Living out a passion for service

By Katie Kreis ’19

Mokgari Aphane’s experiences at Wartburg College bridged a gap between her past and future, helping her to live her vocation through unique opportunities.

Born in Swaziland, Aphane followed in her father’s footsteps to Waterford Kamhlaba, a United World College with more than 600 students representing 60 nationalities.

“We’re exposed to things that no one is exposed to in other schools. You treat people better because you go to school with all these people. We have these preformed ideas of what people from certain places are like, and then you see it’s not like that,” she said.

As a young girl, Aphane’s family instilled in her a passion for service. Her grandmother worked at a center that provided meals for orphaned and vulnerable children, while her mother hosted students who couldn’t make it home for holidays. This legacy of service continued in Aphane, who found great joy in the volunteer work required by Waterford.

“In high school, we did weekly community service, and that really helped me to engage with the community and get a sense of how to work with people to make it better,” she said.

Though Aphane’s path to Wartburg wasn’t always obvious, it ended up being a perfect fit.

“I looked for places kind of far from distractions, like the city. I ended up with Wartburg because it’s a Lutheran school, and I knew that, as uncomfortable as it may make my family for me going away, going to a Lutheran place would be like home,” she said.

Mokgari Aphane

Upon arrival, she recognized some similarities between home and Iowa.

“There’s a lot of farming that goes on in Iowa, but it’s on a much bigger scale than it would be at home. There’s some feeling of home when I see corn.”

Though she’s majoring in biochemistry, Aphane returned to her service roots this summer, partnering with Dr. Lorinda Sheeler, visiting associate professor of public health, to collect and analyze community health data in Bremer County.

“We collected data of everything health-related, like disease, the well-being of the community, air quality, and access to services. This will serve the Bremer County Health Department in better serving the county’s health needs,” she said.

Aphane hopes to someday return to Swaziland so she can give back to her community. She hopes to find a way to use her biochemistry degree and her knowledge in public health to research diseases that are prevalent in Swaziland.

“It’s one thing to have someone from outside the country come in and change everything, because you’re going to be met with a lot of resistance, but it would be something else for someone inside the country who knows what home is like and then tries to make it better. Not necessarily change it with a complete overhaul, but make it better based on what’s already there,” Aphane said.

She’s confident Wartburg can help her do that.

“Being at Wartburg opened me to different experiences and life stories I wouldn’t have been able to consider had I stayed at home,” she said. “I’ve grown, and that’s what made Wartburg worth it. I am in a community where, when I feel like I am struggling, there are people who will help me out.”