Holman UMC Celebrates Usahwira Partnership

Holman United Methodist Church has invested more than $50,000 to date in direct scholarships for Africa University students.  The gifts from this Los Angeles-based African-American congregation are part of an Usahwira partnership with the university that began in 2007.

In April, Holman UMC hosted Africa University’s chief advancement officer, James H. Salley, as its Palm Sunday worship speaker. For the interim pastor, Bishop Warner Brown, and the congregation, the visit was an opportunity to celebrate their journey with Africa University and its students.

Holman UMC is the only predominantly African-American congregation with an ongoing Usahwira partnership with AU.

"Holman UMC values its ongoing relationship with Africa University. Knowing that the students we have supported through the years are offering excellent leadership to their churches and nations is deeply affirming,' said Bishop Brown. "it is wonderful to learn that our congregation is a leader in long-term commitment to AU. The visit has reaffirmed our connection and our commitment will continue."

Sandra Hardy chairs the Africa University Scholarship Committee at Holman UMC. She says the congregation has prioritized the scholarship ministry because women on the continent of Africa and around the world often have fewer opportunities to obtain a higher education and realize their dreams.

“We realize with every student that we support there is a ripple effect in their families and communities,” said Hardy. “We know their achievement will motivate those around them and encourage other young women to seek higher education. This is the ultimate benefit.”

Elaine Lewis, now an elementary school teacher in South Africa, was Holman UMC’s first scholarship beneficiary. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies/Geography with Education from Africa University in 2010 and returned home to Eldorado Park, a suburb of Johannesburg located on the southern boundary of Soweto.

University-educated female professionals like Lewis stand out and provide a new narrative for young women growing up in Eldorado Park. It’s a close-knit community where, under apartheid, most of the residents were classified as “colored.” Twenty-five years after the official dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, Eldorado Park residents are still challenged by high unemployment, inadequate housing, substance abuse, and violent crime.

Lewis has a passion for education and community development, which she describes as vital to a brighter future for Eldorado Park and many other struggling South African communities. With her first college degree as a foundation, Lewis enrolled in graduate school at Nelson Mandela University. In April, she completed a master’s degree in Development Studies.

When it is translated into English, Usahwira, a word from the Shona language spoken in Zimbabwe, means “a beautiful friendship.” Churches and individuals enter an Usahwira by committing to provide scholarship support for a student for the duration of his or her degree program at Africa University. Usahwira partners encourage the students, follow their progress, and essentially become extended family to them.

Through its ongoing friendship with Africa University, Holman UMC has helped three African women to earn undergraduate degrees. The congregation is currently supporting a fourth female student, Liza-Maree. She is pursuing a four-year degree in Education with a major in English and a minor in Music.

Liza-Maree comes from a township that’s adjacent to Eldorado Park called Ennerdale. She also worships at the Methodist Church in Eldorado Park.

Liza_Maree is majoring in English and Music and preparing to become a teacher.“I chose to study for this particular degree (due to) my passion for working with young people,” Liza-Maree said. “My love for learning something new every day has evoked in me a desire to not only share knowledge with students but also (to be) their guide, to generate new knowledge, and encourage them to reach their highest potential.”

In thanking members for their impact on the lives of young women like Lewis and Tarr, James Salley noted that Holman UMC was in a class all its own. Currently, Africa University has 21 ongoing Usahwira partnerships. Holman UMC is the only predominantly African-American United Methodist congregation in that group.