One might think the transition from Malawi to the United States would be difficult, but when Allan Kawala ’13 began his first year at Gettysburg College in 2009, he was prepared for the change.
“I’ve always told myself it doesn’t matter where I find myself. What matters at the end of the day is the attitude, the approach,” said Kawala, whose trip to Gettysburg was his first to the United States.
Originally from Lilongwe, Malawi, Kawala was the only one in his family to attend college in America.
“I go into a new place with the mindset that I’m not going to see myself as a stranger, but I’m going to see myself as part of that community,” Kawala said.
His approach in adapting to the Gettysburg community proved to be successful. In his four years on campus, Kawala became president of a student club, presented research in Texas, led a group of students to Kansas, organized a peace project in Malawi, and formed professional relationships and quality friendships bound to continue long after his graduation in May.
Kawala first heard about Gettysburg through the United States Student Achievers Program (USAP), a program offered by the U.S. Embassy in Malawi that introduces students to the American educational system and assists with the application and orientation processes. USAP identified Gettysburg College as an institution with excellent financial aid opportunities for international students. Kawala, who was familiar with the Gettysburg Address, felt an instant connection with the College and applied Early Decision.
Attending a boarding school for four years prior to enrolling at Gettysburg helped Kawala learn how to adjust to life away from home. Instead of traveling home on breaks from school, Kawala and his mother explored new places and cultures within Malawi.
“I would go to a different place where I didn’t know anyone and didn’t speak the language,” said Kawala. “That meant that I had to learn the language and learn to live with the people in that area. That was a big help for me – to be able to understand that my experiences are not going to be the same experiences as someone else.”
Kawala can now communicate in eight languages. Through his exposure to different cultures within Malawi, he realized the importance of celebrating differences. This awareness contributed to his decision to major in sociology, a choice Kawala made before coming to Gettysburg, and is proud of four years later.
Promoting peace through song
Since his arrival at Gettysburg, Kawala hoped to one day apply his work within sociology to the struggle for peace among different cultures in Malawi. Through participating in Toastmasters, a club designed to help members improve their leadership and public speaking skills, and eRace, a group that meets weekly to engage in racial justice dialogue, Kawala gained the confidence and skills necessary to make his dream a reality. Kawala submitted a proposal for the Davis Projects for Peace grant through the Center for Public Service at Gettysburg College, and his project was approved for the summer of 2012.
As part of his Project for Peace, Kawala organized a group of nearly 20 people (pictured below) in Malawi to discuss the importance of embracing differences and striving toward peace. Although the group was small, they sought to deliver their message to a wider audience by composing a song that would promote peace and collaboration.
“For us, the song was putting a plug into the community. We could use the song to start a conversation,” Kawala said.
In creating the song, Kawala and the participants considered the interests of people within various demographics. He classified the song as a mix of hip-hop and reggae—hip-hop to appeal to the youth and reggae to target older generations. The song is relatable to many cultures as it includes references to historical and current events both inside and out of Malawi.
“Some of these issues happened a long time ago. Some of them are current. But we can still see connections and we can’t let those issues continue,” said Kawala, who viewed the song as a way to encourage peace in the present and also in the future. “It’s time for us to stand up and say ‘enough is enough.’ And we have to do this not just for the sake of our generation, but we have to think about our kids and grandkids.”
The group wrote, composed, and recorded the song in merely a few days, but their efforts did not end there. Kawala and the other participants uploaded the song online and began to spread its message to a broader community. Soon a radio station in South Africa found the song online and contacted Kawala and his group for an interview. By the time Kawala returned to Gettysburg this fall, the song had been played on radio stations in more than 30 African countries.
“The project gave me the opportunity to challenge the participants to realize we have differences, but to look for a way of using those differences to unite us,” he said.
Listen to the song here.
Embracing leadership in Gettysburg and beyond
As the ripples of his Project for Peace continue to expand, Kawala has been making waves at Gettysburg as well. Since his sophomore year, he has served as a leadership mentor for the Garthwait Leadership Center (GLC). In this position, he became closely involved with the Leadership Institute, a semester-long, seminar-style leadership experience offered to students. The program explores leadership through social justice issues and culminates at the end of the spring semester with a week-long immersion project at an off campus location.
Last year, Kawala took a group of 12 students from the Leadership Institute (pictured below) to Abilene, Kansas, and Little Rock, Arkansas, where they toured the Eisenhower Library and Museum, participated in the Five Star Leadership Program, and followed in the footsteps of the Little Rock Nine at Little Rock Central High School.
Read about the Leadership Institute trip here.
After graduation, Kawala plans to look for jobs in market research. He would like to eventually return to Malawi and apply what he has learned at Gettysburg to continue in an effort to promote peace.
“I feel like I’m changed,” said Kawala, looking back on his four years at Gettysburg. “I want to do something with my life—not try to make a name, but be able to look back 50 years from now and know I lived a life that was enjoyable, a life that was able to change peoples’ lives.”
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Posted: Fri, 19 Oct 2012
Next on your reading list
Share this story: