Feb 1, 2012
By Tessa Dufresne
Edwina Lebbie migrated to the United States from Sierra Leone in 1996 as a civil war fueled by illicit diamond trade took over her family's homeland.
Lebbie was appreciative to her parents and felt fortunate, but she yearned to be back in Freetown, where the war had not yet reached. Fifteen years later, Lebbie said she knows she is in the place she is supposed to be: at Ohio University as a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellow.
"Ohio University has produced very great scholars," said Lebbie, a first-year graduate student in African studies. "It has great professors here that I wanted to study under, and I came to get a different perspective from the city where I lived."
Prior to her arrival at Ohio University, Lebbie worked as a program coordinator with HALO Trust, the world's largest and oldest landmine clearance organization. Based on fieldwork experiences with explosive ordinance issues and political situations in countries such as Angola, Cambodia and Armenia, she eventually committed her future to corporate governance and resource management in the Gulf of Guinea.
Lebbie is currently studying Wolof – the Atlantic language closest to the Gulf. African language instruction is required of all FLAS fellows in exchange for a stipend and one-year scholarship.
Funded through the U.S. Department of Education Title VI program budgets, the competitive FLAS fellowship is awarded to undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrate a high academic standing and a dedication to African languages and area studies.
According to Director of African Studies Steve Howard, FLAS is essential because "more students can devote their time to really investigating Africa and her languages. It helps to build the next generation of Americans who will study and teach Africa."
Despite last year's deep cuts to Title VI program budgets, the University's fellowship funding was protected, enabling OHIO to welcome 14 FLAS scholars in the 2011-12 academic year. These include 12 undergraduate students and two graduate students in majors ranging from biology to photojournalism to African studies.
Lebbie said the funding has enabled close study of a subject area that will benefit her future endeavors across the globe. "I don't think I'd be here if it wasn't for FLAS," she added.