Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Lend a hand.

Ann Sponberg Peterson writes:  

As I write this we are headed to the North.  This entry will get posted when we arrive in Ondangwa, check into our hotel, and reconnect.  We’re seeing loads of baboons, warthogs, termite mounds, and parched landscape.  In another 300 km we’ll be slowing down for goats, long-horned cattle, and donkeys, since livestock have the right of way in Ovamboland.

This is my fifth trip on the B1 two-lane border to border. I can say everything is as it has been in the past.  The drought is severe, but it did rain last evening, so there is a fresh smattering of green.  Prayers for rain are coveted.  In Windhoek the temps were in the 90’s to 100.  It’ll be hotter in the North. 

Let me tell you about yesterday.  We had the occasion to visit the School for Visually Impaired, in Windhoek, to deliver our supplies of Braille books and math manipulatives to our dear friend Mrs. Marilise Fransman and the children in her care.  Big news … Mrs. Fransman has announced her retirement scheduled for September of this year.  She feels her work and ministry at the school are done.  She delightfully told us and the students that this visit from Empowering Leaners and student musicians was the icing on her professional cake. 

One of the pieces being exquisitely performed by our student singers is It Takes a Village, by Joan Szymko.  The melody is beautiful and resonant.  The words splendid.  It takes a whole village to raise our children.  It takes a whole village to raise one child.  We all everyone must share the burden.  We all everyone will share the joy. 

It was decided this would be the piece to share and learn together with the choir of the School for Visually Impaired.  Their choir has grown significantly since we were here last and these students – sighted, partially-sighted, and non-sighted – were jazzed to raise their voices in combined song.  We broke into sectionals, parts were learned, and the resulting choral union was sweet perfection.  This piece was deeply moving for me before, now it’s forever linked with the importance of our work. 

After the singing, our students departed the outdoor pavilion and went on school tours with their new friends.  Non-sighted students took the hands of college students, or held the elbow of their guest, and serving as admissions-like tour guides, led them around.  Our singers saw it all, took hundreds of selfies, and learned the hopes and dreams of every student they encountered.  The goodbyes were hard.    

When we gathered back together, Mrs. Fransman spoke to our students.  She talked about her career, the struggles with special education teaching and funding, and her decision to retire.  She also spoke openly about how she lost her left hand in a car accident years ago. 

As she reflected on the whole-village-themed-singing, she also challenged all of us saying, “indeed it takes a whole village, but don’t believe you can’t make a difference individually.  Reach out from where you are, lend a hand, and make a difference.”  

She went on to tell a story of how she once asked a classroom of young learners to draw a picture of the most important thing in their life.  Each child then spoke about what they had drawn and why.  The very last student to speak had drawn a hand.  This young boy was quiet and shy and not at all forthcoming.  Other children began to guess out loud why he had drawn this.  Finally, he said, “Mrs. Fransman, this hand is for you.  It is your hand.  You have helped me so much.” 

Lend a hand good friends.  And welcome to the village. 

It was a good first day for Empowering Learners.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

From Advent to Africa

Ann Sponberg Peterson writes:  

Christmas greetings from Empowering Learners.  We hope your holidays have been well spent with loved ones. 

Our days at the Peterson household have been full of hospitality, conversation, and planning.  One guest bedroom is already in a state of readiness as we begin our journey preparations.  We’re setting aside warm weather attire, travel-size products, camera bags, etc.  Exactly two weeks from today we will be landing in Windhoek, Namibia, after 41+ hours of travel.  

The emails and texts from our friends and colleagues in Namibia are increasing steadily as the dates near for our journey.  And so, we prepare, and we pack, and we make ready, and we anticipate.  How will this trip differ from the others?  Who will we meet and what new relationships will we encounter?  What is the state of the drought in the North – now going on three years?  We prepare and we wait. 

One of the delightful benefits of this Christmastime is the annual influx of Christmas cards and letters.  What a treat it is to refresh my cup of coffee and settle in to read the mail of the day.  And, what a treat it is to also open envelopes of gifts sent in support of Empowering Learners. 

My colleagues in Lutheran higher education fundraising know that I often speak about the discipline of giving – about giving as a learned habit and about the seasonal-ness of generosity.  How lovely it is to also be on the receiving end of this learned behavior!  

Many of you know – due to my professional transition back to serve my alma mater, Gustavus Adolphus College – that I needed to tap the pause button on this very worthy project.  During this now two-year transition period, I realized I simply did not have the emotional bandwidth to keep pushing this project forward. 

But to my happy surprise and delight, many donors stayed tethered to the work of Empowering Learners, and the gifts kept coming.  Thank you friends and family.  You have been a buoy to me. 

This was the view on the Third Sunday of Advent as I sat at our dining room table writing thank you notes and sending receipts.  (And yes this posting should have gone up ten days ago.  So it goes!)  To all of you who continue to support this project with no prompting to give – please know your gifts are being put to immediate good use.  I am learning from your cards and letters that for many of you this is your Advent discipline and I remain deeply grateful.    

From Advent to Africa.  Merry Christmas dear friends.  Blessings to you and yours. 

Empowering Learners. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Open to the Unexpected

Ann Sponberg Peterson writes:    

It's great to be back attending to this blog.  

The good news is that Empowering Learners is entering its eighth year.  We continue to have wonderful and steadfast support from a loyal band of followers.  Good work continues to get done with our brothers and sisters in the far North of Namibia.  Sea containers have traversed the Atlantic and arrived at their destinations.  And Gregory and I are indeed packing our bags and getting ready for our return trip. 

It hardly seems possible.  On January 9, we depart again for a journey that shares music, good will, opens us to new experiences, and renews the friendships that support this project so diligently.  A few weeks ago, when I had the opportunity to speak to our student travelers – I suggested to them that the key to a journey such as this is to remember to be open.  Open to the newness, open to the beauty, and open to the unexpected. 

The Peterson basement is filling with Braille books, One World Futbols, art supplies, and primary school teaching supplies such as boxes of math manipulatives.  These suitcases which we will carefully haul with us will garner the scrutiny of many airport security agents.  And we will once again have some fun as we tell our story while being screened. 

While we enjoy bringing these supplies, we will delight even more in visiting the rural schools that have been built.  We will walk through the school libraries that have been furnished with thousands of books, and we will rekindle our treasured friendships in the North. 

We promise to take loads of photos.  And we will bring your heartfelt greetings and hugs with us. 

Thank you all for your interest in this project and your generous financial support.  Thanks to you we thrive.  Thanks to you we continue the good work.  And thanks to you there will be more to come.   May it be so.  

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought with ardor and attended to with diligence.   ~ Abigail Adams. 
Empowering Learners.