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Africa University breaks ground for Ubuntu Welcome/Retreat Center

Africa University celebrated the remarkable generosity and commitment of the Grand Rapids District and the West Michigan Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church on Wednesday, November 28th, with the groundbreaking ceremony for the Ubuntu Welcome/Retreat Center at the campus in Mutare, Zimbabwe.

“I want to pay tribute to the people of the Grand Rapids District,” said Professor Fanuel Tagwira, the vice chancellor, as he expressed his gratitude. “I also want to thank the anonymous donor who gave the matching grant of half a million dollars, bringing the sum total to one million United States dollars.”

Members of the Africa University Board of Directors, faculty, students, alumni and staff of Africa University as well as the district leadership of the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church attended the event.

For Kenneth Thomas, a second year student in the faculty of humanities and social sciences from Nigeria, the event was both historic and memorable.

“I am very excited,” he said. “This event means a lot and for us, ‘Ubuntu’ speaks to our identity as Africans, to our sense of community as a people and that’s important because we are a pan-African university...this support inspires us to look into ourselves and hopefully we will also give back to our school and our communities when we graduate.”

Once constructed, the Ubuntu Welcome/Retreat Center will have the dual role of bringing people together to promote discourse rooted within the pan-African context, and serving as guest facility for visitors to Africa University. model of center

Bishop David Yemba, the chancellor of the university, remarked on a sense of déjà vu during the event and enformed attendees that they were in the exact location where the groundbreaking ceremony for Africa University in April 1991.

Bishop Yemba said he hoped that the center could be a place where scholars from different disciplines could explore how the Ubuntu spirit finds expression in such areas as economics, philosophy, anthropology and the natural sciences.  He added that the activities held at the retreat center would further the University’s pan-African identity.

Mr. James Salley, the university’s chief development officer, spoke of the power of dreams.

“There has to be a dream, and there has to be a dreamer. This dream came through the district superintendent of the Grand Rapids District, Reverend Laurie Haller. She shared this dream with the District and once the vision is cast, the fire catches on,” said Mr. Salley.

The chair of the Buildings and Grounds Committee of the Africa University Board of Directors, Dr. Maggie Jackson also expressed appreciation, noting that this gift from to the people of the Grand Rapids District and the West Michigan Conference was the result of hard work and sacrifice. The funding for construction of the center, she said, was an example of how ‘connectionalism’ works within the United Methodist Church.

“Thank you for your outstanding work and your superb leadership which has enabled you to raise half a million dollars,” said Dr. Jackson. “This center will help in the continuation and growth of Africa University…Africa will become a better place as we use this building to enhance pan-African values in our students.” 

The Ubuntu Welcome/Retreat Center is expected to be a place for spiritual renewal for the university community. It will also enhance the mission of Africa University by bringing together students and staff from diverse backgrounds and nationalities in search of a common identity.

“I am also very excited about this very important project,” said Professor Tagwira. “We are delighted that we will have our own facilities which will serve the University community, as well as visitors to Africa University throughout the year.”

Professor Tagwira added that the current guest house facilities at Africa University were not enough to house visitors who often have to stay at expensive hotels during their visits to campus. The retreat center will also accommodate Volunteer in Mission teams year-round. In the past, teams would concentrate their visits during the June to August vacation period to take advantage of housing in the halls of residence.

Adapted from story by Sharai Muonwa, the acting director of information and public affairs at Africa University.