered online. He applied and sent in his audition materials.
“At this point, the odds were that I was not going to go,” Simba remembered. “If we could barely manage to send me to school in Zimbabwe, where did I think I was going to get the money to go to America?”
After his acceptance to Houghton, he paid his tuition deposit using money he had earned, despite the reality that the financial aid he was awarded seemed just a “drop in the ocean.” Simply paying the deposit was an act of faith.
Obtaining a visa was another obstacle Simba encountered. During his visa interview, Simba felt as though he gave the interviewer every reason to not let him into the country. Yet, at the conclusion of the Thursday interview, he was told to pick up his passport and visa the next Monday. In addition, Simba’s father gave his support for Simba’s decision and helped him pay for a one-way ticket to the United States. “That entire weekend was like a dream. I was so floored by the magnitude of what God was able to do.”
During Houghton’s orientation week for international students, Simba’s excitement grew. Brian Webb, coordinator for the orientation that year, picked Simba up from the airport. Along with his luggage, Simba brought a large drum, which he played in the van during his first ride to campus. Webb said, “Simba epitomized a love of life and a desire to make a difference.”
Simba’s near return to Zimbabwe during his first few weeks on campus was not the only time he would struggle with finances. Each semester, he wondered whether he would be able to return.
To pay for his tuition, Simba worked several jobs. His friends were also eager to help. After being encouraged to raise funds for Simba’s tuition, Joshua Duttweiler ’15 and a few other friends screen-printed and sold 75 “We Love Simba” shirts.
Simba has made his mark on campus, both relationally and musically. “He always invests in people with the same sincerity and caring attitude whether he’s known them for five minutes or five years,” said Joshua.
Simba graduated from the Greatbatch School of Music at Houghton in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in music with an emphasis in voice and a concentration in Spanish. He will graduate from Houghton in May 2016 with his master’s degree in choral conducting.
During his time at Houghton, Simba has developed a passion for ethnomusicology, a field that focuses on the study of music from around the world. In addition to working with a marimba group in Rochester in connection with the Eastman School of Music, he has received numerous invitations to teach and perform. Over Christmas break, he’ll be returning to Zimbabwe to work with students of his former teachers.
Simba’s relentless pursuit of his dream to come to the United States for college has not only allowed him to develop his musical talents; his journey has shown him that God is able to do the seemingly impossible.
“Where I am now and where I came from really feels like night and day,” Simba said. “Each time I’m faced with a situation of uncertainty, God always rises up to the occasion and makes His presence known.”
Jessica Guillory ’16 is a senior Writing major from Laurel, MD with minors in Christian Formation and art.