Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Keeping Our Promise for the Learners at Oniipa Primary School

I am back tracking just a bit to share some Empowering Learners highlights.  Thanks for understanding!

On January 15, our first day in the North, it was early rising.  

We needed to be at morning devotions at the ELCIN offices by 7:45.  Even after a very long bus ride the day before as we drove to the North, we all were up and ready to go.  Devotions were brief, Bishop Nambala was not present, prayers were said, we sang just a bit (good morning singers!) and then we were invited in for the customary sit down reception in the conference room. 

Every time I participate in this lovely rhythm I learn something new.  This time as I was gazing around the room, my eyes settled on a woodprint I had seen before but never studied.  This time I really noticed it.  It was a representation of the burning (more accurately the bombing by the South African Police) of the ELCIN printing press next door.  I think the date was 1983.   The wood cut also represented the Reverend Dr. Abasai Shejavali’s words of condemnation regarding this act of sabotage.   Dr. Shejavali was then serving as the General Secretary of the Council of Churches for Namibia.   

More about Abasai and Selma Shejavali in the next entry.  They’re fabulous people, and they kindly shared their deeply moving life story with us. 

Following this reception the Africa Choir moved to the Oniipa Cathedral for a rehearsal, and then we moved just a few more yards over to the Oniipa Primary School.  We walked to the primary school pulling three roll-aboards filled with laptops, supplemental batteries, and soccer balls.  

Last July, when Ethan, Gregory, and I first visited the Oniipa Primary School we met with Mr. Mathias Mpinge the principal.  We were warmly welcomed.  More importantly, during the course of that visit, our dear friend Pastor Shaanika made it quite clear (with his now-familiar open-palm gesture and gentle whisper) that our gifts of assistance for this school would be most appreciated. 

As with most primary schools in the North, there is a direct link between the nearby Lutheran parish and the school.  In this case, in 1960, the Oniipa Cathedral Church gave the land and in 1963 built the buildings for the Oniipa Primary School.   Early on, the missionary church leaders were directly involved in the teaching and administration with Namibian teachers eventually taking over.  

Sadly, however, not much has changed in the actual physical infrastructure – the buildings and toilet facilities are still original – but Mr. Mpinge has great plans.     

This day was the actual first day of school for the Oniipa learners and at class break time an impromptu all school gathering was called in the “open air reception room” as Mr. Mpinge called it!  It is here that we must give great credit to Pastor Shaanika for his program and staging.  Mr. Mpinge knew we Americans from Luther College would sing.  Pastor Shaanika knew that we would also present the gift of ten laptops.  All came off without a hitch and Mr. Mpinge made a bold promise to all the learners present, that with the help of parents and fund-raising, a computer room and library would be built.   Mr. Mpinge also remembered and voiced to the learners and teachers that Empowering Learners had kept our promise from our first meeting six months ago.


After the informal formal program – the Namibians do stand on ceremony! – I had a brief meeting with Mr. Mpinge and Ms. Dina Nakanyala, the school counselor and second in charge.   They envision a new building costing $500,000 NAD, or about $50,000 USD.  I indicated that Empowering Learners would be pleased to assist, but that we could only do a portion of what is envisioned.  I explained further that our greatest assistance could come via the next sea container through which we could help provide the needed books and some additional (and far more sturdy) desktop computers.  Email addresses were exchanged and I pledged to remain in touch.


In the meantime, it is wonderful to know that ten laptops fully loaded with Microsoft Office, internet access, and Encyclopedia Britannica, are going to be put to good use by the teachers and learners here. 

Let me also take one moment to put some of this in context.  Great teaching and learning is taking place at Oniipa Primary School.   I understand their rankings and scores are quite good.  There are four buildings at the school for grades one through seven.  Two buildings are usable classroom facilities.  One building serves as the administration building where Mr. Mpinge’s office is.  One other building is also a classroom building but I understand it is not fully usable due to age.  There is a latrine facility, and then a three-part corrugated metal structure that serves as the fifth, sixth, and seventh grade classrooms.   Mr. Mpinge has been at Oniipa since 2009 and his vision for advancement is clear.  Last year the school had 761 learners and 31 teachers.

It seems like only a dribble bringing ten laptops to Oniipa, but our partnership is formed.  We look forward to what will come next.

Empowering Learners.    

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