Members of the Miami University student group Ambassadors for Children (AFC) gathered in McGuffey Hall Tuesday night to celebrate the arrival of Precious Gawanani, a graduate student they met while working at a summer workshop in Malawi.
Gawanani, 25, has three younger sisters and a younger brother back in Malawi.
According to AFC faculty adviser Karen Montgomery, Gawanani was previously teaching at the Natola secondary school in Malawi, estimated by the United Nations to be the fourth poorest country in the world with more than 1 million orphans.
“The school has 800 students, no teaching supplies and about 20 faculty members that are university trained,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery had met Gawanani when she visited Malawi in the summer of 2007, and Educational Leadership Associate Professor Raymond Terrell worked at the orphanage in Malawi with him this past summer.
“(Gawanani) was teaching the students at the orphanage and he had a special demeanor and relationship with all the students,” Terrell said. “He had 120 kids’ total respect. They responded to his presence and he had total command yet he never raised his voice or ever spoke harshly to any of them.”
Terrell and other Miami students were so impressed with Precious that they decided to raise funds to bring him to Miami so that he could obtain a Master’s degree.
“I approached the Educational Leadership Department and the Graduate School about obtaining an assistantship for him and the EDL department was glad to cooperate,” Terrell said.
AFC President Jaime Hartman was part of the 2007 trip to Malawi, when members helped paint the walls of a maternity ward in a recently built hospital. She was also excited to have Gawanani at Miami.
“He’s just such an incredible person,” Hartman said. “It’s so great to bring someone from a country we work with and share a different culture with him.”
This past summer AFC students worked primarily at the orphanage where Gawanani taught. The students raised over $7,000 to help build a library and collected toys, school supplies and hygiene kits for the children.
AFC member Danielle Feuer was a part of the effort to bring Precious to Miami, and was in Malawi this past summer.
“Every afternoon we had activities with the kids such as arts and crafts or soccer,” she said.
According to Terrell, the students thought that their contributions were nice, but strove to do something that would have a more lasting impact.
“The students saw an opportunity to make a gesture that had sustainable, long-term effect,” he said. “They pledged to help support him in his quest to obtain a Master’s Degree at Miami. (Gawanani) had an excellent command of the English language and he was obviously very intelligent, therefore, certainly he would be a fit at Miami if basic needs could be met.”
Indeed many of Gawanani’s basic needs were met at the welcome party Tuesday evening in McGuffey Hall, where AFC members showered the new student with gifts that included laundry detergent, a toothbrush, tennis shoes and deodorant.
They also arranged for him to live at the Candlewood Apartments with two other graduate students.
“We arranged for his first month’s rent to be paid,” Terrell said. “He will pay for subsequent rents with the assistantship that he has been granted.”
None of this generosity was lost on Gawanani, whose surname is Chichewan for “sharing” or “to share.” When addressing the crowed at the welcome party, he showed great admiration for the efforts being taken on his behalf.
“I don’t take this for granted,” he said. “I’m very thankful to you guys.”
Gawanani earned an undergraduate degree in education at the University of Livingstonia in Malawi. As part of his assistantship, he will be assisting with faculty research, office chores and relationships with public schools. He is currently earning his master’s in Curriculum Studies at Miami and expects to graduate in 2010.