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W&J professor to conduct course in West Africa
Sunday, November 30, 2008 - By Terri T. Johnson, Observer-Reporter

Washington & Jefferson College professor Dr. Buba Misawa knows the poverty in West Africa firsthand.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who spent his early years in Nigeria, Misawa, 51, has adjusted to life in the Washington college community easily. His wife is a stay-at-home mother; his son attends a private high school; and his daughter is a pre-medicine student at the prestigious Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia.

Yet Misawa is all too aware of the poverty in West Africa. Twice a year, he guides students to Gambia and Senegal to experience life on the other side of the world.

Beginning in January, he will conduct a semesterlong course for eight students through W&J in West Africa. The experience is far more than merely learning about diverse cultures.

"Students learn about themselves," Misawa said Friday in slightly accented English. "They find out they are fighting with their parents over nothing when they have everything."

In addition to the student trips and his college teaching duties, Misawa has teamed with David White, a W&J alumnus who met Misawa while serving on the college's board of trustees. White owns Universal Hotel Liquidators in Connecticut, which sells used hotel furniture, bedding and other discarded - but still useable - items.

Misawa encouraged White to accompany him on one of the African trips, and from that experience the two men shipped a cargo container filled with used desks, chairs, beds, mattresses and bed linens.

The ship, Misawa said, recently landed in Banjul, the capital of Gambia, after four weeks at sea and just cleared customs. Soon, the items will travel in trucks to small villages and schools in Gambia such as Tendaba Camp, Basori and Kanilai.

"The people are excited," Misawa said.

While traveling with the students, Misawa said White was shocked by the living conditions in many of the villages. Most of the schools do not have desks or tables. One village chief sleeps on a makeshift bed.

That's when the idea was born to ship the used hotel furniture.

"Mattresses, beds, the simple stuff," Misawa said of the shipped items. "It's not very fancy, just the basic accommodations and bed sheets."

To help offset shipping costs, White has set up an outlet store in Gambia to sell to local residents who can afford the items, but, until now, had nowhere to purchase the furniture.

"One reason David got involved was he was impressed that I and my students would take W&J jerseys and old uniforms to pass out to the locals. And we buy stationery and every group that goes has its project," Misawa said. "One year we took used shoes and sneakers."

The Rotary Club of Washington is helping with some of the students' projects, he said.

Because of political instability and a U.S. Department of State travel advisory, Misawa does not take students to Nigeria. He has not forgotten his native country, though. He visits family members regularly and has shipped nearly 50,000 books to local schools, at his own expense.

"I'm forming a nonprofit organization to help with the costs before my wife (also native of Nigeria) kicks me out of the house," he said with a hearty laugh.

Gambia and Senegal provide a diverse experience for the students.

"I first visited Gambia in 1999 and I liked it, and thought I would share it with the students," Misawa said. He was invited to serve on a three-member panel to establish the first college in the country.

Misawa partners not only with W&J, but with Juniata, Chatham, Susquehanna and St. Vincent colleges to provide three-week tours in January and in the summer.

It's a long road from West Africa to Washington.

"Most of my siblings went to school in England, and when I graduated in Nigeria, I wanted to do something different from the British school system. And the American school system was a good option," he said.

He attended graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh and was recruited to teach political science at W&J.

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