FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (UMNS) – Pledges of $21,600 launched the official unveiling of the United Methodist University at the 2014 Sierra Leone Annual Conference in Freetown Feb. 28.

While much work has been going on in the background for several years, this was the introduction to the public in Sierra Leone and the start of fundraising.

The proposed United Methodist University is expected to start with four faculties or schools – nursing, theology, development studies and agriculture. The university is envisioned to be a “center of excellence with a focus on the production of individuals with moral integrity and the ability to positively transform lives in society.”

“If the dream to establish our own university is to come true, it has to begin with us. I therefore call upon all of us to take the responsibility to raise the needed funds,” Bishop John K. Yambasu told the 134th session of the Sierra Leone Annual Conference in his episcopal address Feb. 27.

The amount raised Feb. 28 signaled the beginning of building a university projected to cost $4,492,015.

The main campus will be on 531 acres of land at Pa Loko in rural Freetown that was willed to the church in 1939 by an Anglican amazed by what Methodism was doing in Sierra Leone in the 1930s.

A Freetown-based engineering and architectural firm surveyed the land and drew a plan for the university. Registration with the Sierra Leone government’s Ministry of Education is underway while the construction of the School of Nursing is at the finishing stage in the southern city of Bo.

The School of Theology will start at Leicester Peak, the highest point overlooking Freetown, where the Sierra Leone Conference owns property. Renovation of a building on the property is almost ready for the school to start classes. The school eventually will relocate to Pa Loko.

Bishop Yambasu says local fundraising is an essential element, but he is encouraging friends of Sierra Leone to invest in the future of the country’s children. He noted that partners can finance specific buildings such as the library or a faculty building, which could be named for the donor.

Yambasu emphasized that the church needs to increase contributions toward upgrading education in a nation of deteriorating academic standards.

Educational standards have fallen in post-conflict Sierra Leone. Youth unemployment is at 70 percent, and adult literacy rates are at 41 percent. Sixty percent of Sierra Leoneans live below the national poverty line, according to the United Nations Development Program statistics.

After the proposal to establish the university was endorsed at the 2010 annual conference, Bishop Yambasu put together a University Development Committee that included experienced university professors, architects, curriculum developers and consultants from the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry to detail the plan. At the launch during the annual conference, the subcommittees on infrastructure, engineering and curriculum gave presentations on what the proposed university would look like and include.

“The current tertiary education in Sierra Leone offers costly programs that go nowhere and bear little relations to our true needs for transformation,” said Adonis Abboud, the Honorary Consul of Serbia to Sierra Leone.

He said there was an urgent need for Sierra Leone’s higher education institutions to move beyond the traditional university to a variety of smaller, specialized, advanced institutions that would be accessible, flexible and comparable to global colleges that turn out a better qualified workforce.

Phileas Jusu serves as the communicator for the Sierra Leone Annual Conference.

Image courtesy of Phileas Jusu, UMNS

An artist’s rendering shows the design of the future United Methodist University in Sierra Leone. During the Sierra Leone Annual Conference held Feb. 28, in Freetown a total of $21,600 was pledged. The university will start with schools of nursing, theology, development studies and agriculture.

The university is envisioned to be a “center of excellence.”