The 24-year-old Ugandan student was already hurting financially when, suddenly the money for his education and upkeep in the United States stopped coming.
"I was not only down to nothing, I was minus," said Francis Tyaba, a Georgetown University student working on a masters degree is economics. "Idi Amin was in power, and my country was in turmoil. My relatives were missing who could have supported me, they were in prison or in exile."
At the point of dispair, Tyaba heard of the African-American Institute, a benevolent association of people who provide emergency funds for African students. They helped him with a loan.
At a $35-a-plate semiformal fundraiser last night at the Capital Hilton, more than 300 people, some who had donated considerably more than the admission, renewed old friendships and praised an organization that though the years has helped hundreds of African students.
They were entertained by Lionel Hampton and musicians from Mali, Zalre and Zambia. The performance marked the Washington debut of the institute's African performing arts program.
"We came because we were interested in the African music program, in music from all over the continent and instruments we had never heard before," said Joan Gordon, sipping white wine and joined by her husband Bill.
The Gordons were joined by ambassadors from several African countries, State Department employes and city officials, including D.C. City Council member Hilda Mason who, seeking signatures, toted along D.C. Statehood petitions. Effi Barry, the wife of the mayor, also attended.
Some wore colorful flowing African dresses, mixing among the business suits and after-five attire like flowers amid the crystal chandeliers and gold-colored tapestries.
"What this organization is trying to do is very useful," said Paul Bomani, ambassador from Tanzania, who greeted longtime friends. "The students are new here, new to the culture and traditions, and it takes time to adjust. The institute helps in all this."
Tyaba said, "I'm glad there were people here (at the institute) who could help me continue my studies. I would like to work for developing nations, to help bridge the gap between the undeveloped and the developed nations."
Members of the institute said that contributions have been slow in coming, which they attributed to the economic times in general.
But some worried privately that the controversy in this country with Iranian students and hostages in Iran might result in fewer contributions to organizations that aid foreign students.
"I don't think you can hold all students to blame for a few," said Gordon, who added that she had not heard of a possible backlash to foreign students because of the hostage situation in Iran. "I think that because of the situation Americans are more aware that we do have a sizable foreign student population, however."
"It's more difficult to get funds now than ever before," said Mel McCaw, until recently director of the institute and now deputy director to the Agency for International Development mission to Senegal. "Economics is one reason, but besides that some people are unwilling to see Africans become free thinking, or assertive to the point of taking a full-fledged role in the community of nations."