A spark behind an education
Each year, millions of students go to college. Some travel 50 miles to attend school while others travel 500 miles. But for Lizzie Muyawa Dube, college meant traveling more than 8,500 miles away from her home in Malawi, Africa.
On June 14, Lizzie came to Alexandria to tell her story at the local Philanthropic Education Organization (PEO).
"Once, when I was younger, my older siblings were pounding rice for dinner and they were talking about a country up north of us. They said that when it is day in Malawi, it is night there. And when it is hot in Malawi, it is cold there, and there are little white flakes that fall from the sky. I said 'Well I want to go to that country,'" Lizzie recalled. "Who could have guessed that I actually would be furthering my education here!"
Lizzie arrived in America 10 years ago after a member of the Peace Corps, who was working at a school in Malawi, met her and was impressed by how smart and talented she was. She thought how wonderful it would be if Lizzie were given an opportunity to continue her education in America.
She contacted Alexandria's PEO, which promotes education opportunities for women, and asked if the AO and EL chapters would sponsor Lizzie to come to America by providing financial support.
After many years of writing back and forth with the American Embassy, Lizzie was finally able to come to America.
"I have been blown away by her adaptation. Coming to a country when she had previously slept on the floor and cooked over a fire and had never seen an escalator before," said Ann Clayton, a PEO member who served as Lizzie's host mother.
A few months after arriving, Lizzie was admitted into Cottey College, a two-year all-girls school in Missouri that is completely sponsored by donations from PEO members.
During her first semester at Cottey College, Lizzie twisted her ankle while roller skating for the first time, learned she had to wear shoes to get breakfast in the morning and was taught how to transfer calls.
"I was nervous about coming to America, but I realized after being in college for a few weeks that everyone is in the same shoes, regardless of where we are from," Lizzie noted.
Though she enjoyed attending college and taking part in all of Cottey's traditions, her professors spoke too quickly for her to understand and the culture was still new to her, so she decided to take a semester off and stay with her host family, the Claytons.
"The Claytons have been so great, they treated me like their real daughter," Lizzie said.
After becoming more accustomed with the culture and learning some computer skills, Lizzie returned to Cottey in the spring of 2006.
"At some point, I realized I was responsible for my own success and failure, and I didn't want to fail," she said.
Following her graduation from Cottey College, Lizzie attended Hollins University in Virginia in 2007 and received her bachelor's degree in sociology. After that she received a master's degree from Syracuse University, where she graduated at the top of her class.
Also while attending Syracuse University, Lizzie's friend from Malawi, Kingston Dube, came to America to marry her.
The ceremony, reception, and dress were put together and coordinated in 10 short days by the PEO chapter in Syracuse.
But the Monday after the wedding, when Lizzie was sup-posed to start her job at a day-care and Kingston was sup-posed to start college, Hurricane Irene hit.
"The airport was shut down and the buses weren't traveling," Lizzie recalled. "So I called my host family and asked if they would come get me. They drove all the way down and took us where we needed to be! I don't know a way to express how thankful I am for everything they have done for me."
What started as a spark to jumpstart Lizzie's education has blossomed into a network of relationships. Without her host family believing in her from the get-go and the love and support from the PEO members from across the country, Lizzie would not be where she is today.
"We are just so proud of everything she has accomplished," her host family said.
Currently, Lizzie is working on her doctorate degree in sociology at the University of Pittsburg, and Kingston is receiving his four year accounting degree.
In the future, Kingston and Lizzie hope to travel back to Malawi and open a school to educate young people and combat the growing spread of AIDS in Malawi, which is increasingly high compared to other countries.
"It is important for women to have opportunities. I want to help support people like the PEO helped support me," Lizzie noted.
There are 154 PEO chapters scattered throughout Minnesota that help hundreds of women each year continue their educations.
Of these chapters, AO and EL are stationed in Alexandria. Each of these chapters has roughly 60 members and meets about twice a month.
Their goal is to promote educational opportunities for women by donating to Cottey College, a PEO-sponsored college in Missouri, and numerous other PEO scholarships and grants.