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It's all about the future, says Africa University benefactor

Remembering her two-year stint in the Peace Corps 50 years ago, the Rev. Gaye G. Benson, now 74, decided it would be fun to visit Chile again. She started a travel fund, but God had another plan for her $6,000: Give it to Africa University. So, she did. Rev. Gaye Benson, a retired clergywoman, is providing support for two women student this year.

Gaye shared the backstory.

“I grew up in a farm family in Indiana,” Gaye said. “Cash was tight, but we always had everything we needed.” At 15, she enrolled at Shimer College in Illinois. She graduated in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in natural science. From there, she entered the two-year Master of Arts in Teaching program at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

“By the end of the first year,” she admitted, “I’d found I really didn’t want to be a high school teacher. Not knowing what to do with myself, I applied for the Peace Corps. It represented an opportunity to do something important and meaningful, and I liked the idea of learning about new places and people.” She landed in Chile on her 21st birthday.

Gaye was assigned to do community development under the auspices of “Asuntos Indigenes,” a government agency. She worked with the Mapuche people near Quepe, a small village in southern Chile. Along with the community and various agencies, she helped to construct a footbridge so children could get to school, create a loan program for small farmers, and develop a mother/well-baby clinic.

After the Peace Corps, Gaye earned an M.S. degree in community development and later, a Ph.D. in political science. She was a community development specialist in Missouri and Michigan and a political science professor at California Polytechnic State University.

Though active in church life growing up, Gaye says she left during her college years and deliberately didn’t return for over twenty years.

But after her family moved to California, her husband developed a series of brain tumors. “In a time of great need,” she said, “the San Luis Obispo United Methodist Church – without asking questions or our even being members – helped take care of my family. He died in October 1987, and I joined the church the last Sunday of that year; I was 44 years old.

“I had been loved back into the church.” Six years later, she headed for Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, California, and an M. Div. degree.

“I started seminary about the same time Africa University was starting,” Gaye said. “I’ve been watching it ever since. I enjoyed hearing the AU choir at two General Conferences and at the California-Nevada Annual Conference.”

Ordained a deacon in 1998 and an elder in full connection three years later, Gaye served as pastor of two California United Methodist congregations: St. Mark’s, Stockton, and El Sobrante. She retired in 2014.

“Formal education has been an important part of my life,” she said, “yet, I paid only a small portion of the true costs. When I read in the Acacia newsletter that more than half of the students accepted did not have funding, I decided to give the $6,000. My donation to Africa University is just passing on a portion of the opportunity given me.

“I’m convinced,” she added, “that, in the end, there is really only one family – the human family – and it has just one story, though in many different versions, languages and chapters. I am deeply grateful to God for my life, for the love and support I’ve known over the years, for laughter and tears and everything in between. I’m hopeful about the future and glad that Africa University and its students and graduates are helping shape it.” Chipo Chikomo is a life coach and 2016 beneficiary of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.

She wants AU students to enjoy “a wonderful experience that stretches and challenges them; a joyous, Christ-centered life filled with people to love and meaningful work; a spirit of humility and gratitude in all things while extending hope, courtesy and compassion; and a lifetime of peacemaking and bridge-building in a world that desperately needs both.

“For me,” concluded Gaye, who has never been to Africa, “going to Chile would have been largely about the past; making an Africa University scholarship donation is about the future.”

Story by Barbara Dunlap-Berg, a freelance writer and editor.

Zambian student, Bridget Kamwana, is studying natural resources management.Cecilia Kapheni is a mature student from Malawi, returning to college to upgrade her nursing qualifications.Rev. Benson's gift is literally an answer to prayer for two young women. Without the eleventh hour reprieve her gift provided Cecilia Kapheni and Bridget Kamwana would have had to give up on their dream of a college education for the moment. Cecilia, a Malawian mother of three, is pursuing the Post-Basic B.S. degree in Nursing. Bridget is Zambian and she is working on her B.S. in Natural Resources Management.

For more information about direct scholarships and other opportunities to invest in the ministry that is Africa University, visit: support-africauniversity.org.

Restauranteurs' Legacy of Support for Orphans

Created by the Estate of Frank Kurt Hansen and June Shirley Hansen, the Hansens Vikings Scholarship Fund has had a 15-year partnership with Africa University. Since 2001, the fund has invested in the lives of four graduates who are now serving in social work, teaching and business.

Orphaned at an early age in his native country of Denmark, Frank Hansen had a lifelong concern for the challenges faced by individuals with a similar life experience. The Hansens were successful entrepreneurs who owned and operated the Vikings Dining Room in Toronto, Canada. In planning the disposition of their estate, they chose to share their success with promising students who would not be able to continue their education without financial assistance.

Charlene Kanam Nguz, a current beneficiary who is a senior in the College of Health, Agriculture, and Natural Sciences says that assistance from the fund is giving her the chance to enrich herself with knowledge, which she describes as “the greatest gift of all.”

As the sixth of 10 orphaned children, Charlene is the perfect fit for the fund because its directors aren’t only looking at need. They’re also deeply interested in individuals who show “ability, aptitude, and a promise of useful citizenship.”


"By helping to fund my education, you have not only helped me and my family, you've also helped my community," said Charlene.

Charlene aspires to eventually establish and run a thriving agricultural enterprise in her home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Currently, her country has the highest number of undernourished persons in Africa and the highest prevalence of malnutrition in the world. Hunger is a daily reality for millions of her countrymen.

To partner with Africa University by providing a direct scholarship, invest now. If you have or know of a private foundation with a focus on giving the gift of knowledge, we want to hear from you.