The Newport Daily News recently reported on the work of Martha Cummings '80 as founder and executive director of Universal Promise, a nonprofit with the mission of improving education and health outcomes, as well as fostering financial security for residents of Nomathamsanqa, South Africa.
The article notes that Cummings studied cultural anthropology at Bryn Mawr College and is careful to avoid "projecting her American sensibilities onto a community with its own distinct culture and way of life."
From the article:
“From Day 1, we never set the agenda there,” she recalled. “Our very first formal gathering when we were an official organization was with the educators of Vusumzi Primary, where I asked them to give us a top-10 list. And that experience was very important because they had things on their top-10 list that I could not understand.…I didn’t need to understand. I trusted they knew more than I did.”
The Communications Office reached out to Cummings following the article's publication and asked if she had any additional thoughts on the impact her Bryn Mawr education has had on her work.
"My Bryn Mawr education is my ongoing symbol of opportunity and empowerment.
"The opportunity to which I refer has to do with the assistance I received, through Bryn Mawr financial aid and loans, which introduced me to a new world, one that included giving deserving students—even those without means—the chance to attend one of the finest institutions in the world. What a discovery, and what a transformative gift for a grandchild of Italian immigrants and for a family of modest circumstances. Without the gestures Bryn Mawr made on my behalf, I would never have been able to attend.
"The empowerment to which I refer has to do with the academic rigor, the unwavering expectations, and the intellectual professors and students who existed in every corner of the campus. I played basketball with nuclear scientists and trilingual international students, and I studied Anthropology alongside the kind of diverse student body I had craved in my homogeneous hometown. As a result, I graduated from Bryn Mawr convinced—in confident but not arrogant ways—that I could do anything, become anything.
"When I address the thousands of students Universal Promise serves over in South Africa, I tell them that education is at the root of all change and all hope for equality, and I say that I am where I am today—in front of them, as the founder of Universal Promise, as a lifelong educator, as a homeowner, and as a fortunate world traveler—because of a handful of remarkable circumstances, including a mother who placed education at the pinnacle of her hopes for her children, and Bryn Mawr College, which showed me that I was worthy of attention and investment.
"Bryn Mawr affected me in innumerable ways, and I believe that Universal Promise is similarly affecting learners of all ages in South Africa. Both institutions are symbols of opportunity and empowerment. Both institutions regard education as an equalizing force. Both institutions give proper chances to those who may otherwise have been excluded or subjugated or ignored.
"Living sparks a series of ripples, and the ripple effect of my Bryn Mawr College education now affects scores of talented, eager, determined, resilient students 8,000 miles away from my childhood home. If that does not speak to the power of education, I don’t know what would."