Yesterday I spent the day with Mr. Lamek Kafidi. Lamek is the Director for the Ministry of Education for the Oshikoto Region. And he is Namupa Kafidi Nengola’s brother. Note to file – Gregory and Ethan and I decided some time ago that if you just stick with the Nengola and Kafidi clans here in Namibia, you will be very well served regardless of your mission!
It had been arranged that I would travel to visit the Ongenga schools with Lamek and that on this visit I would meet Ms. Teopolina Kayumbu, the principal of the Josef Shifeta School (formerly know as the Ongenga Primary School), and that I would deliver a set of ten laptops.
All this was accomplished and so much more, but as with all such excursions, it’s the journey that also made the day.
So you need to know that the rains have come to Ovamboland.
We had been cautioning our students all during our time in Windhoek that the scorching heat in the city was nothing compared to the North. We were repeating over and over, “sunscreen and water, sunscreen and water.” Well, to be true, it has been hot up here, but the rains have been frequent and this is a real blessing to this drought-stricken area.
Yesterday the day started with a big thunderstorm and torrents of rain. More than a few times our presence – the arrival of Luther’s Africa Choir in the North – has been equated to the arrival of the rain. This has made us smile since these rains are so desperately needed. This is planting season and now they will need rain every week or so.
So we set off for Ongenga in the rain in Lamek’s four-wheel drive SUV. We were on paved roads for two-thirds of the trip and then we turned off onto gravel. Then, because the road was being worked on, we drove off into the ditch to drive on the “side road.” These last 20 kilometers Lamek navigated foot-deep sandy mud, vast puddles of unknown depth, on-coming vehicles, pedestrians, numerous cattle and goats, and non-moving road construction vehicles.
Those giant construction vehicles. They’re all from China. They were not moving on this day since the rain was so heavy. But they did provide a good topic of conversation for a bit. Namibia is a developing nation and good roads are much-needed. Is it a good thing that other countries are here fulfilling road construction contracts? Unemployment, especially here in the North, is a major concern. How do you build much-needed infrastructure and provide worthy employment and skill building at the same time? Time and money are always factors.
And so we talked at length, Lamek and I, about empowerment. We talked about the image of empowerment being watering the roots of a plant, or better yet, watering the seeds. Water seemed to be a good image for the day since it was everywhere!
This area of Ongenga is filled with pans far and wide – large perfectly flat stretches of land in which water pools and collects. These pans, when filled, become about a foot deep and a mile across. The pans also have a slight current. When rain falls in Angola and the North of Namibia, these pans fill up and then continue to flow south to the massive Etosha Pan, around which the Etosha National Game Preserve is located.
The drought in Namibia was bad in 2012 and then became much worse in 2013, with the deaths of many farm animals, burnt crops, the deaths of some people, and the tragic loss of farming income. So it’s a blessing that the rains have come. But they need to keep coming now only at regular intervals. You see, the divide between drought and flooding on this very flat arid part of the globe is razor thin.
I asked Lamek how it was managing all these schools in such remote places. He beamed with a strong pride of place. He spoke of how good education means good employment. The senior test scores for the Oshikoto region had just been released this week and they ranked second in the nation. I congratulated Lamek and he said it was not good enough. (!!) He explained that his region was the most densely populated in the country and that therefore they needed to be the best.
What, I asked, is his biggest challenge? He replied, getting good teachers and principals (like Teopolina Kayumbu) to serve in these remote villages. The Ministry of Education offers an incentive salary program to encourage teachers to teach in these places, but it's also hard to get them to stay. Just like the rural parts of the US I replied … teachers begin their careers in a more rural post, but then move away. Let me say again how the similarities of life here just amaze me. I feel so at home.
A typical teaching salary here is about $11,000 USD per annum. About $8,000 USD after taxes. “A good wage for a profession filled with much joy,” says Lamek.
I should also add that there has been plenty of dinner table conversation with our Africa Choir students who hail from rural places like Rushford-Peterson, Pilot Mound, and New Sharon, about the importance of good teachers in their lives.
After our visit to the Josef Shifeta School which I also hope to soon write about (please bear with me!) Lamek and I went to a food distribution site in Ongenga. I had seen women walking along the road with big sacks of grain on their heads. Arriving here I then realized where they had been coming from. The government had set up a site where they were handing out bags of maze meal. These appeared to be 20-pound bags of what we know as cornmeal.
Ongenga is the family home to the Kafidi Family. While we were at this distribution site I had the privilege of meeting Rauna Kafidi. Lamek is the “first born” of Jonas and Rauna Kafidi, and as a good son he needed to see his mother. I was thrilled! Many of you will remember when Namupa came to Luther College to receive her DSA last fall, she spoke about her parents and their belief in education and their unwavering mandate that their children should commit to learning and become worthy citizens. Also, some of you will remember that Namupa remarked that while her parents never went to school, that she was immensely proud they could read and write.
I met this woman, Rauna Kafidi. She is radiant. And I have no doubt that she is a force to be reckoned with!
Lamek told me that everyday, Rauna walks into Ongenga early from their traditional farmstead and she buys fresh fish. This walk appears to be about two kilometers. She then walks home with the fish to fry it up. Then she walks back into Ongenga to sell her fried fish. It was here at this food distribution site that Rauna was gathered with a group of women from the town, selling her luncheon fish to those who came to pick up the sacks of grain.
I told Rauna I loved her beautiful family and named as many of them as I could … and she accepted my condolences on the death of her mother last fall. Lamek translated. I assured her I would see her again.
Thank you, friends and family, for accepting the randomness of my entries. I have much more share about the schools and the ELCIN and the impact of what we’re doing with Empowering Learners. This shall come. As I write this we are in the bus headed to Okahao. The day is bright and sunny. There are donkeys all over crossing the road and our students will have home stays tonight among the members of the Okahao Lutheran Parish. John, our driver who is descended from the Herero people (worthy of a blog entry on his own!) has just stopped the bus. He’s worried about the bus over heating. He came into the bus and needed some water. Derrick Sturtevant, a Luther senior from Thomson, Illinois, is now a quart low. This is Africa!