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Opera singer forges relationship with Africa University

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A UMNS photo by Vicki Brown

Bishop Ernest S. Lyght, chairman of the Africa University Development Committee, presents an Africa University drum to Kevin Goodwin.
Oct. 5, 2005

By Linda Green*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — Deeply moved by the story of Africa University’s founding and growth, concert singer Simon Estes decided not only to make a financial gift to the school but to become an advocate for it.

With more than 1,200 students from 21 African countries, “Africa University is truly the work of God in spite of the obstacles put before you,” Estes said, at the 5th Annual Richard E. “Dick” Reeves Legacy Society Dinner Sept. 30. The dinner, named in memory of a key supporter of the school, was held on the eve of the Africa University Development Committee’s meeting in Nashville.

He said he was “was deeply moved” after hearing about the school, established in Africa by the United Methodist Church, and to learn there were those who said Africa University would never happen. “People just do not know the power of justice, righteousness and God,” he said.

Estes is the artist in residence at both Iowa State University and United Methodist-related Boston University, and an acclaimed bass-baritone opera and concert singer. He pledged a monetary gift during the committee’s Oct. 1 meeting and agreed to “forge a relationship with the school of dreams,” according to James Salley, the university’s associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement.

“Simon Estes and his wife, Ovida, will do all they can to assist the university in raising funds as it moves to excellence in its academic programs,” Salley said.

Estes, who has performed around the world, is also a well-known youth advocate. His advocacy created four educational scholarship foundations for young people, including the Switzerland-based Simon Estes International Foundation for Children. The Simon Estes Music High School and choir, near Cape Town, South Africa, stresses musical pursuits and are named in his honor.

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Simon Estes addresses Africa University’s Richard E. “Dick” Reeves Legacy Society dinner Sept. 30.
In a new relationship, Africa University will recruit students from the high school to major in music. By fall 2006, officials hope two students will be enrolled at the university. School officials also were pleased by the possibility of having Estes in a formal relationship with the music program.

Estes told the dinner audience “it is great that you are supporting (Africa University) because we do know that civilization began in a certain area of Africa and people spread out all over the world.”

“I believe that God wanted us to spread out ...,” he said. “God sent people to migrate to different areas of the globe. I think he made us different so that the true character can be tested.”

The sadness in the world today is a result of ignorance, lack of education and unnecessary fear because of the lack of education, he said.

“One of the ways that we can try to help this planet become a better place for all of God’s children to live is through education, a total education,” he said. “What is so great about (Africa University) is that it is faith-founded,” and “if you have a foundation of faith in God and ask God to always direct your school, it will flourish.”

Africa University, at Old Mutare, is the continent’s only degree-granting university related to the general United Methodist Church.

Annual conference support

During its meeting, the development committee learned that the denomination’s Mississippi Annual (regional) Conference was altering its $1 million campaign for the school following an August visit to Zimbabwe. The conference now plans to pursue the campaign in four parts.

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James Salley, associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement, addresses the audience at the Sept. 30 dinner.
The Mississippi Conference had originally decided to build a dormitory and sponsor a $250,000 gift for HIV/AIDS programs throughout the two Zimbabwe annual conferences. Instead, it will endow a chair in the university’s faculty of health sciences to permanently provide a faculty position, said Lloyd Rollins, the university’s director of development. The conference also will provide in-kind donations of lab equipment to outfit the labs in the new health science building.

In addition, the conference will provide scholarships specifically for health science students, and it will assist the two Zimbabwe annual conferences in building a district conference center near Mutare. The center will offer additional office space for the bishop and clinic facilities that will be affiliated with the university.

The Mississippi campaign, as well as a $1 million campaign by the Louisiana Annual Conference, is “in a holding pattern with the devastation left in each conference by Hurricane Katrina,” Rollins said.

Committee members applauded the news that a chance encounter between a man wearing an Africa University T-shirt and a Virginia lawyer resulted in a $200,000 bequest to the school.

Salley announced the gift from the estate of the late Eva D. Kern of Arlington, Va. Kevin Goodwin, a member of the school’s advisory development committee, was attending an event at Epworth United Methodist Church in Rehoboth Beach, Del., when he met John L. Melnick of Falls Church, Va. Goodwin was wearing an Africa University T-shirt. The men had a conversation about the needs of the school, which resulted in Melnick, as the sole executor of the Kern estate, disbursing $200,000 to the university for the endowment and for wildlife management projects.

The 50-member development committee, established in 1993, works with the Africa University Development Office in Nashville and agencies of the United Methodist Church to raise money for the school’s capital, endowment and operational needs.

Patriot Act

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Elaine Jenkins
Since the university can be deemed a charitable organization located outside the United States, the committee discussed possible implications of the U.S. Patriot Act on its fund-raising work.

The Patriot Act does not affect fund-raising for the school, said Elaine Jenkins, director of the university’s planned giving office. The Patriot Act was created following Sept. 11, 2001, to strengthen the federal government’s ability to combat terrorism. U.S. tax laws prohibit the diversion of charitable assets to any noncharitable purpose, including material or financial support of terrorism, she said.

The university’s relationship with the U.S. Agency for International Development ensures that the school is in compliance, Jenkins told the committee. USAID has provided more than $8 million for projects at the university.

“USAID has instituted certification requirements that apply to all USAID funding recipients to assure that USAID does not directly or indirectly support terrorist groups or individuals,” she noted.

Through Africa University Inc. Tennessee, funds raised are managed and invested in the United States until transferred to the university, which is legally known as Africa University Inc. Zimbabwe, she said.

“The founders, in setting up AU through the UMC system, took all of these kinds of variables into consideration years before the university started,” Salley said. “Also, we were getting the kind of scrutiny that some charities are just now getting long before 9/11 and the Patriot Act.” The school is aware of the laws and complies with them, he said.

In other action, committee members:

  1. Viewed, the development office’s new Web site.
  2. Recognizing Rosalind Lewis, a retired United Methodist Publishing House employee, for her work with the university’s library.
  3. Received a presentation from United Methodist Communications on how the agency will help the university educate people about the school and cultivate partners and donors across the globe.
  4. Learned that the university, through its Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance, has received a $3 million grant from the African Capacity Building Foundation to provide masters’ degrees in other countries.
  5. Learned that David Manyonga, who recently earned a master’s degree from the Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance, was named the regional coordinator for the Southern and Great Lakes Africa United Movement to End Child Soldiering. The university, through the institute, signed a memorandum of understanding with the movement in August to expand the institute’s intern program and give students the opportunity to work in peace-keeping initiatives in war zones in northern Uganda and southern Africa.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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