There are many things in life today that we seem to take for granted. Advancements in technology have set us apart from the generations who came before us. Kids today don’t have to walk to school. Going to miss your favorite TV show this week? Don’t worry TiVo will get that for you. We have big screen TVs and the smallest cell phones ever. With wireless Internet connections you can get online almost anywhere anytime. We often forget that in some parts of the world things are very different. In some parts of the world going to college is an unattainable goal. In some parts of the world it’s a daily challenge just to survive.
In 1992 after eight years of planning, Africa University opened its doors in Zimbabwe. Classes began with just 40 students from a dozen African countries in attendance. Today this university has over 1200 students from around the world. It began with only two specialties and now has five fully functional faculties including Theology, Education, Agriculture and Health Sciences. In addition they have two other faculties that are still in development. The Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance is a separate entity within the University whose vision it is to help build a peaceful and prosperous Africa.
In Africa, to be a student at a university is an incredible blessing. Many young people who would like the opportunity to better themselves through education will never see that dream come true. For the ones who do manage to make it there are some struggles that we can only imagine. The country of Zimbabwe is in a terrible economic state. There is a shortage of food there especially essentials such as bread, sugar and cornmeal. The country once called the “breadbasket of Africa” now has people searching through the garbage looking for something to eat.
For the students at Africa University the food shortage is a major concern. One student who visited our country over the holidays managed to catch a glimpse of the “blessed life” of the American people. Antonio Macilau is 31 years old and is a Theology student at Africa University. He is one of two students who attends the university on a scholarship provided by the Mozambique South Conference of the United Methodist Church. It is through the United Methodist Church that my husband and I have come to know Antonio.
In June of 2007 my husband, Andrew, spent 18 days in Africa on a mission trip. Antonio was his team’s interpreter while they were visiting Mozambique. Antonio is one of those people that is just filled with the love of Christ. During the trip the two of them shared meals and prayers and unforgettable experiences. They have managed to stay in touch by email over the last six months. Then the Sunday before Christmas they announced that we had a special visitor with us in church that day. I was moved almost to tears over their reunion. It is difficult to believe sometimes that truly genuine people really exist anymore, but the love he showed for my husband, a man he had only spent 12 days with, took me by surprise.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Antonio and hear about his experiences during his visit. Unlike students here he had to leave his wife and young son behind in their village in Mozambique in order to attend the university in Zimbabwe. The scholarship he was given would not cover expenses for his family so he alone traveled to the neighboring country in search of a higher education.
“If you get a chance to go to university on scholarship, you go. If you have to leave your family then you have to,” Antonio said. While here he was amazed at the abundance of restaurants available to us. Practically every corner is littered with Italian food, Chinese food, Thai and American cuisine. “In Africa we don’t eat outside the home. We cook home and we eat home as well.”
On his short visit to the United States one thing that surprised Antonio more than anything else was how we treat our pets. In Africa a dog is used only for security. The fact that we have entire stores completely devoted to the care of dogs is a contradiction to their society. In Africa to call a man a dog is like saying he is of no worth at all because dogs there have no value. To spend so much time and money caring for a dog would be to them a complete waste.
“It’s ridiculous to me, maybe because I come from a country that is poor, to take a dog for a haircut or buy a jacket for a dog.” Antonio said. “There are people even here in this country who are suffering and taking care of dogs and not taking care of human beings when there is money left over. I do not understand this.”
In addition to how we favor our pets the way we treat our children is very different as well. In Africa children live a very different life. Children in certain areas have to walk miles and miles to get to the nearest school. Antonio was amazed at how little responsibility our children have around the house.
“First thing in the morning the children in Africa have to pick up their bed rolls off of the floor so that the family can begin their day. Then they have to help prepare the food,” Antonio said.
I have always known that we are incredibly lucky to be where we are. To hear about what some people have to do to get their education gives me a greater appreciation for not only my family but also my school, as well as my country.