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Prof helps furniture program for Gambian students get leg up
Tuesday, December 2, 2008 - By Daveen Rae Kurutz Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Students in Gambia are accustomed to learning from the dusty floor of a schoolhouse, not in desks from upscale New York City hotels.

Thanks to Buba Misawa, a Washington & Jefferson College political science professor, and alum David White, the owner of Universal Hotel Liquidators in New Haven, Conn., some students are sitting on finer wood.

"These people have nothing," said White, 53, who accompanied Misawa on a trip to the desolate African republic last year. "They don't have toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper."

Misawa, 51, of Brookline first went to Gambia in 1999 as a scholar teaching at a university. A native of Nigeria, Misawa decided to expose his American students to the republic in a hands-on way, and every January since 2001 a group has visited Gambia and bordering Senegal, taking school supplies and uniforms.

Additionally, a consortium of students from Juniata College, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University makes the trip each summer.

"They feel like they're contributing by helping and giving something to the people out there," said Misawa, who is preparing to take a group for the spring semester to study there. "They find joy in giving school materials to the schools and villages we visit."

White's company buys furniture that hotels are replacing. Since his visit, White has sent dozens of desks from The W, an upscale New York City hotel, and 14 ice machines to Gambia so people can make ice to store their daily catches of fish. He's in negotiations to send beds from the Westin in Pittsburgh to Gambia.

"It's really touched my life, you know?" White said. "We go over there with these 20- and 21-year-old kids, and it affects their lives, too. It's a life-changing experience."

Misawa said he hopes to expand their unnamed charity, which is setting up a furniture outlet store in Gambia, to solicit donations from other sources.

"Gambia is a relatively peaceful place and a tourism-based society," Misawa said. "The trip ... shows them the reality that Africa is indeed likeable and enjoyable."