By Julie WoodHoya Staff Writer

Former Hoya basketball star and NBA center Dikembe Mutombo (FLL ’91) visited Gaston Hall Wednesday to share his vision about service and offer advice to Georgetown students.

In his speech, Mutombo quoted an African proverb, “When you take the elevator to the top, don’t forget to send it back down.”

Although Mutombo has enjoyed a successful basketball career in the U.S., he has not forgotten about the suffering of his native Democratic Republic of the Congo. He will be performing the groundbreaking ceremony at a new hospital in the Congo’s capital city of Kinshasa in less than two weeks. The hospital is an undertaking of the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, which he founded in 1997 with the goal of improving health and education in the Congo.

“The health and the development of a country are closely linked to the health of its people,” Mutombo said. “Education is so important to good health.”

The $14 million-dollar facility will be the country’s first hospital in almost 40 years. It will be named the Biamba utombo Hospital after Dikembe’s mother, who died three years ago of a supposed stroke. Her real cause of death will never be known – Mutombo said she received no medical attention because of the civil war raging in the Congo.

According to Mutombo, approximately three million people have died in the past three years from war and preventable illnesses in the Congo, since the health care system there is virtually nonexistent.

Prior to Mutombo’s comments, the Lecture Fund coordinators showed a short documentary film of one of Mutombo’s recent visits to the Congo, where he has taken four trips in five years. The film showed Mutombo meeting with Congolese leaders and health care officials as well as visiting some of the desolate conditions in the country.

“When you’re raised in this tough environment, your heart stays here. Whatever you accomplish in your life, Mutombo thanked former men’s basketball Head Coach John Thompson for his guidance during Mutombo’s days on the Hilltop.

He described how he first came to Georgetown as a pre-med major, planning to become a doctor.

He related his experience of leaving the Congo, saying “My father told me as I was boarding the plane, `Son, you are going to the United States to study, and we will see you when you graduate.’ I knew he was telling me in no uncertain terms that my job at that time was to get an education.”

But in his second year at Georgetown, Thompson convinced the 7-foot-2 Mutombo, who had only begun playing basketball his senior year in high school, to join the team and switch his major.

He graduated with a degree in African Studies and Linguistics and was selected in the first round of the NBA draft by the Denver Nuggets.

When reflecting on his Georgetown experience, Mutombo expressed his gratitude to the coaches and teachers who helped him as well as the pride he feels in being a Georgetown graduate.

“I’m happy with my success. I’m happy with my education. Whatever education I got here helped me succeed in my life,” he said.

He spoke about the wealth of opportunities that students are afforded by a Georgetown education and urged freshmen not to be scared about going away from home.

“Let me tell you not to be afraid. Life needs to be taken seriously, but it also must be lived joyously,” he said.

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