Africa University Tells Its Story, Gets Taste of New Orleans Hospitality
‘Africa University is in my blood.’
Rev. Dr. Martha Orphe
Pastor, First Street Peck Wesley UMC, New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS – Professor Fanuel Tagwira said visiting New Orleans is a “dream come true.”
As the chief executive officer and vice chancellor of United Methodist-related Africa University in Zimbabwe, he kept careful track of the news when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005.
Tagwira’s dream became reality during the Africa University Advisory Development committee’s four-day visit to New Orleans Feb. 19-22.
He had a chance to meet pastors who lived through the disaster and have led church-related efforts to rebuild. He had a chance to visit with a number of New Orleans residents during a presentation on the university at First Street Peck Wesley United Methodist Church.
The university played a role in recovering from the disaster. It shipped more than 15,000 sets of bed linens to the Louisiana Annual Conference for use in the recovery effort. “We decided someone else needed them, so we sent them,” Tagwira said.
The host of the “Africa University Conversations” event has a close relationship with the university as well. The Rev. Dr. Martha Orphe was ready to sign a contract to teach at the university when Katrina hit, and instead, returned to her native Louisiana from Pittsburgh, Penn., to help lead the recovery effort.
“Africa University is in my blood,” Orphe said as she opened the session in her church, which served as a headquarters during the rebuilding effort. The group was also welcomed by Cheryl Landrieu, wife of New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieau. She was at the church as part of a reading program that takes place there on Saturdays.
The two-hour session offered participants a chance to hear from Africa University graduates and to learn more about the connection that links the university and The United Methodist Church.
The stars of the event were the university graduates who told how they came to attend the university, and how their lives have been formed by that experience.
Tagwira said the university’s students have done a wonderful job during Zimbabwe’s recent economic and political crises. At one point, inflation was running at 230 million percent, eventually forcing the country to shift to the U.S. dollar as its official currency.
“Africa University is making a big impact on the continent… a big impact in the lives of young men and women,” Tagwira said, adding that students must have financial support in order to attend the university. Raising that support is the mission of the university’s Development Office, which coordinated the event.
“Unlike other universities (in Zimbabwe) who closed during the economic and political crises, “Africa University was the only university to keep its doors open,” Tagwira said. “It was by the grace of God.”
The grace of God also touched Artemus Gaye when he was a 13-year-old in Liberia in 1990. At that time, he was an aspiring professional soccer player. Then a brutal civil war came, and his life changed.
He was nearly killed in the war, and was mistaken for a child solider. He managed to survive during a time when “people were killed without any form of justice,”
One day, he went into New George United Methodist Church, and the preacher was giving his sermon. “You can run, but you can’t hide. That preacher was talking to me. I learned about Africa University in Zimbabwe. Thank God for my youth pastor. I sat for the (entrance) exam and came out number one.”
After graduating from Africa University he came to the U.S. to earn a doctorate, and now lives in Chicago.
While studying, he learned he had a much earlier connection with the U.S. and with Louisiana and Mississippi.
He learned that a direct descendent, Abd Rahman Ibrahima, the warrior prince, who was captured by a rival tribe and sold into slavery in America, was unloaded off a slave ship in New Orleans and taken to Natchez, Miss.
Forty years later, Ibrahima and his wife Isabella returned to Africa with the first boatload of freed American slaves who went on to establish the country of Liberia.
Gaye and his ancestor’s story have been turned into a Public Broadcasting Service documentary, Prince Among Slaves.
Martha Mutisi earned a master’s degree in peace, leadership and governance from Africa University, and is now in the final stages of finishing a doctoral degree in peace and governance from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
She won a prestigious Fulbright fellowship from the U.S. government to work for her doctorate. She will return to Africa University to teach after receiving her degree this spring.
“In Africa, if you have educated one person, you have educated a village.” Mutisi told the crowd at the event. “The multiplier effect of educating Africa is incredible.”
She said the education students receive at the university “is different from the education you receive at other institutions in Zimbabwe.”
The university emphasizes Christian values, and every student takes courses in African studies “so they can get to know who they are.”
As a pan-African university, with students from many countries, students end up being friends, often with persons from countries that are normally not friendly, said Mutisi, a Zimbabwean.
AU Conversations Photo Gallery