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University sees positive signs, despite economy

Interim vice chancellor Fanuel Tagwira reports on Africa University's status during the school’s advisory development committee meeting Sept. 6 in Nashville, Tenn.
UMNS photos by Josh Tinley.

By Josh Tinley*
Sept. 8, 2008 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

A few days after issuing an urgent plea for funds, Africa University’s advisory development committee celebrated the school's resilience amid economic hardship.

Committee members learned Sept. 6 that, despite staggering inflation rates and political unrest in the school's home country of Zimbabwe, the United Methodist-related institution continues to pay its faculty and increase enrollment.

The Rev. Tyrone Gordon (right) and Lisa Tichenor report on the status of the North Texas Annual (regional) Conference’s $1 million pledge to the university.

In a Sept. 3 letter to United Methodist leaders across the globe, Fanuel Tagwira, the university's interim vice chancellor, implored congregations to pay 100 percent of their apportionments for the school so that Africa University can survive in Zimbabwe's dismal economic climate.

According to the Zimbabwean government, inflation rose to 11 million percent in June. A bottle of Coca Cola costs Z$3 trillion, and Zimbabwe recently cut 10 zeros from its currency, Tagwira told United Methodist News Service.

Supporters and administrators of the pan-African school near Mutare, Zimbabwe, remain optimistic. During the committee meeting, Tagwira announced that Africa University had welcomed the largest class of first-year international students in its history and that the school continues to provide three meals per day for each student.

University officials were happy that the enrollment of international students increased in spite of the political climate in the country. About 120 of the 450 new students in this year's freshman class are from outside Zimbabwe. Tagwira also reported that the university is still making payroll, but some faculty members have asked to leave, and attracting new professors has been difficult.

Apportionments are crucial

Elsie Cunningham, on staff with United Methodist Communications, told the committee that 30 annual conferences remitted 100 percent of their apportionments for Africa University in 2007, up from 20 in 2006. She attributed this in part to the agency's “Give faithfully, give hope” campaign. The church as a whole remitted just over 90 percent of its apportionments, she said.

Giving in 2008 is about 1 percent ahead of where it was last year, according to James Salley of the Africa University Development Office.

Apportionments are responsible for half of the university's operating budget. He noted that annual conferences often wait until the end of the year to pay their apportionments, but the university needs to receive apportionment money throughout the year to survive Zimbabwe's erratic economic climate. At one time, the school had $1.7 million in reserves, but that money had to be tapped, he said.

“People need to understand,” he said, “that as soon as apportionments come in, they go right back out.”

Tagwira also encouraged congregations and annual conferences to send in their apportionments early.

Positive signs

The North Texas Annual Conference is well on its way to meeting the $1 million pledge it made to the university last year, according to committee members Lisa Tichenor and the Rev. Tyrone Gordon, both from North Texas. The conference has already given $500,000 toward the construction of a student health clinic on the Africa University campus that should be complete in three to four months. The second $500,000 will go toward scholarships.

The committee, whose primary task is to help the university's development office raise "gifts of love" for the school, also learned that a partnership with the Silver Springs, Md.,-based company United Converting Corp. will generate additional revenue.

The company produces lightweight insect shield blankets that are anti-viral, antibacterial and water-resistant, and they repel insects. The blankets are effective in preventing malaria and other diseases carried by insects, according to the company. Africa University is helping distribute blankets branded with the school's logo to parts of Africa where malaria and other illnesses are most prevalent. The university receives a royalty for each blanket sold.

Other positives from the development committee meeting included $361,616 given this year for direct scholarships, well above the amount given at this time last year, and the recent opening of a satellite campus in Maputo, Mozambique. The committee also discussed saturation events in which committee members and other university supporters visit congregations within an episcopal area, making a plea for contributions. A saturation event in the Nashville area was held in conjunction with the Sept. 6 meeting.

God’s will

Despite the good signs, Africa University's supporters know times are tough for the school. Inflation in Zimbabwe has forced the university to charge tuition monthly, according to Irene Chibanda, university bursar. “There's no way we can charge fees for the entire semester,” she told UMNS. “Instead of planning for six months, we plan month to month.”

The Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, said the committee needed to replenish the tenacity of those responsible for opening the university in 1992. “We don't plan to make our mark then just disappear,” he said. “There is no place to talk about diminishment of resources to this university.”

Del Pino assured the committee that an investment in Africa University was a safe one.

Committee chair Bishop Ernest Lyght put the university's current financial crisis in perspective. “The university has been dealing with economic crisis for several years. They have learned how to deal with it, and they are dealing with it.

“Africa University, I believe, is God's will. And God's will never fails.” 

*Tinley is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn., and staff member at the United Methodist Publishing House.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Video Interview with Fanuel Tagwira

“We face a number of problems.”

“Zimbabwe’s safe…Zimbabwe’s peaceful.”

“There’s a new day coming for Zimbabwe.”

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Letter from Fanuel Tagwira

Africa University

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