When most kids get home from school on Friday, it's a feeling of celebration: Weekend! But not for Justin Zoradi. At dinner every Friday, his mom would open the newspaper to discuss current events—local, national, global. "I remember thinking it was really dumb," Zoradi says. "But she'd say, 'It's important that you realize your life isn't just about your little town and your soccer team and your fourth grade class. You need to know how other kids in the world live—and to know how great you have it.' "
Zoradi isn't rolling his eyes anymore. Today, he's founder and director of These Numbers Have Faces, a nonprofit that provides college scholarships for students in South Africa, Rwanda, and soon Uganda. Zoradi, 30, discovered the need while on a service project in South Africa in 2006, when he met several bright students who wanted to go to college but couldn't afford it. Zoradi remembers thinking, This is injustice, and I have to do something about it.
After returning to the United States, Zoradi felt God's prodding one day. "Suddenly, bam, it hit me," he says. "God was saying, 'Are you going to deny opportunities to others that you demand for yourself?' It wasn't a feeling of guilt. It was a feeling of empowerment, responsibility, and clarity of my role in the world."
Question & Answer
I hear there was a particular student in South Africa who got to you.
Xolani was graduating in the top five of his class. He wanted to study accounting and be the first in his family to go to college, but they were very poor. He told me, "I've worked so hard to get to this place, and now I have nothing." That was sobering. [Xolani later received one of the first scholarships.]
Describe the work of These Numbers.
We empower young people around the world to become leaders and to change their countries from the inside out. And we do it by providing college scholarships for young people who would never have a chance to go to college. But the scholarship isn't free: our students have to do 50 hours a year of community service, and they have to commit to give one year of tuition back into the program.
You give scholarships to students of all faiths. Why?
South Africa is ethnically diverse, and a few dozen Muslims apply for scholarships every year. Our director in South Africa saw it as a remarkable opportunity to reach Muslim students in ways that no one else can. For example, we're often the first Christians who've ever been in their homes. Two of our female students, a Christian and a Muslim, have become very good friends. In a country where there's been so much division, this is huge stuff. This is God's light breaking in, in powerful ways.
What's next for These Numbers?
We've given out 20 scholarships in South Africa and five in Rwanda, where we just started this year. We're looking at five in Uganda for next year, and we're hoping to then increase those numbers in the coming years. We'd love to do even more countries. That's our vision.
More: TheseNumbers.org, JustinZoradi.com
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