Managing Uncertainty, Lifting Spirits

Friday, April 24, 2020 - Nashville, TNPractical, day-to-day challenges are certainly part of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The challenges can take their toll, so AU's students and staff are working together to boost morale and counter feelings of anxiety and loneliness.

Social distancing reminders in the dining hall. The university is "rolling community-building activities that are fun, educative and thought provoking for both on and off campus students," said George Miti, the dean of students. Lecturers and students interface on learning platforms and there are the usual official memos going out by email. However, two-way communication is key so there are also WhatsApp groups that keep administrators, resident assistants and class representatives interacting with the students just as they would on the campus.

Humor, scripture, motivational quotes, audio messages and encouraging videos like this one from Pitman Clement, a Liberian student majoring in health sciences, are shared daily. (Pitman is staying at Africa University due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions.)

In addition to efforts of the student affairs and health clinic staff, the University Chaplain, Rev. Maudy Muchanyereyi and the James Walker Professor of Pastoral Care and Counselling, Dr. Mazvita Machinga, are making tools for coping available to the community.

For Rev. Muchanyereyi, encouraging the staff members who deliver essential services is a particular focus. Most of those workers are living on campus and away from their families.

Dr. Machinga's outreach includes the wider community, with weekly articles in one of Zimbabwe's national newspapers, The Herald. She has also hosted a virtual talk show on mental health issues and Covid-19 for pastors, organized in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Council of Churches.

Modified Examinations to take place via Moodle

Online teaching and learning activities are winding down for the majority of students. Lectures for all students, except the freshmen who enrolled in March, will end on April 30th. The university's three colleges are preparing to administer exams on the Moodle learning platform. In light of potential connectivity and other challenges, students will have a 48-hour window for each examination, instead of the usual three hours for in-person exams. 

This week marked the start of national distribution of hand sanitizer manufactured on the Africa University campus with support from Old Mutual Zimbabwe. Led by the staff of the department of public health and nursing, a nine-person team is currently upscaling production from 145 to 264 gallons a day.

With Zimbabwe's national lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus extended to early May, Africa University is moving towards full production of its prototype face mask. The product was developed using local materials to keep it affordable. The mask has performed well in efficacy testing, prompting a visit by officials from Zimbabwe's Ministry of Industry and Commerce and interest from potential corporate partners.

"In light of the uncertainty that the world is facing, our faith and trust in God gives us the drive to remain focused on serving," said Dr. Munashe Furusa, vice chancellor/CEO.

Furusa thanked the AU Board and friends of the institution for investing in Africa through Africa University. The university is well-placed to thrive in tough times, he noted, because of its ongoing investment in Information Technology, innovation hub and product/business development initiatives, and pursuit of public/private partnerships.

"I applaud our staff for embracing the opportunity to help mitigate the impact of this pandemic," Furusa added. "We still see the opportunities that lie ahead of us after this crisis...We need each other during times like this and through our shared experiences, we can remain resilient and keep our great institution vibrant."


In next week's update, we will look at AU's potential new "normal". 

Prepared by the AU Development Office in collaboration with the Office of Advancement and Public Affairs, based on the main campus at Old Mutare, Zimbabwe.