Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Reflection

Board Member Ann Highum writes:

Greetings to friends of Empowering Learners! It is my privilege to write to you as a new board member of this wonderful organization.

It was back in 2011-12 that my husband Jerry and I became interested in what Ann Sponberg Peterson and Ethan Schultz, along with several others, were doing in Namibia.  Seems there was a beautiful library at Oshigambo Lutheran High School in northern Namibia--
but very few books for the eager learners there.  After the first goal of filling that library with books was completed, it only seemed right that a group of 12 hardy travelers accompany Ann and Gregory Peterson in the Summer of 2012 to check out the situation! We also took with us laptops and scientific calculators for the high school, school supplies and soccer balls for primary schools, and Braille books for the School for Visually Impaired in Windhoek.

Any travel is life changing, but this trip was remarkable in so many ways. 

The one day that changed our hearts and minds was a morning we spent at a school for kindergarteners, named after our host, Pastor Philippus Ndilipune Henok.  The 20+ 5-year-olds were obviously learning all kinds of topics, in English, with a wonderful teacher, but in woefully inadequate facilities.  The school was basically a cube made of galvanized steel, with dirt floors, one window and one door.  After leaving them teaching materials and a brand new shiny soccer ball (accepted with great joy), our group got on our bus and said, "we can do something to improve this--how much would a new school cost?"  After hearing it would cost local builders about $5000 USD to build a simple, nice brick building, we went back to Decorah and raised the money in less than three months.  As a result, there are now several such kindergarten facilities either complete, or in progress in northern Namibia, funded by Empowering Learners.

Over the years since, many committed people, as part of the Empowering Learners group, remain interested in and passionate about the education of our Namibian brothers and sisters.  As a life-long Lutheran, I am especially proud of the Lutheran Church and many of the Lutheran Colleges for reaching out to the significant numbers of Lutherans in Namibia.  Luther College's own alums, Namupa and Mati Nengola are making a huge difference in their country, using the education they received in the early 90's at Luther. 


The vision of this philanthropic organization has enlarged, just as our hearts have.  In the midst of continued fund-raising for books, the School for the Visually Impaired, and the kindergartens – additional high schools, combined schools, and primary schools are now being served.

As a final note, I believe it is important to note the philosophy that our friend, Ann Sponberg Peterson, and the board employ in the efforts of this non-profit; that is, making sure that we allow our Namibian colleagues (principals, teachers, pastors, and patrons) on the front lines, in schools, in churches, and in communities, guide each and every project.  They advise us what is needed most.  Empowering Learners responds to their requests and we help them take the lead in moving forward.

We truly walk with our partners in Africa. 

I am so grateful for the privilege of participating in Empowering Learners!


Friday, January 15, 2016

Welcome to our sixth year.

Ann Sponberg Peterson writes:

As I write this entry, Empowering Learners has just closed its financial records for 2015 and is turning the page into our 2016 efforts.  This is now our sixth year! 

Thanks to wonderful November and December responses to our Christmas Appeal, combined with an early January running start, Empowering Learners is in fine financial position to take some big next steps. 

Special thanks to our friends at First Lutheran Church, Decorah, Iowa, for allowing me to present at the January 3rd Adult Forum.  The conversation was supportive and lively and I remain deeply grateful for the full engagement that is present at my home congregation for this effort – a project which is so dear to so many, and which is making a meaningful difference in the lives of the learners we reach. 

In the 2015 holiday appeal letter we outlined our plans to ship yet another 40-foot sea-container to Namibia in late February.  Plans are on course.  I am awaiting the books order forms to be returned to me from Pastor Eliakim Shaanika (secretary of education for the ELCIN) and from our good friend Petrus Kafidi. 

Both of these gentlemen are serving as patrons for two fine schools in the North of Namibia. Pastor Shaanika connects this project to the Nakaheke Combined School in Ongandjera, and Petrus Kafidi connects us to the Emanya East Primary School just a few hundred yards north of the Cordon Fence. 

Please know how intrigued I was when I started to research the Cordon Fence – what it is, what it means, what it does – this is the stuff of good blog posts so stay tuned as I write more about this dividing line -- an agricultural veterinary fence which crosses the top of Namibia and Botswana and separates so much.

But back to topic!  Working in partnership with the incredibly good people at Books for Africa this next sea-container will be filled with approximately 18,000 books and encyclopedias, along with maps and classroom supplies.  After this container crosses the Atlantic – traveling the local route and not the express, stopping in many ports along the way – it will arrive into the Port of Walvis Bay, Namibia.  After clearing customs and being repacked, it will be trucked to the North by our colleagues and partners at Bollore Logistics.  Truly, our contacts at the freight-forwarding firm are our critically important friends since they advocate for us through the port and customs process. 

Being a charitable entity with limited resources we need and rely on any and all advocacy.

By late spring (our time) the shipments will arrive at the schools. 

It takes many partners to make these shipments happen, not the least of whom are our steadfast and faithful donors.  Thank you, thank you so much.   The most frequent gift to Empowering Learners continues to be $100 and these $100 gifts power our efforts more than you can imagine.  One hundred dollars puts 200 books into the container, it purchases a used and refurbished Dell laptop from Luther College, and it pays for a full new set of Compton’s Encyclopedia. 

One hundred dollars floats our boat and for Empowering Learners it’s a very large sea freighter bound for Namibia.  Thank you all.  God is good.  God is always, always, good.


Empowering Learners

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hello my brothers. Hello my sisters.

Ann Sponberg Peterson writes:

I was pleased to recently be in Washington DC to attend a donor reception at the Tanzanian Embassy, at which I met Her Excellency Liberata Mulamula, Ambassador of Tanzania to the United States.  This lovely reception was for Books for Africa donors, and through our collaborative work together, I was invited to attend.  It was a wonderful gathering and, as always, it’s terrific to be in the shared company of Africans and Americans dedicated to educational empowerment. 

Good new connections were made and I will look forward to renewing these acquaintances when I return on future trips.  I also had to smile when being introduced to the occasional BFA Board Member – in addition to being called a “container captain,” I was referred to as “the Namibia woman.”   In so many ways, that’s worth smiling about!   

When Her Excellency greeted the assembled group – “Hello my brothers, hello my sisters,” it all felt so right.  And so right to be welcomed to Tanzania, since we were indeed on their sovereign soil. 

It’s been a good spring in this way – being able to experience things in new ways and having so many seemingly isolated occurrences building upon one another so as to make for an impressive and cohesive whole. 

Just after returning from DC, I received a letter from Bishop Nambala of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN), asking for members of the Luther College community to pray for the candidates who would soon be ordained into Lutheran ministry on Sunday, April 26. 

April 26 was Good Shepherd Sunday and that following Friday I was scheduled to speak in chapel.  At the close of chapel my colleagues in college ministries graciously fulfilled this request to collectively pray for these 17 new pastors in Namibia.   Seven men, and ten women were ordained into Lutheran ministry in what was the 57th service of ordination since the first ordinations in 1925. 

So these small details keep aligning in an otherwise much larger spring, with so many things reminding me of the rich interdependent nature of our lives.  But then, my brothers and sisters, this is the meaning of ubuntu – a person is only a person through other people.

Thanks to Susan Bauer who reminded me through her book, Choosing Africa: A Midlife Journey from Mission to Meaning, of the importance of understanding ubuntu.  Susan Bauer chronicles her life and experience of teaching at Paulinum Seminary in Namibia.  It’s a good read and it’s especially wonderful when you can see perfectly some of her experiences as your own.  My thanks to Pastor Rebecca Bourrett who kindly gave me this book in the fall of 2013, after I spoke to the members of her congregation, Christ Lutheran Church in Natick, Massachusetts, about Empowering Learners. 

Today, just a quick update – the drought continues in the North of Namibia and so the building of our new schools has been delayed further.  It seems best and most appropriate to unite with our brothers and sisters in prayer for rain and in hope for the future for all.   Undeterred we continue in our current and long-term fundraising efforts and in the building of the Empowering Learners Endowment Fund.  

There remains much to do, and as a people of faith we are embolden to continue what we have started. Thank you for all you do to support the mission and vision of this project. God is good. God is always, always good.

Empowering Learners