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Virus alters dreams at AU

Africa University Chaplain the Rev. Maudy Muchanyereyi is among members of the university community providing emotional support to students and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Africa University.
Africa University Chaplain the Rev. Maudy Muchanyereyi is among members of the university community providing emotional support to students and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Africa University.
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Africa University students and staff know firsthand how COVID-19 can change lives overnight.

Your support of the Africa University Fund apportionment supports the general operating expenses of Africa University including faculty and staff salaries and vital infrastructure.

By summer 2021, more than 19 AU students and staff had lost loved ones to the pandemic. According to an April 2021 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and other entities, COVID-19 has left more than 1.5 million children worldwide experiencing the death of a parent or a grandparent caregiver.

“The reported global increase on orphanhood has not spared Africa University, with 19 of our students having lost their parents or guardians,” said Dr. Peter Mageto. He is currently serving as the acting vice chancellor of the institution.

“One student lost both parents. The university has lost two members of staff,” he said. “Although these members had no children at Africa University, their dependents will always look at Africa University for hope.

“The loss of a parent or guardian is always of concern to us. Though the financial impact is difficult to quantify at this moment, the emotional toll on our students is evident,” Mageto said.

Death is only one part of the story. The economic impact is another as incomes have decreased or disappeared.

“Some breadwinners have lost their formal jobs,” Mageto said, “and those informally employed have very little income due to lockdown restrictions in place since March 2020. The economic environment remains uncertain, and continued loss of employment and incomes by our stakeholders and sponsors is something Africa University will have to live with going forward.”

For Africa University students learning remotely, internet connection is expensive and sometimes unreliable because of electricity cuts. Adjusting to online learning is especially difficult for students coming straight from high school. Some cannot afford an ordinary phone, let alone a laptop. Studying at home while helping with chores adds another burden.

The change from what university life was before COVID-19 to the current situation is dramatic. Some international students on scholarships remain on campus because travel home is expensive. Living under strict lockdown restricts movement and social interaction.

To address orphanhood, economic distress and poverty, and access to university education, Africa University is taking immediate and long-term steps. In 2020, the university provided more than $300,000 in one-time financial aid grants to students, in addition to the already available direct and endowed scholarships.

As a second academic year under the "new normal" unfolds, the university's financial aid committee hopes to keep vulnerable students from giving up and dropping out.

Through the chaplaincy department, students who have lost parents or guardians or tested positive for COVID-19 receive support.

The Rev. Maudy Muchanyereyi, Africa University chaplain, said she is grateful for “generous friends across seasons” who have offered support to the university.

excerpt from a story by Barbara Dunlap-Berg, freelance writer in Carbondale, Illinois.

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Africa University Fund transforms Africa by educating and empowering students from across the continent through Africa University, the first fully accredited, United Methodist-related educational institution on the continent. The Africa University Fund supports the general operating expenses of Africa University including faculty and staff salaries and vital infrastructure. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Africa University Fund at 100 percent.