It took a West Virginia University class project, an international student and three cows to continue to improve an African village.

Last semester, graduate students in Doris Nicholas’ Social Work 621 class had to organize a community service project and were touched when one of their classmates told his story.

For a class presentation, student Washington Gondi from the tiny village of Magwar, outlined the daily life of his fellow villagers.

There is no plumbing, electricity, or running water in the village and there is a high rate of HIV and AIDS.

Gondi’s parents have been influential in the village. His mother is part of a women’s group called Tange’ Ne Giri, a phrase meaning “to be mindful of yourself and your well-being.” These women take in orphaned children who have nowhere to go and are unlikely to be adopted.

Gondi’s father was responsible for building a school in the village and was the person people relied on to coordinate weddings, ensure attendance at church services, and form committees to retrieve the bodies of relatives of villagers who passed away in cities. He also helped in getting a new church roof built when the old one was leaking.

His father passed away two years ago, but he still had unrealized goals for the village and the quality of life of its people.

These goals fascinated Gondi’s class and spurred them to action. The fall 2010 class chose the village of Magwar half a world away as the beneficiary of their class project.

They thought it was important that the village be allowed to decide what they needed and choose the project goals. The class’ goal was to help the village while still leaving as few “footprints” as possible.

The class focused on raising money to buy one cow for the village, knowing the cow would produce more than enough milk for the women of the Tange’ Ne Giri group, with extra left over to sell, providing an extra source of income for women and orphans.

Most of the students in the class work in places outside Morgantown and some travel far to reach class. They went to their communities to raise the necessary funds. The students approached their church groups, families, kids’ schools and other community groups, taking donations to go toward purchasing the cow.

They presented to schools and organizations, bringing photos of kids at school in Kenya. The students were able to learn about some of the similarities between themselves and the Kenyan children, despite their different lifestyles.

At the completion of the project, the class raised more than they expected, enough to purchase two cows, and they were able to forward a donation of a public address system from one of the student’s employers. The sound system will be used to announce when public health officials visit the village. In an unexpected surprise, one of the cows was pregnant when purchased and will soon give birth to a calf, increasing the impact of the students’ work.

The project is continuing. This semester’s group of students are hoping to raise enough money to buy a special tent to be used to conduct HIV/AIDS screenings—or if they raise enough, they could purchase and refurbish a nearby building to be used for the same purpose. In that case, the tent would be used to keep waiting patients in the shade and out of the stifling heat. All told, the group is looking to raise about $1,400.

Last semester, the group was able to raise $1,200 to purchase the cows and have about $400 left over, which will be put toward this project.

Nicholas hopes this will become a long-term project and that the students will take on other needs of the village. Next, they might try to purchase solar panels, which cost about $300 apiece, or provide running water for the school, which was on Gondi’s father’s list.

“I really want people to recognize that these students made a difference in the lives of people in a village halfway around the world in one semester, and they sowed seeds that will continue to grow,” Nicholas said.

For Gondi, this project continues the work his father left behind.

“Something I did not realize until I began in social work was that my father was a community organizer. I didn’t even know what that meant before I started my studies,” Gondi said.

“You take people for granted when they are around. Now that he’s gone, I realize that I should have told him how much he was worth.”

For more information, contact Doris Nicholas, teaching assistant professor of social work, at (304) 293-6376 or



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