Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Oshigambo: Pride of the North

It seems incredible to me that it has been over one week since we returned from Africa – the experiences are still so fresh and vibrant. 

On June 23 (the day after we visited the Oniipa pre-school, Pastor Henok’s Kindergarten, and Oshigambo High School) I wrote an entry entitled “Learners, Libraries, and Laptops.”  In that entry I mentioned how it had all come together for me – this whole effort to bring educational resources to learners and teachers half a world away.  I remember I wrote that I felt just “a little edgy.”  It’s a bit hard to describe.  This feeling is still with me. 

The morning we were headed to Oshigambo, there were a couple of people in our group who asked me “what do you think this will be like?”  They meant our bringing in 20 laptops, all those calculators, soccer balls, and all.  I didn’t have an answer for them.  I simply didn’t know.

As I look back now, I am so very glad that the entire student body and faculty were in a government required lyceum on HIV/AIDS.  You may recall we spent time only with a few faculty, along with choir members and the computer science students.  We interacted with just the few folks we needed to connect with and yet we experienced so much.

A thank you note arrived about a week later from Mrs. Alice Chizengeya, the computer science teacher.  She expressed deep regret that the other learners in the school were not present to welcome us and share their thanks.  I wondered and smiled as I read this e-mail, sharing it with Ethan, and I remember thinking then as I do now, that the day as it was, was just so right.  There wasn’t a big flourish or anything like that.  No announcements.  No splashy fanfare.  Plenty of shared hugs to be true, but nothing that would make anyone feel awkward.

We met some wonderful new friends, celebrated with just a few, rejoiced with music, and later left.  Pastor Henok set the pace.  This lovely wonderful man does have a gentle sense about him.  He’s got a velvet glove as a mentor of mine used to say. 

The needs are great at Oshigambo as we learned that day from Principal Shikongo.  They need to rebuild their sewage system; they need new hostels for the learners; and they need to rebuild or refurbish many classrooms.  They have 375 learners and 20 teachers.  The school is 50 years old and showing some age.  But Oshigambo is still one of the very finest high schools in all of Namibia, and when students graduate from Oshigambo, they can make it.  They can get into a university and they can significantly advance their prospects in life.

As a math and science high school, the students who study there have aspirations to become doctors, engineers, accountants, researchers, teachers, you name it.  Tuition, room, and board for one year is $7,900 NAD or about $1,000 USD.  Most students cannot afford even a fraction of this amount and they depend on legions of relatives (nearby and far away) to help them with this cost.  But “making it” and going onto University after graduation is a goal for each and every one of those learners . . . and if you had any doubt they will be sure to set you straight!  There is a lot at stake for these learners, and they know very well the sacrifices their families are making.

As we toured the library and saw all those books on the shelves, and heard from Miss Sarah about her book lending system – I recall Ann Highum whispering to me “I can’t imagine what you and Ethan must be feeling right now.”  She must have asked this a few times, because I recall I couldn’t quite muster an answer.  It all seemed so unreal.    

And it still seems unreal.  It still seems for me a little bit edgy.  But the needs are there for these ELCIN schools and it is plainly obvious that our efforts are appreciated.  So we will continue to do this thing called Empowering Learners.  It matters too much to stop.  And as long as we continue to do what they need and invite us to do . . . well then, our partnership will surely be a lasting one. 

Pictured below are some of our Luther College alumni and family who are also Oshigambo graduates. All these friends would have studied at Oshigambo before freedom when this high school was in the middle of a war zone.  And that’s another story for another time.

Empowering Learners.

Pictured left to right with Ethan and me:  Kauna (Kafidi) Heita (Nampa’s sister), Nampa Nengola ’98, Mirjam-Nelao Dumeni ’90, Usko Shivute ’82 -- who also taught at Oshigambo, and Cornelius Heita (Kauna’s husband).  Not pictured is Frieda Simataa, mother to Sam Simataa ’13.        

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