News - Work of GC Couple Brings Hope to Children in Malawi
Work of GC Couple Brings Hope to Children in MalawiBy Rachel Heston-Davis
Fourteen-year-old Mercy Nasala’s dream of becoming a nurse almost vanished when she lost both parents and moved in with an unemployed aunt who couldn’t afford to educate her. But now, Mercy is back in class at St. Theresa’s Primary School in Blantyre, Malawi.
When thirteen-year-old Paul James’ parents passed away, his schooling took a backseat to supporting his siblings. But he is now back at school and plans to be a businessman who creates jobs for others in need.
Precious Makondetsa is just ten, but already the man of the house to his widowed mother and two younger brothers. Such a precarious situation for a child in Blantyre often means the end of schooling, but Precious is in the classroom and on track to realize his dream of becoming an accountant.
These are just three success stories from Agape Scholars International, a nonprofit organization founded by GC’s Associate Professor of Biology Eugene Dunkley and his wife Jennifer Dunkley. The organization operates in Blantyre, Malawi, and helps street children receive an education. Mercy, Paul and Precious are among approximately 100 students currently in school because of Agape Scholars.
Ousted From Class, Trapped on the Streets
The Dunkleys were inspired to create Agape Scholars International after spending a year in Blantyre, Malawi, and witnessing the vicious cycle of poverty that keeps many children out of the classroom and trapped on the streets.
Several factors contribute to this cycle. The country’s high poverty rate means many families can’t afford the school uniforms and supplies required for children to attend public school; they are subsequently turned away. With no law mandating school attendance, children from poor families are often pressured to earn money instead of going to school. Too often, they end up begging or falling victim to human trafficking.
The Dunkleys saw that education had the power to break the cycle of poverty. They founded their nonprofit in 2010.
Agape Scholars International spearheads several initiatives to help destitute children receive an education:
Agape House: Children who attend this daytime learning center pay no fees and receive free uniforms and supplies. They eat two meals at the center, participate in Bible studies and worship, and receive instruction in math, reading, writing, English (a highly-stressed subject in Malawi schools) and life skills.
Agape House Limbe: This site provides instruction similar to Agape House and is also able to house students who don’t have a stable home.
Back To School: This project sponsors uniforms and other financial needs for children who would otherwise drop out of public school.
Project Pen Pal: This connects Agape students with pen pals in college, grade school or after-school programs for extra support and encouragement.
Feeding the Village Orphans: Agape Scholars partners with Searchlight Orphan Care, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of orphans in Malawi, to provide meals for children in rural areas.
The goal is for each child involved with Agape to earn a Malawi Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education, the equivalent of eighth-grade graduation in the United States. Students who wish to attend high school must pass Malawi’s qualifying exam, and Agape Scholars offers a class that helps students prepare for that test.
Removing financial barriers to learning, teaching basic knowledge and alleviating hunger are vital services to Blantyre’s children, yet an Agape Scholars education goes further.
It teaches the social and moral norms that children need for responsible citizenship in the future. It also integrates a strong faith component, inviting children to trust Jesus in the midst of their challenging circumstances. In addition, the concrete hope of future employment for these children eases the pressure to “earn their keep” through begging or other dangerous activities.
Agape Scholars also touches the lives of Greenville College students. Several students have interned or volunteered for the organization. They say that it has sharpened their leadership skills, deepened their appreciation for education, and moved them from pitying poverty to respecting and admiring the impoverished students who work so hard for their education.
Training For Tomorrow's Careers
Eugene Dunkley hopes to integrate more skills training into the Agape Scholars curriculum. For example, he would love for the schools to one day teach aquaponics. This system of aquaculture uses the waste of farmed fish to help cultivate plant growth, creating an ecosystem of sustainable agricultural products. Learning skills like this would equip students immediately with the means to support themselves.
What the organization is able to accomplish in the future depends partially on funding. The program is privately funded through the generosity of family, friends and other donors. Now that Agape Scholars has operated successfully for several years, the Dunkleys will begin seeking grants.
Learn more about the story of Dunkley’s decision to begin this nonprofit.
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