Alumna Blazes Trail for Special Education in Malawi

March 6, 2012 (Jackson) - When Ambumulire Itimu-Phiri (’02) returned to her home in Malawi, she arrived ready to take on the challenges every teacher deals with in the classroom, but found a bigger obstacle. She realized an overwhelming number of children in Malawi were not getting the education they needed because of their learning disabilities.

Itimu-Phiri is a Belhaven University Alumna who is preparing teachers to meet the educational needs of children with learning disabilities in Malawi. Shocked at the limitations of her country’s education system, she decided to take action and provide help for these students.

“As a result of these findings, I joined a group of ‘like-minded’ people to push an agenda to open and increase the access to a quality education for all children regardless of their disabilities,” said Itimu-Phiri.

She decided to train the teachers who would work with special education students. Itimu-Phiri began teaching and proactively facilitating the development of the curriculum for special education at Mzuzu University in Malawi. Mzuzu University believes in her mission to teach and is sending her back to the United States to earn her doctorate in special education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Itimu-Phiri adds, “I want to create awareness in Malawi, defend best practices and justify positive actions in the educational system. I plan to use my expertise to improve the quality of life and educational experiences for students who are marginalized.”

People have taken notice of the work she is doing in Africa. Itimu-Phiri was recently awarded the Trailblazer Award from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. This award recognizes and celebrates the diverse and historic accomplishments of women.

Dr. Catherine Wasson, Belhaven Professor of Education, had the opportunity to teach her and said, “Others are recognizing what we have known for a long time; she is an exceptional young woman who has dedicated her life to serving those with the greatest needs.” Itimu-Phiri came to Belhaven University from Malawi and completed Belhaven University's Master of Education Program.

Dr. Wasson, adds, “I had her as a student and she was always so engaged and wanted to take in everything that she could. She always had the understanding that she wasn’t going to stay in America, it was her conviction to take what she learned back to Malawi.”

Itimu-Phiri is currently learning how to work with children with different types of disabilities ranging from learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders to emotional and behavior disorders.

Itimu-Phiri said, “When I return, I will join a group of others who have been in the field for a long time and I will only be a piece in the puzzle. I also recognize that I am a product of ‘many lives’ shared. Today, other people see my work and celebrate my few achievements, but they do not realize that behind it all, many people have stepped out of the norm, believed in me and chose to make a difference in my life so that I could be what I am today.”

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Belhaven stands among the select Christian colleges and universities that offer a unique general core curriculum encouraging the development of a personal worldview. The university believes a Christian worldview is a key to preparing men and women academically and spiritually to serve Christ Jesus in their careers, in human relationships, and in the world of ideas.

Founded in 1883, Belhaven University now serves over 3,000 students from campuses in Jackson, Memphis, Orlando, Houston, Chattanooga, Atlanta and online, offering traditional undergraduate degrees, graduate and adult degree programs, and online degree programs.


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