Saturday, April 12, 2014

With Thanks From Mr. Zulu!

I begin this brief update of our work by sharing a lovely note of thanks. 

Hello friends and how do you do out there in the US?  We are fine and so happy that we finally received our parcel from you via Oniipa.  It’s a wonderful package indeed. We shall surely put the items to very good use.  May I take this opportunity on behalf of the Principal and Staff to extend our gratitude to you for this gesture of good will.  We are so humbled by the gift that you gave to us indeed.  We would like to urge you to continue doing good unto the needy.  May the good Lord Almighty God abundantly bless you and the entire team for this gesture.

Such messages really put the wind in our wings!  

Mr. Rennyford Zulu is the head of sciences at ELCIN Nkurenkuru High School.  Gregory, Ethan, and I were privileged to meet Mr. Zulu when we visited the high school in July of 2013 in the company of our dear friend Pastor Henok.  Mr. Zulu along with Mr. Jesaya Chapwa, the head of school administration, showed us all around and we enjoyed getting to see this school in such detail.  Founded by the ELCIN in 1990, it is a terrific academy and they are doing very good work.

The “parcel” that Mr. Zulu is thanking us for was a tightly bound and sealed shipping box and a well-worn roll-aboard suitcase.  (The zipper on that roll-aboard was surely on its last journey but it held just as long as we needed it to!)  Enclosed in the bound box was a digital binocular biological compound microscope.  This microscope has a built in digital camera, which can connect by USB to any laptop or desktop.  We knew that the science hall at Nkurenkuru had an LCD projector, so we were sure that with such a powerful microscope, that now a whole classroom could view the research.  Also included in the roll-aboard was a package of 200 prepared biological slides – everything from plant material to fiber to blood cells – and 20 TI83 graphing calculators.  (And yes, indeed, it was these parcels that caused my delay in customs when we arrived … so worth the wait!)           

We’re pleased that the parcel arrived at Nkurenkuru and we thank our good friend, Reverend Shaanika, secretary of education for the ELCIN, for delivering it for us.  This past January getting to Nkurenkuru in the Kavango Region was just too far east for us to travel in such a short time, so we needed the capable courier service of our friends based in Oniipa.    

We say it in every presentation we make and in every thank you note we send – the gifts from so many are helping so many!  From building kindergartens, to shipping books and computers, to carrying in educational materials, the work of Empowering Learners is focused by mission and need and yet broadly beneficial.  

And we simply could not secure and deliver these gifts without the generous support of our friends and family.  Thank you all. 

In just a matter of days another 40-foot sea container filled with books and computers will be packed and will start on its way to the North of Namibia.  More on this terrific development in our next entry.  Once again our thanks to so many for so much!

Empowering Learners.       

This is a quick view of the Library at ELCIN Nkurenkuru High School.  Those encyclopedias seen here on the shelves arrived via our first sea-container shipment in August 2011.  Mr. Thikerete Belzo is the school librarian and as of last July he said he was still adding to the library collection from our shipment of books.    

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Road to Oshigwedha

Last summer when Ethan, Gregory, and I were traveling together we had the pleasure of spending a few whole days with our dear friend Pastor Henok.  Our conversation topics were many, wide-ranging, and happy.

The four of us were pleased that the construction of the Reverend Philippus N. Henok Kindergarten had gone so smoothly and had turned out so nicely.   To see photos and read our recollection of that lovely occasion, please scroll back and read the posted entry entitled A Banner Day. 

And so we began a new conversation with Pastor Henok last July, of another "kindergarten in need” within the Oniipa Parish – Pastor Henok said the next few months would be very busy but that he would remain in touch.   In late October, he got back to us via email, letting us know that if Empowering Learners could assist with funding a new kindergarten in Oshigwedha, six kilometers from the church, this would be much appreciated.   Without hesitation we said “yes” and we feel the description of this “kindergarten in need” is particularly powerful and worth sharing.

Pastor Henok told us this kindergarten in Oshigwedha was built by the villagers out of discarded beer bottles – and no -- you would not be alone if you needed to read that last phrase twice, as I did when I received the message.  Discarded beer bottles.  Not only did I need to see this building with my own eyes, I surely needed to meet the teacher who made it all happen. 

And so I did, on Thursday, January 16.  Pastor Henok and I drove from the ELCIN Offices to the kindergarten.  I always like to ride with Pastor Henok because he shares with his company a color commentary on everything around.  I was absorbed in all he was saying, looking to and fro, surveying the terrain, when just like that he turned left off the pavement, driving down into the ditch, and then along a rutted, sandy road.   

I looked over to his side and he was smiling … he knew he had caught me off guard and we laughed.   He said in a slightly raised voice over the noise of the off-roading, “We call these bush roads!”   “No kidding!” I called back.   (I remembered our drives together last summer in our rented Toyota Corolla.  Note to file:  always rent a four-wheel drive vehicle for driving in the north.) 

He explained that during the struggle, these were really the only roads between the farms and the villages since the main east-west paved road was frequently littered with land mines.   Here’s an aside … It dawned on me right then that I had always assumed it was the South African Police who mined the road in hopes of killing SWAPO fighters.  But now I realized it may actually have also been the SWAPO who mined the main road in hopes of retaliating against South African fighters … since surely the locals knew how to navigate this maze of bush roads.   This will go on my list of questions for my next visit.  I clearly need to learn more.

So these bush roads twisted and turned and crisscrossed and intersected.  Pastor Henok knew just where to turn after a certain fence post and before another split in the ruts.   After about a mile or so, on our right, we passed the Oshigwedha Junior Primary School.  I knew we must have been getting close.  We followed along another fence and then stopped.  I looked around and children were starting to come from different directions.  There it was … the building made of beer bottles and cement. 

On the doorstep of this building it says 2005. 

Meme Rauna, teacher and building engineer, with her little boy on her hip, was there to show me around.  I saw her worktable.  I saw her materials.  And on this first day of school I met a few of her learners.  It would still be about another week until all the children would be enrolled.  But those who were there were happy and full of smiles.

The current building is functional.   But I am pretty certain that Pastor Henok is worried about the long-term stability of the structure.   And given it’s remote off-road location, now is the chance to build a more lasting structure. 

The cost of building a single-room, bricks and mortar kindergarten, in the North of Namibia – complete with a lockable door, two windows, a pitched corrugated tin roof, and a cement floor – costs approximately $5,000 USD.  On this trip I presented our friend with the first installment.  In the coming days, I will send the balance.

Thank you, friends and family, for your charitable support through these many months.  Your kind generosity allows us to respond to such designated needs.  All gifts of all sizes are welcome in support of our partnership efforts.  The road to this new kindergarten has been a wonderful journey.  Thanks for being with us!

Empowering Learners.    

Below are a few more up close photos.  

This is the view from the inside.  It's really quite lovely when the sun shines through.

This little sweetie refused to smile until I took notice of her brand new back-to-school sandals.  Which I must admit were really pretty snazzy!  :)

Blessings everyone!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Psalm 37

The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will abide forever;
they are not put to shame in evil times,
in the days of famine they have abundance.

But the wicked perish,
and the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish – like smoke they vanish away. 

I had promised a follow up essay on our time with Abasai and Selma Shejavali.  That seems so long ago.  The essay was forming in my mind on our bus ride, but then some key things happened which caused a delay in writing.  Maybe this is for the better in the long run.  We shall see. 

So as I said, the Shejavalies spent a morning with us telling us of their lives and ministry. 

Abasai began his story by asking our students “How old do you think I am?”  The guessing began and all fell woefully short.  Just knowing some of the facts of their lives I personally was guessing older … but I too did not know that this spring Abasai would turn 80 years old.  And Selma is just a bit older than he.  As even Abasai himself says … with a twinkle … he married up, he married older, he married intelligence, and he married beautiful.  Such a smart man!  

Abasai and Selma Shejavali agreed to speak to our Luther students for some key reasons.  Firstly, they love Iowa, as a result of their time at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque.  Secondly, they love students, and they always seek to both teach and learn.  Finally, they agreed to speak to our group in private.  And so out of respect for their privacy, I will not tell very much of what they shared – but I will share two other accounts from good friends that echo some of what Abasai and Selma shared with us. 

In my previous entry I mentioned the woodcut print that hangs in the ELCIN conference room that portrays the bombing of the church’s printing press.  What I could not remember at the time was the Psalm that was quoted and etched in the piece as having been prayed by the Reverend Dr. Abasai Shejavali.  

Thank you, Andy Last, for seeing it in a photo and sending it my way yesterday … it has helped me form my thoughts.  Psalm 37.  The wisdom of an aged person.  That God sees all.  And that the righteous and innocent will prosper. 

At one point well into our visit, questions were welcomed.  I asked Abasai and Selma, what was it like at Oshigambo Lutheran High School (one of the primary beneficiaries of Empowering Learners) during the struggle for freedom?  Abasai replied, that during those years, life went on.  People farmed, they went to school, they did what they needed to do within the hours of curfew. 

But also during this time “death hung in the air.” 

As documented by so many:  young men disappeared.  Women, mothers, and sisters, never knew where their men had been taken.  The South African Police interrogated families if they were thought to be collaborating with the SWAPO fighters.  Farms and properties of collaborators were burned to the ground.  Namibians needed to have their papers on their person at all times.  Curfew was at sundown. 

A few hours later that same day, I was driving with our dear friend Pastor Philippus Henok.  During the struggle he was serving as principal at Oshigambo.  I asked him, also, what it was like at Oshigambo during that time.  He said that in the village of Oshigambo, right near the high school, there was a South African police and army base.  In the evenings after curfew, the soldiers would go outside and would shoot their automatic weapons into the air, some times over the residential high school. 

Pastor Henok said every time you left your home in the morning you said your goodbyes, since you could not know if you would return in the evening.

One week after these visits, I was in the company of Usko (Class of 1982) and Frieda Shivute at our Luther College Alumni Reception in Windhoek.  I always look forward to visiting with Usko and Frieda and their beautiful children.  This time I learned so much more.

Usko came to Luther as an adult learner through the 100 Scholars Program of the Lutheran Church in the mid 70’s.   This program was an attempt by our church to get scholars out of the war zone so they could pursue their studies in the US.  I was telling him of our time with Abasai and Selma Shejavali and our shared discussion of these decades of the struggle.  “Ah yes,” Usko smiled and said, “they are marvelous and peace-filled people!”  

I mentioned to Usko and Frieda a little about what I was reading and learning about the struggle for freedom and the police interrogations.  Usko looked at Frieda and said, “just like my experience in Chicago.” 

I was not tracking and I asked him to explain.

As he was traveling from Namibia to Luther College, Usko entered the US through Chicago O’Hare, as many of us do when we travel internationally.  This was the summer of 1978.   As he was standing in line to pass through immigration, Usko was removed from the line, told to collect his bags and was taken into a room for questioning. 

The officials asked him where he was from.  He said, “Namibia.”  The officer replied, “You mean South West Africa.”   Usko explained that his country was named Namibia, not South West Africa, which of course was the apartheid name.  The officers ordered him to: “Open your bag and take out the gun you are carrying.”  Usko said he had no gun, and that if they thought there was a gun in his bag then they should go ahead and search the bag themselves.  This interrogation remained hostile and continued for many hours.   Usko missed his connecting flight to Minneapolis, where his hosts from Luther College were waiting for him.   There is so much more to this amazing story, which I will share in a future entry, but for now I will jump ahead in the telling.

We have learned from the history books and from so many that if any member of your family sought exile in another country, or left the country for any reason, that your family was then marked for interrogation.  At minimum your family was followed, sometimes for weeks and months. 

And so it was for Usko Shivute’s family.  Usko had left the country to attend Luther College in America.   By the time he landed at O’Hare only 40 hours after his departure, his family had been questioned, and his father had been forced onto his back on his bed and with a gun to his chest had been asked where his son had gone?  

“To study in America,” was his father’s reply.

The Lord knows the days of the blameless …

O God, source of all goodness:  We give you thanks for the gift of reason and the opportunity for education.  Bless our schools, that they may be places of learning and safety where teachers challenge the minds and nurture the hearts of students.  Grant that teachers and students may work together in mutual respect and find joy in the challenges of academic life.   

Thank you, Abasai and Selma, Usko and Frieda, and Philippus, for sharing just a little of your lives and ministries with us.  We hold you dear.

Empowering Learners.