Coutinho following his heart to Africa via Harvard

PLAINVIEW – Though he’s lived in Plainview, Texas, for the past five years, Daniel Coutinho’s mind has never been far from his home in the Comoros Islands of Africa. Soon, he’ll follow his heart back to Africa, taking a detour for a few years through Harvard University.

Coutinho is a 2006 graduate of Wayland Baptist University, where he earned a degree in business and in mass communications. Arriving in Plainview for school – also as his first visit to the United States – some five years ago, Coutinho said the experience at WBU has changed him in many ways. But one thing that never changed was his heart for his home country.

In another week, he’ll move across the country to Massachusetts to attend Harvard for a master’s degree in economic development and policy studies through the Kennedy School of Government. Eventually, he plans to take that knowledge back to his home continent and make a difference for his fellow Africans.

The journey there has been a long but enjoyable one. Though Comoros is home, Coutinho studied in South Africa for his secondary education, then found the process of obtaining a Visa to study there had become more difficult. Having few options in Comoros, he took the advice of some American friends and began checking into Christian schools in the U.S. They knew Dr. Vaughn Ross (professor of biological sciences at WBU) from his work in Kenya, so they got information on Wayland from him.

Coutinho was able to get a Pioneer Scholarship for academics and a place on the track team at Wayland, so he opted to come to Plainview – sight unseen. Though there was definitely some culture shock to get over, he soon grew to love the Texas sunsets, the friendly people and even the different food.

“I expected (culture shock), but the adjustment wasn’t that hard because I’ve moved a lot all my life and am used to change,” he said. “The people here made it easy to settle in. They were warm and friendly and went out of their way to help me.”

He came with dreams of being a journalist, but his plans have changed dramatically since then. Though he liked writing, he began feeling a different call.

“I started gravitating toward other things, and I didn’t feel that was my call anymore. During my time here, I have looked at all the things America has achieved for itself, then looked at Africa and how many resources we have and wondered why we couldn’t lift ourselves up more,” he said.

“I decided I didn’t want to be an observer but an active participant in Africa’s future. I wanted to work more in economic development.”

To that end, Coutinho added a business administration major to double with mass communications, a move he calls the best thing he has done in terms of opening doors for the future.

With a new plan in mind, he knew graduate work was necessary and began looking for schools with strong programs in the field. He applied to ten top schools and was accepted into nine. From there, he narrowed the field to two but chose Harvard after he was able to secure a good scholarship package.

“I really thank God for that. He really came through big for me,” he noted, adding that he felt at peace after his visit to the campus. “The professors and facilities were impressive, but you expect that at Harvard. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the students, and nearly half of those in the program are international students.”

The program at Kennedy takes two years, though Coutinho said he’s considering a dual degree with the divinity school that would give him a master’s degree in theology as well. That would extend his studies to three years.

After that, Coutinho said he’ll be ready to return to Africa to begin making a difference on his home continent. Going back to Comoros may not be an option now due to the government structure, but he hopes to return one day. He’s considering work in Uganda, Tanzania or South Africa, though he said there are many places that could use help in improving their economic conditions.

One thing is for sure: Coutinho is keeping his options open. He knows, he says with a laugh, God has a plan and will see that he follows it.

“I don’t make many plans anymore. God has just directed me and set me up in the past few years, and (situations) have helped grow my faith,” he said. “God is a God of precision. I didn’t end up at Wayland by accident. I wasn’t going to apply to Harvard, but one of my professors told me just to try. So I’m grateful that God put me here at Wayland around some great people.”