When the Indiana Conference committed to helping enhance Africa University and strengthening its mission of fundamentally shifting the educational landscape throughout Africa, they anticipated the request to be for renovations to its campus or assisting in the erection of more dormitories as the Conference had done before by the former North and South Conferences. But the university’s faculty wanted to broaden its outreach beyond the classroom and make a higher education more accessible by investing in scholarships and expanding its programs by endowing a faculty position for the Department of Agriculture & Natural Resources.
The Africa University Campaign kicked off during the 2013 Annual Conference, with a set goal of $1.6 million, one million going toward the development of the Agriculture program and endowment of a new faculty member, and $600,000 dedicated to establishing and providing scholarships for Africa University prospects and existing students. Donors, university faculty, and supporters of the campaign gathered, both physically and virtually, Thursday, April 26, 2017, at Plainfield United Methodist Church, to celebrate the official completion of the campaign, the formidable progress the school has made in recent years, the challenges it still faces, as well as the 25-year history the Indiana Conference shares with Zimbabwe’s first private institution. Attendees included Bishop Julius C. Trimble, Former bishop of the Indiana Conference Michael J. Coyner, and retired East Ohio Conference Bishop John Hopkins, who was elected from the Indiana Conference.
The progress Africa University has made
“Africa University is God’s Workshop,” claims Dr. Walter Suza, who received his Bachelor’s of Science from the AU School of Agriculture and Natural Resources in 1996. “It (AU) is one of his instruments he uses to spread love around the world.”
Suza, a father of two, is an adjunct assistant professor at Iowa State University’s agronomy department and holds degrees from the University of Kentucky, as well as Cornell University. He harbors extensive research experience in the management, distribution, and security of foods, with a great deal of his work surrounding the sustainability of plants in unfavorable conditions.
Suza praised Africa University for its commitment to providing quality education, and its ongoing mission of developing leaders that will apply their research and experience into Africa’s expanding landscape. Suza also joked that he was one of the students that “got away,” in reference to a small percentage of AU students who receive scholarships to continue their education from US institutions and never return to Africa. So the university is working to counter that shift by encouraging graduate students to commit to returning to their home countries to continue their research and engage in leadership.
Dr. Fanual Tagwira, the Endowed Chairperson of Soil and Environmental Science at AU, who holds advanced degrees in biology, chemistry, and soil chemistry and fertility from various institutions, estimates that while a small number of graduates pursue advance degrees in countries outside of Africa, more than 90% of current AU graduates remain on the African continent post-graduation. Students like Mercy Nyirongo, a 2010 graduate of the AU School of Health Sciences, who has devoted her talents to making preventative health care resources accessible to nearly 8,000 Malawians. In 2014 Nyirongo established “Wandikweza,” a community health network tasked with providing Malawi with real-time, community-oriented health care response, in the form of data collection, disaster preparedness, maternal and child care, HIV/AIDS, and so much more. Wandikweza means “the Lord has lifted me up.”
In recent years, Africa University has shifted added focus into its agricultural department, much of which encompasses the Africa University farm. In an article by UMNS, it was reported that the 200 acres farm, which provides chicken, beef and pork, eggs, dairy products, and a bountiful vegetables, is a primary food source for the students and staff. On average 300 ‘happy’ chickens are sent the university kitchen three times a week, with a production rate of 2,000 chicken every fortnight. Dr. Tagwira, who shares a 25 year connection with AU confirmed that the university farm goes beyond providing food for the AU community, and has become a teaching tool for the small order farmer in the local community.
Due to the lack of agricultural and educational resources, many farmers in the local region are relying on antiquated techniques and outdated tools. In order to help mend this, the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources seeks to expose farmers to new technology, as well as collaborating with the farming community to decipher the equipment and methods that are most suitable for the small order farmer.
“We expect to be able to put in place projects like beekeeping, rabbit production, chicken production, fishing. And farmers will come, spend time with our staff and decide what they would like to incorporate in their farming methods. This helps make our education more relevant to the small order farmer.”
Dr. Tagwira joined the AU celebration luncheon through a Skype conversation, spoke openly about his work at Africa University and the relationships he’s developed with the students, the unspeakable progress the university has made, as well as the impact AU has on the surrounding and remote communities throughout the continent.
“When I walk into the farmhouse buildings, I never thought that it was possible for one institution to do that much. It has done a lot of good work for the people of Africa. The students are playing a significant role in their own countries and throughout Africa. A number of our grads are doing developmental work, community work, and even partnering with local governments in helping to aid and uplift communities throughout Africa.”
The challenges AU still faces
It goes without saying that Africa University has rapidly grown into a staple for the region of Southern Africa and the continent as a whole. Not only has the university transcended its original physical and strategic blueprint, AU represents a significant milestone in terms of establishing a self-sustaining, dependable, and growth oriented, and United Methodist-affiliated educational hub.
But the school still has its share of hurdles.
“The region here is dealing with the challenge of climate change, soil condition, and lack of training. The training is not effective, people are doing their best, but resources are outdated,” states Dr. Suza.
One of the major issues the agricultural department currently faces is a low number in attendance. Most of the students who have an interest in studying agriculture are unable to afford the school costs.
Dr. Fanuel states, “Currently, the students who want to do agriculture, many come from rural areas, Tagwira many of them cannot afford to come to the university. Many apply, but often times they are unable to attend. Also, the issue of making sure that we are relevant to the small order farmers throughout Africa. A lot of them are still farming like when I was growing up. There has been no development in that area. I think we are partly to blame, and need to continue to deliver in terms of educational development for the local farmers.”
Tagwira estimates that the department harbors about 15% of the overall student population of Africa University. Students with the financial capabilities have a tendency to study business or health sciences. When asked how the Indiana Conference can help mend this issue, the professor encourages the conference to help mobilize scholarships, so that not only can the school extend its outreach efforts to the community, but can also provide a helping hand to students with the gift and talents critical to their individual success and the growth and expansion of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“The institution is moving very well. In fact, today, AU is one of the highly viewed institutions in the country. I believe the future of AU is safe and sound and we expect great things to continue to come from it. The answer lies in the products I’ve seen come from AU and what they are doing in our society. “
When asked about his thoughts on the wellness of the AU’s relationship with the Indiana United Methodist Conference, Dr. Fanuel was sure to add, “I will say that i have more friends from INUMC than I have any other conferences.”