Relaymedia

Students, Staff Reflect on University's First Decade

Nov 19, 2002 03:00 AM EST

MUTARE, Zimbabwe - As a child, Tanyaradzwa DeWolf played on the land where Africa University now stands. Today, she is studying there, attending classes on a campus that has transformed the area where she lives.

"It is weird that Africa University has been here 10 years because I, as a little girl, watched the people tromp through the mud to break ground for what was to be a university," said DeWolf, 23, a sophomore in education.

She grew up at the Old Mature Mission, across the street from Africa University. "I was born in this area. I grew up here. I came to the land Africa University sits on to play, see the animals, and buy meat and milk."

DeWolf was 9 years old when ground was broken for the university. "When the important people came up the hill and went through the mud, I thought they were weird. The purpose became real to me when I realized that a university education could be here."

While in high school at the mission, she had her first encounters with some of the 40 pioneer students at the university. Students who cannot speak English are required to enroll in an intensive English course, and she helped the university students practice the language at Hartzell High School.

As DeWolf's high school graduation approached, Africa University became the obvious place for continuing her education, she said.

"In 10 years, Africa University has come a heck of a long way from the way it was and from what I remember," she said.

The university changed the area's culture, she noted. "This used to be a very conservative area. With the university here, people are more aware of differences, and it is more cosmopolitan. Differences are more accepted than they used to be. People are not only accepting of different cultures but of whole ways of life, of things like single motherhood, which used to be taboo. It is OK. People have learned a new level of acceptance."

For many of the university's students, the preparations for Africa University's anniversary and the Nov. 15-17 celebration were new types of experiences.

"I am excited about Africa University being 10 years old," said Karen Kanjana, 19, a literature major. "I never experienced something like this in my whole life." The freshman from Zimbabwe called the university a place where different cultures and races meet and interact. "It is like a town on its own."

Barbara Nyatanga, 19, a freshman geography major also from Zimbabwe, attended formal schools during her academic development. Watching the anniversary unfold "is exciting. I never experienced this at formal school. It is a privilege to get to know people from the United States," she said.

She calls Africa University a home away from home. "It also is the place to meet different people and learn about different cultures. I can be in Liberia while in Zimbabwe."

Many staff members, some of them aboard since the school's inception, also recalled the early years.

Susan Chaya, a secretary in the university's office of information, sees Africa University helping transform the continent for the better. But she did not always think the university would survive. Employed 10 years ago, "I did not think the university would make it. It is a church-related (institution), but I did not think that it would grow this fast when compared to other church institutions, which are developed but not maintained."

Lovemore Matonga, the university's head driver, shared that sentiment. "When the university started, I thought we were playing because we began with 40 students. I then saw it growing, and there are so many. In the beginning, I could call the students by name, and now I don't recognize them."

"Since 1996, things have changed from better to the best," Chaya said. "Every day is better, and now there is an explosion of development and academics."

Thinking the university would just impact the students, Chaya did not realize the effect it would have on her life. Explaining that she came to the university "as a shy person who could not communicate with all levels of academia," she said, "I've done a lot and grown a lot. My communication skills have been enhanced."

For Bilha Pfukani, the founding university librarian, the anniversary was an opportunity to pause and honor the university's beginnings. She remembered establishing the first library in a farmhouse with a lean collection of materials.

"I am proud to be a part of the unfolding miracle that is Africa University," she said. She gave accolades to the university, the students and the wider United Methodist family for making the school, and particularly the library, what it is today. "The library is one of the most modern in southern Africa, and we are forging ahead to build up-to-date resources, including electronic access to remote library resources."

By Linda Green