We’ll start by saying that it all
began with music.
A few years ago a great friend to
Luther College, Orv Johnson, said to Tim Peter, professor of music, “you should
consider taking a choir to Namibia.”
Orv knew of the strength of our Lutheran Church in Namibia and the
Namibians’ love of singing.
In January of 2006, Tim Peter and
Gregory Peterson, associate professor of music and college organist, took an
auditioned 24-member chamber choir to Namibia. This course, entitled Choral
Singing in Namibia and South Africa, was repeated in January 2010.
It is here in January 2010 that our story begins.
Ethan Schultz was a sophomore in
the “Africa Choir,” making the best of singing tenor when he’s really a
baritone, and Ann Sponberg Peterson, director of development for Luther
College, was traveling as the trailing spouse to Gregory.
Now . . . if this history is
meant to include all that we learned, experienced, and witnessed during this incredible
journey, our message would take too many days to tell. The gifts of that month are forever in
our hearts and we love to tell the stories. If you can spare the time, just ask us!
So let’s scroll ahead to Friday, January 15, 2010. This
was the day we toured Oshigambo Lutheran High School. Founded in 1960 by Finnish Lutheran Missionaries, Oshigambo
is located in the far North of Namibia near Oniipa.
We spent a marvelous day with the
learners there. We shared a
concert, two games of Ultimate, many stories, laughter, and a wonderful
dinner. We also had a tour of this residential math and science high
school – one of the finest high schools in all of Namibia. During this tour we were taken through
their brand new library. This
library had recently been dedicated by Bishop Tomas Shivute, presiding bishop
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN), and was a lovely, new, air
conditioned building with loads of space, rows and rows of shelves, but very
How could this be we
wondered? We quickly learned
about learning and teaching in Africa! We now mark this day as the beginning of what we have
come to understand more fully as the Africa Book Famine. Despite all worthy efforts and good
intentions, there is simply a desperate shortage of printed books (on all
levels) in all of Africa.
As a future teacher in the
making, Ethan wondered what teaching in Africa could be like with such a
shortage of resources. Ann readily
admits that when she saw the beautiful but almost empty
library she had been stricken. She had, after all, begun her
development career raising funds for library acquisitions and endowment.
Scroll ahead to June 2010.
During that early summer Bishop Johannes Sindano of the ELCIN was
visiting our ELCA companion synod of Northeast Iowa. He came to see Luther College and
all of us on campus that day who had a connection with Namibia enjoyed coffee
and conversation together. It was
during this visit that Ann asked the Bishop about the new Library at Oshigambo and
commented about the need for books.
Bishop Sindano asked “Can you help us?” Ann said yes.
The Bishop took her business card and pledged to stay in touch.
On October 27, 2010, a letter mailed in June, arrived (via snail mail)
from the ELCIN Offices in Oniipa, Namibia. The letter not only stated specifically (and very
helpfully!) what types of books were needed, but also asked that we please include
Nkurenkuru ELCIN High School in our efforts.
The letter was from Pastor
Philippus Henok, secretary for education of the ELCIN.
Within two days a modest project
to bring books to these two high schools was formed. It began as a simple effort of collecting books and suitcases;
thinking that future travelers to Namibia could carry and deliver them there. At the same time, Ethan stopped by
Ann’s office and indicated he was “all in” and wanted to help. More than donating books or suitcases,
Ethan wanted to serve in a significant way.
Our first public appeal was Ethan
speaking at his home congregation, St. John Lutheran Church in Waseca,
Minnesota. The result? Boxes of books and a generous
ingathering of funds! We were
officially doing this!
It was through a professional
friend of Ann’s that we were soon put in touch with Books for Africa in St.
Paul, an amazing not-for-profit organization whose primary mission and vision is
to end the Africa Book Famine by shipping millions of books (and computers) to
Africa. They have been in this
business since 1988. Our initial
conversation with BFA was incredibly positive. They were very helpful and encouraging and it had been some
time since they had sent books to Namibia, so they were keen on our mutual
We were now in the business of
raising significant dollars to ship a 40-foot sea container to Namibia for the
benefit of these worthy schools.
Thanksgiving Weekend 2010 we chose the title Empowering Learners/Stocking the Shelves -- which used as a working
title: “The Books for Namibia Project.”
Our project went up on the Books
for Africa web site, appeals were sent out, and gifts to our project started to
arrive. We had set an ambitious
goal of raising $24,000 by May 1, 2010.
This goal, if achieved, would pay for a 40-foot sea container filled
with an estimated 19,000 books, 40 computers, and three brand new sets of Encyclopedia Britannica. It was planned that this total cost
would also cover our container port fees and customs charges in the port of
Walvis Bay, Namibia.
As this sea-container project
took shape we also gained a new friend, Raymond Gryffenberg. Through Pastor Henok, Raymond joined our project as our
freight forwarder. (He also served
as coach and customs consultant!
We knew down the line, that if all went well, Raymond would meet our
container at the port in Walvis Bay, Namibia, and would get it trucked to the
North. Raymond very helpfully estimated
what these trucking costs would be and this increased our fund-raising goal
just a bit.
It must be noted that a primary
objective for our project was to cover ALL costs (planned and unplanned)
ourselves. If this project was
truly to be a gift from us to them, then we needed our brothers and sisters in
the ELCIN to not be adversely affected, in any way, by our efforts.
We met the half way mark of our fund-raising goal at the end of January
2011 and the full amount for the container ($24,000) was met by mid-May 2011.
Meanwhile in the Peterson garage
and basement books kept arriving.
Sorting was ongoing. By
early May we had 36 boxes packed and ready to ship to the BFA warehouse in
Atlanta, to be placed into our container bound for Namibia. Approximately 1,000 books were donated
by friends in Decorah and Waseca and made the journey. All the remaining books came to our
project (fulfilling the requests by the schools) through Books for Africa. We simply cannot say enough about this
Our sea-container set sail out of the Port of Charleston on Wednesday, June
1, and arrived at the Port of Walvis Bay on Thursday, July 28, 2011. On Monday morning, August 1, we
received notice that the books had arrived at the ELCIN Church Offices in Oniipa
the day before, and had been successfully unloaded by learners from Oshigambo
Ethan and Ann each tell our own
emotional accounts of what it felt like on this day when we received the news. We told everyone we could and friends
and family helped us celebrate. It
seemed unreal, really, that it had all come together so wonderfully!
This phase of our history would
not be complete without thanking our many friends and donors.
More than 130 friends and
organizations supported this phase (year one) of the project financially. Dozens of folks gave books, and many
members of the 2010 Africa Choir gave of their time in helping to sort, label,
pack, and cheer us on! We have
been richly blessed!
All through the year (2010-2011) of working toward the sea-container
project, Ethan and Ann knew they wanted to get back to Namibia, and to bring
others with them, so that more people could see and witness the work of our
brothers and sisters in the ELCIN schools in Namibia. We also established the Empowering
Learners Endowment Fund at the ELCA Foundation with a goal to raise $25,000
in two years to fully fund this permanent endowment.
This return trip to Namibia became
a reality in the summer of 2012. Twelve
of us traveled to Namibia. Ethan
and Ann were returning for their second trip and Gregory Peterson was traveling
back for his third time. The
remaining nine travelers had never been to the continent of Africa. We spent two weeks traveling in Namibia
with a significant amount of our time being spent in the North. A second year of fund-raising (during
the academic year 2011-2012) allowed our group to bring with us: 25 more laptops,
50 TI83 graphing calculators, dozens of Braille books, dozens of soccer balls
and educational supplies for some primary schools we knew well. All of these gifts were delivered and
were gratefully received.
Most importantly, however, it was
good to see the fruits of our labors from the sea-container project. What a marvelous thing to witness. The library at Oshigambo Lutheran High
School was thriving! Three rooms
were filled with books -- one room each for reference/encyclopedias, English
fiction, and English non-fiction.
Ms. Sera, the librarian, was doing a marvelous job of sorting some 9,000
books and she had the Dewey Decimal system up and running beautifully. She also had established an expansive
computer lab filled with the desktop Dell computers we sent.
Now we look forward to someday
seeing Nkurenkuru High School and meeting our good colleagues there.
One particular school for which
we have developed a sincere love is the School
for Visually Impaired Children in Windhoek. This school is neither in the North, nor is it affiliated
with the Lutheran Church. We came
to know about this amazing school when the librarian there, Mrs. Anna Magdalena
Strauss, found Ann on the internet and wrote to her. She learned that we were supporting schools in Namibia and
she asked for our help. She
indicated they had a severe shortage of reading materials in Braille at the
school and that the children had read everything there was to read on every
shelf and were soon going to get bored.
She asked, could we send them Braille books – of any kind? We were not sure how to accomplish this
special request. But we’re pleased
to say that every time we now know of someone traveling to Namibia, we send
with them some Braille books for this school.
At present we continue to raise funds for our endowment fund at the
ELCA. We also are raising funds to
build a new kindergarten building honoring Pastor Philippus Henok.
The current kindergarten building
has been in place for about six years and great teaching is happening for the
25 learners who attend class there.
But the 12’ by 12’ corrugated metal building floods every year during
the rainy season and there are not enough chairs or tables for the
children. However, despite the
difficult condition of their kindergarten facility, each of these children
learns English well enough to begin primary school in one year. Ms. Helena is their exceptionally
capable and gifted teacher.
So in addition to all of our current
initiatives for 2012 -2013 (totaling about $21,000), we hope to raise an
additional $5,000 by October 20, 2012, so that this new kindergarten building may
be built before December. This new
building will have a concrete floor, a roof, a door, windows, and enough seats
for every child. There is an
outdoor restroom for the children, but no electricity is available.
Looking beyond this year --- Gregory Peterson is planning another
January Term travel course for Luther singers in
2014. We are very pleased that Empowering Learners will play an
important role in introducing Luther students to intentional international
philanthropy through this course. We
certainly hope more laptops, Braille books, and a few soccer balls will travel
with us on this next journey to Namibia!
All gifts in support of this
effort, our endowment, and our future projects are deeply appreciated and
In the words of Dag
Hammarskjold: For all that has been, thank you.
For all that is to come, yes.