News - A New Lens: Agape Scholars International’s Student Workers Rethink Education, Poverty and Nonprofits

A New Lens: Agape Scholars International’s Student Workers Rethink Education, Poverty and Nonprofits

By Rachel Heston-Davis A New Lens: Agape Scholars International’s Student Workers Rethink Education, Poverty and Nonprofits

When Associate Professor of Biology Eugene Dunkley needed help promoting his nonprofit—a learning center for poor and illiterate street children in Blantyre, Malawi—recruiting GC students made sense. After all, they often welcome experiential learning blended with service, and Dunkley’s nonprofit Agape Scholars International offered both.

Agape Scholars International, founded by Dunkley and his wife Jennifer, depends on fundraising and awareness-raising here in the U.S. Four students with big hearts—Juli Phillips, Gianna Paden, Linnea Smidderks and Amanda Scott—answered the call.

Volunteer Work 

Each young woman has assisted with awareness-raising and fundraising. This includes organizing a 5K, open mic nights, bake sales, Christmas card parties and other events, along with writing for the Agape Scholars website and blog.

Linnea says, “Working with Agape has been a great benefit to me.” The challenge of organizing events revealed her own strengths and weaknesses and allowed her to tap into her creativity.

“It’s kind of scary,” Gianna admits of the fundraising events, “because sometimes I feel like, ‘We’re not able to do that!’ But somehow, we end up pulling it off.” She’s learned a great deal about her own competence as events come together.

The students agree, however, that the rewards outweigh the challenges. “it is extremely rewarding to work alongside such dedicated and passionate people who genuinely want only good for our students in Malawi. It's incredible to see how God uses all of our talents together,” says Amanda.

Perspective on Poverty

The four students heard the stories of children helped through Agape Scholars, and two students—Juli and Amanda—traveled to Blantyre, Malawi to visit the organization’s school in January 2016.

Juli had never been out of the country before, nor spent time with people in such great poverty—but the experience surprised her. “I experienced their true joy. After I went and I saw their joy, and how happy they are, and how much they love people, it really impacted me.” 

Amanda agrees. Meeting the intelligent, hopeful and resilient Agape students changed her view of poverty and helped her “move from a place of having pity to a place of coming alongside [the Agape students] and helping them solve their own problems.” It prompted reflection on how Westerners view the poor in other countries. She says people in our culture should “see the need to help, but not because of pity. Because they see value in those people.”

Gianna says, “Even though, yes, they are in poverty, they still are very capable people, and so it’s helped shape my worldview.”

A Love for Education

Focusing on education as a means of rescue from poverty has certainly made the Greenville College students stop and think about their own blessings.

“They want to go to school so badly,” Gianna says of the children in Malawi. It’s a sharp contrast to growing up in the states, where some students complain about school and many take for granted 12 years of public education.

“I had taken my own education for granted,” Linnea agrees. “This has given me a new lens to look at education through and to open my heart to that in the future. It’s something I value more than I did before.”

Amanda saw the students’ dedication first-hand during her visit. She was impressed by their intense focus on learning. She remembers one boy holding an English dictionary on the soccer field so he could play with his friends and study at the same time. 

Extending an Invitation

As their time at Greenville College draws to a close, Juli, Gianna, Linnea and Amanda hope for greater involvement from GC students with Agape Scholars International. 

“One of the biggest challenges is trying to get more people involved below us so we have others that are able to take over and run with it,” Gianna says. 

Linnea has a message to students considering involvement: “Because Agape Scholars International has only been around for a few years and is still getting on its feet, right now is a good time to come in and be a part of this. You have the opportunity to be an influence and to really determine how we can partner together.” 

Amanda urges students to consider connecting with Agape Scholars, even if they don’t see themselves as event planners. “There are so many different skill sets that you can use,” Amanda says. “I do think that [volunteering with Agape] can fit around basically anyone.” 

With a website to maintain, a blog to write for, networking to accomplish, logistics to plan, and yes, events to host, the organization needs many different talents.

“It really does impact you in such a positive way,” Juli says.

Learn more about Agape Scholars International and its work. Follow the organization on Facebook and its blog

For more stories about students and alumni impacted by overseas experiences, check out these:

Studying Abroad with Greenville College: Kristen Kanaskie's Story

Calling: Be My Witness

Daily Donuts and Rethinking Call in Uganda

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This story was published on June 28, 2017

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