Saturday, August 6, 2011

Teaching in Waku Kungo, Angola, part 3 –

This is “part 3” of my report about my trip to Waku Kungo, Angola. I want to share some stories about our time there.


First, it was wonderful to get to worship with the Congregational church in Waku Kungo for four Sundays in a row. I have worshiped in I.E.C.A. churches several times before, but, exactly because of the presence of a guest from the U.S., those were always slightly special, unusual services. This time, I got to experience what a “normal” Sunday felt like. Because the population of Angola as a whole is so young, the church is mostly young people. At least half of the people in worship are under age 25. At one service they recognized the “older” members of the congregation – those over 60 – and only seven or eight people (out of about 400) stood, a reflection of the fact that average life expectancy in Angola is about 45. The services normally last 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours, and yes, the children, the small children, including two and three year olds, remain for the entire service. The great majority of the service is singing – singing by different church choirs (children’s choir, youth choir, young adult choir, married adult choir women’s choir), and by the whole congregation. I think the music is best described as a combination of an “African sound” and contemporary American praise music. Because the pastors serve so many churches (maybe eight on average), the service, including prayers and preaching, is almost always led by members of the church.


As I have described after previous visits to Angola, the real center-piece of the whole worship service is the offering. Each week, every member goes forward to a special box in which they place their offering. The music reaches its most joyous and raucous tone, and the people often do a shuffling dance as they go forward, in effect providing, with their feet, the percussion line of the music. At one service while we were there it took 35 minutes to complete the offering! They truly see it as a great privilege to be able to offer something to God, and thus they give with real joy. It is really quite amazing, emotionally and theologically.


Second, while I was there I asked our class of adult students what they thought about the future of Angola. They are very realistic about the challenges they face. They immediately raise the big issues: lack of education, health care and clean water, government corruption, and over reliance on oil money. But they see the poor condition of their country and economy as primarily due to the 27 year civil war: “We are just nine years away from war.” They understand that progress on the basic issues will take time. I asked if they were hopeful about the future, and every one of them said “yes.” Honestly, and oddly, I truly get the impression that they are more hopeful about the future of their country than many people in our country are about the future of the United States. In a sense, they believe they have no where to go but up, and so are hopeful. We have so much that we often think mainly about what we might lose. I believe there is a connection between this difference, and the difference in our giving in worship. Think about it!


Third, I want to say something about two significant needs I talked about with our church partners while I was there. With six classrooms, the school is able to educate about 500 young people who would otherwise receive little or no education. But there is still great need for more classroom space in Waku Kungo – thousands of children do not have access to school. They have already laid the foundation for two classrooms, which would enable them to education about another 200 students. The cost of those two rooms would be about $25,000.


We also talked about the need for a well that would provide clean water. The church (and school) are located in an area of the town they themselves call “the slum.” This is intentional, as “the poor” are the majority of the church, and they want to serve those in greatest need. People in the neighborhood around the church (the neighborhood is called “Cassinda”) do not have easy access to clean water for drinking and other uses. They regularly drink water that makes them sick, especially the children, who get cholera and deadly diarrhea. I don’t know the rate for Waku Kungo, but nationwide, about 20 out of every 100 children die before age five, in part because of the difficulty of obtaining clean water. The neighborhood around the church needs a well to provide clean water. In areas with access to clean water children are much healthier. Their best estimate seems to be that a well would cost about $15,000.


I am going to be talking to the Mission Board of my congregation and others to see if I can help organize some response to these two serious needs.


In late September or early October, I will be making a presentation to my congregation about our trip, complete with pictures and video. And I’ll be happy to talk about it with anyone. Just ask!


Grace and peace,

Mike

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Teaching in Waku Kungo, Part 2

It is hard to know what to make of an experience like living and teaching in Waku Kungo for four weeks. It is such a rich experience, so full of frustration, hope, guilt, inspiration, confusion, and clarity. I know myself well enough to know that it takes me some time to process the experiences of my life, to integrate them into the story of my life and my view of the world. Still, here are some tentative reflections on what this experience meant to me:


First, and perhaps most importantly, I deeply appreciated the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time in Angola in one place with one group of people. I know for me (and I think for many of us), Africa is a mysterious place. From childhood we carry exotic images of Africa: “big game” wild animals, people with strange body paint doing dramatic dances, people living in remote jungles cut off from “civilization.” As adults, those (National Geographic type) images of Africa give way to equally exotic, but more tragic images: starving children, mothers too weak to grieve, child soldiers. All of those images may be (or may have been) real, but they reveal African life at the extremes, not the everyday.


By spending time in one place with one group of people, I was able to get to know people and a little of the rhythm of their daily lives. Although I could not speak their language, still through interpreters and in other ways, communication happens. I could begin to see people in Waku Kungo as individuals, rather than as a group, as “Africans” or “Angolans.” Getting beyond the differences between life in the U.S. and life in Angola, I could begin to see the similarities between who I am and who they are – especially as followers of Jesus. Seeing anew in this way is wonderfully enriching – and troubling.


Second, why “enriching” and “troubling?” Well, that is because as you get to know people you learn a little bit about how they understand their own lives. It is inspiring and enriching to see the patience and creativity and determination of the people there – or more accurately, to see Benjamin’s creativity, Julio’s patience, and Josepha’s determination. Although the “human well-being” indicators in Angola are very bad (very high infant mortality rate, very low life-span, very high unemployment, very poor access to clean water, and poor sanitation), the people are not sitting around suffering and defeated. They are not merely acted upon by their difficult circumstances. They, like all of us should be, are the “actors “ in their own lives, the “drivers” in our their lives. I think it is an important transformation for us to see them in this way. It is the only way we can have real (non-condescending) relationships with them – even if we never meet them in person.


Coming to see our partners in Waku Kungo as individuals, however, is also troubling - because then I am changed by not simply having compassion for suffering (in the abstract), but for particular people who suffer, for particular problems. And that type of compassion hurts more. That type of compassion makes one (at least me) feel even more acutely how inconsistent it is with the Bible, the life of Jesus, and the nature of God, that Christians in this country live so comfortably that we are killing ourselves with too much, while Christians in some other countries (like Christians in Waku Kungo, Angola) are dying from too little. That’s the part of my experience that really takes time to process. May God help me integrate that reality into the story of my life and my view of the world in some faithful way, rather than in some way that simply maintains my comfort.


This quote poignantly reveals the struggle I feel after being in Waku Kungo (Stanley Cavell, in Must We Mean What We Say?)


If you would avoid tragedy (and suffering), avoid love;

if you cannot avoid love, avoid integrity;

if you cannot avoid integrity, avoid the world;

if you cannot avoid the world, destroy it.


God help us never so avoid.


Peace,

Mike


(P.S. Part 3 to come next week)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Teaching In Waku Kungo, Part 1

Greetings. Here is part one of a report from Waku Kungo, Angola, where my daughter, Muriel, and I went to teach English from June 17 to July 14, 2011, at "The Reverend Mike Solberg Evangelical School." A few pictures to start off with:

Muriel and kids during a break (above)

One of our classes (above)

Muriel teaching a class (above)

One of our wonderful students! (above)

Muriel at the top of Mount Waku Kungo (above)

Our trip had several purposes:

• Most importantly, we were there to teach English to some of the students of “The Reverend Mike Solberg Evangelical School” (I’m still not used to the fact that they named the school after me).
• We were also there to further the partnership between the Illinois Conference and the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola (IECA), and by extension between Second Congregational Church and the IECA congregation in Waku Kungo.
• Another purpose of our trip was to set a precedent for people from the Illinois Conference, and perhaps others, traveling to IECA for the purpose of service
• And, finally, we were also there to observe the school in its “full functioning” mode, assuring that the school is fulfilling its mission of educating students of the community so that they can flourish individually and contribute to their community and country.

Thankfully, I can say that we accomplished all our goals on this trip!

For months, Muriel and I had been planning on teaching English to two classes of young people. Then about three days before our trip began, the folks in Waku Kungo asked us to teach an additional class for adults. Apparently, the teachers at the school all said “It doesn’t make sense for the kids to learn English and not us – we need to learn too!” So, at the last minute we added a third class, mostly made up of teachers in the school and teachers-in-training, along with a few others. The teaching all went very well. Using recently developed ideas and techniques for teaching English, and using contemporary resources, we were able to teach just fine, in spite of the fact we don’t speak Portuguese. We gave the kids a “pre-test” and a “post-test” to measure their progress, and we found that they were able to learn a helpful amount of English in just the 3 ½ weeks we had with them. The kids ranged from grades 3-9, with most being in grades 5-7. They were a little older than same level students here in the U.S., with most being 15-16 years old. They were very good students: well behaved, cooperative, and eager to learn. All in all, we taught about 50 kids and 15 adults, during six hours of teaching every day. It was pretty tiring, but well worth the effort. English really is a valuable skill for these kids. Most of them will have English in school from 7-9 grades, but this “head start” will give them a greater chance of learning English earlier and more easily.

We also furthered the partnership between the Illinois Conference and IECA. Because of the communications challenges (both in language and technology), and because of Angolan cultural patterns, personal interaction is critical in our church partnership. We spent time in conversation with several leaders in IECA, and I believe these people now understand that we in the Illinois Conference are committed to this partnership and it is not just a short term interest. We are working on developing an official program of congregation-to-congregation partnerships, and this trip helped move that effort forward as well.

This was the first time we received approval for a “service” based trip to IECA. All the previous trips have been as “delegations,” which include mostly learning and talking and celebrating. Those were important trips, but our Illinois Conference Angola Partnership Team always hoped we could add other types of trips as well. Now we have done that, and with the success of our trip, we are hopeful that other service trips will be possible in the future. The type of service is important. Angolans are smart and creative in solving problems and accomplishing work, and they can easily do all the basic labor needed themselves. But they are seriously “under-resourced” in just about every area: education, health care, public health, skilled technical work, etc. So in future trips we (the Angola Partnership Team) will be focused on service that can “resource” the Angolans. Some examples are specialized health care, teacher training, and motorcycle repair.

And, finally, it was wonderful to see the school in full operational mode. Their school year started in February, and the school is now effectively educating 478 children who would otherwise have had limited access to education. One set of kids, grades 1-6, attend school from 8:00 – 12:00 and another set from 1:00 – 5:00. All the rooms have desks! (The government actually followed through on that promise!) The leadership of IECA tells me that the school is held up as an example all over the province, and throughout all of IECA. The denomination operates 70 or so schools, but this is among the best, in physical quality and in operation. They always offer me profound thanks, but I always tell them that the school would never have been built without hundreds of people here who gave to support the project, nor without the wonderful dedication and talent of the people in Waku Kungo.

Muriel gives special thanks to David Workman and Deerfield Academy (Deerfield, MA). Muriel received a David Workman Community Service Grant to help make this project possible. And we both thank Second Congregational United Church of Christ (Rockford, IL) and the Illinois Conference - Angola Partnership Team, who each funded the purchase of the educational materials we used for our teaching.

Soon I will write a little more about our personal experience of living in Waku Kungo for four weeks. It really does make one “think” – in the sense of soul searching, of course. And I will also write about how you might be able to benefit the school in the future! Here's a hint...behold the foundation of two more classrooms!


Anyone have an extra $25,000 to do something great for kids who want a chance in life??

As always, many thanks for all of you who helped make this school a reality!

Peace,
Mike

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Here We Go!

Muriel and I leave for Waku Kungo tomorrow! We will be teaching English to 40 young people (ages 12-16), and now they have added a third class of pastors from IECA and government officials from around Waku Kungo. Three classes, two hours a day, for 3 1/2 weeks. This will be challenging! Speaking English really is a valuable skill, especially as people get internet and email access (still very rare in Angola, especially in rural areas like Waku Kungo), so we are very happy to be able to contribute to the Waku Kungo school this way.

I think we are all set - lots of books, lots of plans, lots of ideas, and Muriel has even learned a little Portuguese. Here's hoping we don't get sick! But this time, I am going with Cipro in hand, so I am much better prepared, and will be much more cautious about eating local food.

I will not have internet access while there, so no updates (as if I am a real regular!) during the month, but I will write a post trip report, hopefully by the end of July.

Keep us in your prayers!

Peace,
Mike

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Another Trip?

I don't seem to be able to stay away! For the past couple of months I have been working on plans to return to Waku Kungo, Angola. If we are able to get visas (by no means a sure thing), my daughter, Muriel (age 17), and I will travel to Waku Kungo to lead a four week intensive English course.

This will be a very different trip than I have had in the past. My previous two trips were official "delegation" visits from the Illinois Conference to I.E.C.A. This time I have the support and blessing of the Angola Partnership Team of the Illinois Conference, but it is more properly called a "project" visit than a delegation visit. I hope that by going on this type of trip, especially for a full month, I can develop the kind of experience and relationships that will allow others from the Illinois Conference to visit for specific projects in the future. While going to Angola is probably an "extreme mission trip," the need for various skilled services is great, especially in education and health care, and it would wonderful to further the possibility of such trips in the future.

This will also be a different type of trip because we plan on staying for four weeks, and will be staying in one place. I hope we are able to get to know people better than I have in the past. Our lack of ability in Portuguese will be a limitation, but we will both work on learning a little before we go, and some of the students there speak a little English, so we will manage.

Living in Waku Kungo for a month will present certain challenges, that's for sure. Staying healthy will be a top priority. Yes, we will have to have bottled water the whole time, and take lots of peanut butter with us! There is minimal health care available in Waku Kungo, but we will have a car with us the whole time, and should anything serious arise, we will be about five hours away from Luanda and quality health care.

As for the intensive English class, we have had discussions with the Director of Education for I.E.C.A., Felisberta Cassinda, and Julio Ulundo, the Pastor in Waku Kungo. They have spoken with the head of the school. The current plan is for us to teach two groups of 20 children (40 total), ages 12-16, with a couple of adults thrown in. We will work with each group for 2-3 hours a day. We will focus on spoken English skills. Of course, it would be better if we could speak Portuguese, but we can accomplish a lot by combining visuals and spoken English (in the style of Rosetta Stone). We will have to take a lot of materials with us, and go on "field trips" around town to learn vocabulary. Education in Angola is quite traditional (i.e. teacher at front of room imparting information, not much creativity), so it will be interesting to see how it goes. We plan on doing some sort of "before and after" assessment, in case a similar course is possible in the future.

Well, more as it develops. And here's hoping we get visas!

Peace

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Adventure Continues

October 31, 2010, was an amazing day. I was able to be in Waku Kungo, Angola, for the dedication of the "Escola Evangelica Reverendo Mike Solberg" (i.e. "The Reverend Mike Solberg Evangelical School"). And here it is!



Beautiful, yes?

It was truly wonderful to see this part of my dream become a reality. The people in Waku Kungo were so proud of their school, as well they should be. They easily put as much work into the whole project as I did. As I have said, many of them face English Channel size challenges every day of their lives, and yet they still (or, perhaps, because of that) are committed to building a better future.


As of today, March 23, 2011, about 550 students are enrolled in the school, which means that around 400 students are getting an education that would otherwise not be available to them. There are also adult literacy and skills development classes in the evening. The school covers the first few years of education, but often boys and girls don't start school until age eight or nine, so they there are plenty of sixth graders who are fifteen. Over time, this school building should help lower the age at which many kids are able to start school in Waku Kungo.

This school has a special concern for kids with physical disabilities. Sometimes they are not sent to school by their families, because the investment of time and effort (and small amounts of money) does not pay off, as people with disabilities are not likely to get jobs. But this school works to accommodate them, and was even built entirely wheel chair accessible, even though wheel chairs are an uncommon "luxury" in more rural Angola.


One of the important elements of the school's success so far has been good cooperation with the municipal authorities (pictured above, with the obligatory photo of 30 year "President" Dos Santos). With the limited resources of the people, even the local church in Waku Kungo, it is important for the school to have the support of the local administrators. They can provide desks and blackboards and other types of basic teaching necessities. And they can guarantee the consistent placement of teachers in the school. Without the support of the local authorities, the school would certainly face more challenges. Thankfully, and because of great work by the church leaders in Waku Kungo, the municipal authorities feel some "ownership" of the school, and are very proud that it is in their town. The Deputy Mayor was an important presence at the dedication ceremony.

(click to enlarge)
I am not an expert to be sure, but Waku Kungo seems like a promising place. It is located on the main road between Angola's two largest towns, Luanda (about six million) and Huambo (about 250,000?), and is in a very fertile agricultural area. There is an agriculture school there, and an extensive Israeli training farm. It is also a beautiful area, with hills and even some remaining forest, although the forest was much more extensive before the civil war. Development people say that agriculture is going to be a very important part of Angola's future, offering the economic stability that oil and diamonds do not provide. Angola should be a "bread basket" of Africa, because it does not suffer from the cyclical drought patterns typical of northern and eastern Africa. The rains are reliable from October - March/April. They need a great deal of investment in agriculture though, as most farming is still done in individual family plots, by hand and hoe. They need to find a way to increase productivity, while not dislocating these subsistence farmers.

video
The I.E.C.A. (Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola) congregation in Waku Kungo is a wonderful bunch of people. They gather in their hundreds every Sunday morning for joyful worship and fellowship. The Sunday I was there, there were about 1000 in worship. Their music is inspiring (especially when they back off from the Western electronic instruments they are so taken with!). If you didn't click on the video above, please do: I think you will enjoy it. And note, this was during the offering! They give with joy!

Most people in Waku Kungo struggle financially. In the "barrio" (it is hard to know what word to use for the poor part of town - in English in Luanda they say "the slum," - but in Waku Kungo it is really just what the town is, so no special name for it, it seems) - in the "barrio" there is no running water and no electricity (except by private generators), and few people have jobs, other than what I call "subsistence retail" (they buy a few things more or less wholesale, and try to sell them on the street). What health care there is, is of low quality. The Angolan Civil War (1975-2002) raged fiercely in this area, and the physical and social destruction was extensive.

And still, the people are hopeful about the future, they value education, they have a strong sense of community, and they are willing to work hard and take small steps to make life better for themselves and others. They are truly inspiring in so many ways!

So, thus goes my reflection on my trip to Angola to open the "Escola Evangelica Reverendo Mike Solberg." If you read this far, you probably had a hand in making this possible, so thank you!


By the way, the school could still use two more classrooms, like the one above! If you want to contribute again, or for the first time, just go to www.SwimMikeSwim.com and hit the "donate now" button. Thanks!

God bless you!

Peace,
Mike

Friday, November 12, 2010

WREX TV story

WREX teevee did this nice story this week. Before I left they gave me a little video camera to take video, and they used some of it in the story. I still need to get to a full trip report, I know!

WREX News story, click here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pictures from School Dedication

Hello! I don't have the time yet to write a real report, but here are some pictures from my visit to Waku Kungo for the dedication of the school. I'll have a report up by the middle of November. Thanks for helping to make this possible!










Thursday, September 2, 2010

$70,000!

Wahoo! On Sunday, August 29, 2010, we surpassed the goal of $70,000 to fund the building of the school in Waku Kungo, Angola! Thanks be to God, and to hundreds of people who have contributed and made this possible!

I suppose this means that I'll have to write some nice, reflective piece to wrap up this blog. (Sentimental sigh.) But that will have to wait for another day.

Swimming the English Channel was a wonderful experience, but being a vehicle or catalyst to enable so many people to contribute to this important school building project truly brings me great joy.

Thank you to everyone. You have truly made a difference in the lives of hundreds of students who will be able to face the challenges of their lives, through education!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Okay, One Last Push!

The beginning of August finds me just $7105 away from the $70,000 goal. Actually, the money is not the goal. Helping the people of Waku Kungo is the goal! Specifically, helping the church finish off the construction of the school, so they can educate 500 more students who would otherwise receive little or no education.

I haven't done too much of this, but because of a recent email I received from Luis Samacumbi (the overseer of the project in Waku Kungo), I am going to tug at the heartstrings a bit. Take a look at this:


This is a young girl, named Gizela, in Waku Kungo who lives without the use of her legs. Such childhood disabilities are common in Angola, for a number of reasons. Sadly, many such children face very difficult lives, because Angolan society, and even their families, believe they have little potential.

This sad reality is connected to the school building project in Waku Kungo, because one of the special goals of this school will be to help students who have fallen behind in their education. The church in Waku Kungo is committed to this. Students fall behind for many reasons completely unrelated to their academic abilities, with poverty, illness, distance, and discrimination against girls being the four most common reasons.

For example, Gizela, pictured above, is twelve years old, but only in third grade. Because of the extra challenges she faces, she is already 2-3 years behind in her education, and if left to the regular schools, will likely fall further and further behind. She is exactly the kind of student the school in Waku Kungo will have a particular mission to serve.

Can you make a contribution today to help kids like Gizela get the education they deserve? The church in Waku Kungo recently gave her a wheelchair. Can you help her, and 499 others, also get they education they need to thrive in life?


We have $7105 to go. The Mission Board of my congregation (Second Congregational Church, Rockford, IL) has decided to match all the remaining gifts to get us to our goal of $70,000. So every dollar you give is worth two!

You can give online by clicking here. Or you can write a check to "Second Congregational Church," with "Angola School" in the memo line, and send it to Second Congregational Church, 318 N. Church St., Rockford, IL 61101.

I will be visiting Waku Kungo in October, and it sure would be great to get the full $70,000 to them before the end of August, so they can have the pride of finishing the school before I arrive.

Peace,
Mike


Monday, July 12, 2010

Progess Continues!

The progress continues in Waku Kungo, with good news all around.

First, pictures! As you can see, they are making excellent progress on the building. I thought they had the roof up already, but that is actually the next big piece they will take up. These pictures are interesting because they show a little insider's view of their construction methods. Because rocks are a local material and cheaper than cement, they fill in everything they can with rocks before using cement. The bricks for the walls look pretty "rough," but as you can see, when finished, both floors and walls look great.

Second, the donation total is now up to $61,457, which means we were able last week to send another $10,000 on to Waku Kungo. They have had a brief stoppage of work due to lack of funds, but that $10,000 will get them working again very soon. Just about $8500 to go.

Third, I have been invited to be part of a three person delegation to go to Angola in October. While there, we will have a dedication service for the new school, and visit several other areas as guests of I.E.C.A. I am looking forward to the trip with great anticipation! It will be so wonderful to see Waku Kungo and the school building, and meet the people who have made this all possible, as well as meet some of the students who will be using the school.

I have a received a detailed accounting of how the money has been spent. The project team in Waku Kungo, and Luis Samacumbi, the national project leader, have all been wonderfully transparent in their dealings. I am not sure whether our $70,000 (i.e. $10,000 more) will complete the project, so I will have to ask what they think about that. I sure hope so!

I must confess that I do not have a great plan of how to come up with the remaining $8500. I am sure we can get there eventually, but to be fair to the folks in Waku Kungo, it really should be sooner, rather than later. I'll be pondering these things!

Grace and peace!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

CSA Music-a-thon Rocks!

Many, many thanks to the Community School of the Arts at Wheaton College for a wonderful contribution! Back in February the CSA had its annual Music-a-thon, and this year the proceeds were designated for the SwimMikeSwim / Angola School project. My son, Henry, was part of the CSA for many years and I have three nieces and nephews who have participated there as well. It was so kind of them to devote this year's money to the Angola school.

The Music-a-thon is a day for CSA students to play for an extended time, raising donations for their work. It is a way for them to use their considerable musical gifts to be a blessing to others. And a blessing they were!

I just received word that the total contribution from the CSA Music-a-thon is $5,568!

That brings the total so far to $59,056. So, now just under $11,000 to go to reach the goal of $70,000 to enable around 640 students to get the education they need to build their lives, their community, and their country.

Wahoo!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Update # 2 from Waku Kungo - Foundations!


The construction is progressing! As of the middle of January (when the pictures below were taken), they had poured the foundation, and by now have probably put up the main support beams. It is wonderful to see the progress!

The fundraising has been going rather slowly lately, with the total now at $52,863 - but I am confident we will get there eventually. I hope we can get the remaining $17,000 in the next four months, which should allow for no interruption in construction. Ideas of how to bring in another $17,000! Contributions???

Here are the most recent pictures:






And here is the narrative of the second update from Luis Samacumbi, including careful financial detail.

School Waku Kungo
Update # 2

14/02/2010

By: Luis Samacumbi

"... Our God will fight for us "(Nehemiah 4: 20b)

Introduction:

Before the end of 2009, after visiting the Waku Kungo I had written the update # 1 on the degree of execution of work and implementation of this project school. At that time in addition to existing stakeholders in the project in Angola and the United States also sent the first pictures taken with my own digital camera. This time, I could not move to the project site, yet I have good news for all of you. Brother Luciano, one of those responsible for implementation of the project came to Luanda at the end of January. At this point we exchanged ideas about the work and also put in perspective what the future hold for the kids once the school is completed. The commitment and interest of government officials in the municipality was the highlight of our conversation.

The school year in Angola officially began in the past day February 1, 2010. In Waku Kungo you can also see in the streets of the city children dressed in white, carrying their chairs to sit. It is in this particular area that the IECA with the support of its partners would contribute. Our desire is to see children studying in a school with better conditions of learning and education where no child will no longer bring chair from her/his own home. The work well started in Waku Kungo supported by Rev. Mike Solberg, the Tuthill Commission, the Illinois Conference - Chicago and the Angola Partnership Group, is actually the indicator that we are moving in the right direction towards this more just Angola, based on ethical moral and Biblical principles.

What is new?

It is with great joy and enthusiasm that I share the following progress:

• The Municipal Administration of Waku Kungo is very pleased with the initiative of IECA to build a six rooms school;

• Rev. Joaquim Alberto Mukupe, IECA’s pastor in Waku Kungo was recently elected to the highest position in the Provincial synod of Kwanza Sul as Provincial Secretary, in the last Assembly held in Uku Seles on the weekend February 6-7 2010. This means that Pastor Mukupe will move to Sumbe – capital city of the Province in a near future. Let me ensure that this change will not affect in any way the implementation of the project as Rev. Mukupe will be the Provincial Secretary and will oversee all activities and projects including the work begun in Waku Kungo. Moreover, DASEP National is closely following the this Waku Kungo project actions;

• The foundations are all finished at this time, as seen in the attached photographs;

• 33 pillars completed. Only 13 are about to be finished. Once completed this step will begin raising the walls of the school;

• Main materials including: iron 12mm for pillars, thousand bricks, stones and sand, are already on the construction site;

• The builders have already received 25% of the amount agreed up on the contract for their payment;

• The first financial report was submitted to DASEP National. This is a good indicator of transparency and rigor in the management of funds. After analyzed the consistency of this report, DASEP National will make recommendations where needed and ask another funds request from the team in Waku Kungo;

• DASEP National received via Bank an additional $ 30,500.00 for this Waku Kungo School project. It is important to emphasize that $ 10,000.00 out of $30.500, 00 came from Tuthill Commission;

Please check the first financial report further down:
[This doesn't align very well on this blog - for each item, the first number is the amount in Kwanza (Angolan currency) and the second number is the amount in USD.]

Nr Description Kwanza USD
01 Cleaning of the Construction site 22.500,00 252.00
02 Loads (10) of Sand 234.000,00 2.629,00
03 Loads(15) of stones 233.000,00 2.617,00
04 Communications – Cell phone airtimes 9000.00 101.00
05 Office files - administration 2730.00 31.00
06 Photos 2000.00 22.00
07 Cement (100 ) bags of 50 kg 160.000,00 1.798,00
08 Iron/cast iron of 12mm for pillars 90.000,00 1.011,00
09 Fuel (25 liters) for motorbike 1000.00 11.00
10 water well digging 6000.00 67.00
11 Barrow (2) 7000.00 78.00
12 Car rental for Brick transportation 23.500,00 264.00
13 Barbed burned and barbed wire 20kg and 2 rolls 15.000,00 168.00
14 Steps /support 800 26.000,00 292.00
15 Brick (1.000) 82.280,00 924.00
16 Eventual work - School area fence (sticks & wire)9000.00 101.00
17 Plank, board for Construction (15) 23.500,00 264.00
18 Motorcycle and wheelbarrow Repair 4500.00 50.00
19 25% Builders Payment 00 3.850,00
20 6 loads of squeezed stones 30.000,00 337.00
Total 981,010.00 14.857,00

Summary:

Income: $ 19,774.00
Expenditure: $ 14.857,00
Balance: $4.917, 00 (in the bank: $ 4.774.00 and in cash: Kz 15.175, 00)

Word of thanks:

On behalf of all of us in IECA, please allow me thank you sincerely for turning the dream of many children in Waku Kungo into reality. Keep it up, do not be weary.

Thankfully Yours,

Luís Samacumbi

Monday, December 28, 2009

School in Waku Kungo - Update #1 by Luis Samacumbi

"So raise up your tired hands! Strengthen your weak knees! (Hebrews 12: 12)

The plan!

It was 3:30 AM on December 16, 2009 when I woke up at Hotel Nino where I overnight after the hard work in Bunjei Mission Station- Huila Province. No water in the tap for the needed shower! Then I took the small bottle of mineral water left the day before just to wash the mouth at least. Everything was quiet, all sleeping including the guards at the Hotel who did not notice my departure. It was raining strongly; a hat protected my head from heavy drops of rain.

I went to my car a Toyota Land cruiser, green plate LBA 44-55, the companion of long trips and moments of solitude on the roads of Angola. The American music animated the fighter for peace and social justice leaving for the city of Waku Kungo in the fulfillment of another noble mission.

Yes, the future of Angola depends on good education that frees the minds of children and youth from the recent past, which was not the good one forced to live for more than three decades. In fact education is peace, peace is democracy, and democracy is social and economic justice.

Children in Waku Kungo have been waiting for the school without getting tired since September 2003 when a team led by Luis Samacumbi did the baseline survey that indicated education as a top priority in that particular area.

What is new?

In my recent monitoring visit on the ground December 16, 2009, I was able to see the progress in the implementation of the project. So, I am pleased to report to all of you the following occurred developments:

• The building of the school started with the opening of the specific Bank Account in Waku Kungo to ensure transparent use of funds;

• Three people are subscribers of that account, their signatures are compulsory for any bank account transaction;

• A team of four persons was created and trained in financial management by the Director General of DASEP [Department of Social Programs] to ensure transparency and expenditures control;

• Three builders were hired to build the school. They will have the support of volunteer members of the community;

• Construction materials including: stone, sand, bricks, cement, etc. were purchased;

• The plan of the school with six classrooms is in place and approved by the Waku Kungo Municipal Section of Education, which will pay the teachers when school starts;

• The foundations are already being dug and lifted.

The photos attached show some of the advances mentioned above:

Photo #1 - U shaped School Plan with 8 classrooms and offices, but we are going to build only 6 classrooms with the amount of money that will be available;

Photos # 2, 3 – Tractor and men transporting stones for the foundations;

Photos # 4, 5 – Workers unloading the stones;

Photo # 6, 7, 8 – Kids already smiling for the school construction starting;

Photo #9 – Stones unloaded ready to be used;

Photo # 10 – Luís Samacumbi providing financial instructions for good records and transparency;

Photo # 11 – Team of builders.

Challenges:

There is no internet available in Waku Kungo and the Project team doesn’t know how to operate if there were access;

Digital photos will available only when Luis Samacumbi or other DASEP Central colleague pass by;

The digital camera purchased by Rev. Mike is being used and photos are being printed. So, DASEP in Luanda will then scan.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Your BIC(Brother in Christ)
Luís Samacumbi











Sunday, December 13, 2009

Following the Money

A few people have asked me recently about the finances for the school building in Angola. Specifically, I think people need to know more about how the money is being accounted for, and what controls there are to make sure the money goes to the right place. The increase in need, from $50,000 to $70,000, has probably (and understandably) raised a few eye brows. So here is a fairly full description of the situation with regard to the financing of the school in Waku Kungo.

First, while my swim of the English Channel was the event that created this school building project, this is by no means something I have put together on my own. Soon after I proposed the project, the Waku Kungo school became an official project of the Global Ministries division of the United Church of Christ, the denomination of my church. Here is a link to official information on the UCC website about the denominational side of the project. Global Ministries and the United Church of Christ has had a 50 year partnership with the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola (I.E.C.A. - pronounced "YAY-kah"), and through the various collections of Congregational churches through the years, the relationship with the Congregationalists in Angola goes back over 120 years. Global Ministries has been directly involved in hundreds of projects with I.E.C.A through the years. Global Ministries has significant financial controls in place, because it is absolutely critical for both our side (Global Ministries) and their side (I.E.C.A.) that donor wishes are strictly followed and that money given is used only as intended.

Second, I visited Angola in 2005 and personally met many people who are now involved in the school building project. The primary point person in Angola is Luis Samacumbi, the Director of D.A.S.E.P. (which somehow stands for the Department of Social Mission and Education and Special Projects of I.E.C.A.). He has been the Director of D.A.S.E.P. for many years, and has an impeccable record of responsible financial stewardship. He is responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars given to support social mission projects for I.E.C.A. and has strong internal financial controls. I have also personally met with the leader of the one million member I.E.C.A. denomination, Rev. Augusto Chipesse. Rev. Chipesse was recently re-elected to a five year term as the leader of the denomination, and again, has an impeccable record of responsible stewardship of donated funds. Luis Samacumbi was here in the U.S. this past summer and we hosted him part of that time in Rockford. We thoroughly discussed the school project, his plans for use of the money, and those plans have been confirmed through Global Ministries.

Third, while corruption and financial mismanagement are sadly common in many places in the world, including Angola, I.E.C.A. has proved again and again that it is a reliable partner in social mission projects. I have personally been involved in two previous social mission projects through I.E.C.A. involving thousands of dollars (distribution of Bibles, and purchase of motorcycles for transportation for pastors) and have personally seen and confirmed the follow-through on those projects.

Finally, it is probably worth mentioning that Luis Samacumbi first informed me about the change in government policy (the change from four classrooms to six classrooms) back in June, when I had raised less than $5000. He was not able to give me an adjusted cost estimate at that time. Because I had widely publicized the $50,000 figure, and because even $50,000 was a far away dream at that time, it didn't make much sense to publicly raise the number. But as we approached the $50,000 figure, and the full needed amount of $70,000 looked possible (with some more determination and patience), it made sense to make the new goal public. The increase to $70,000 was not a late attempt to simply get more money, but absolutely needed to complete the project. Our Angolan partners, in fact, never asked me to increase the amount, but knowing of the need, I decided to continue to try to fully fund the school.

Thus, I have strong historical, organizational, and personal assurance that the money is being used 100% for the intended purpose of building a school in Waku Kungo. This is one of the advantages of working within the parameters of a long-standing partnership between two church organizations that are committed to embodying the good news of God's love, through promotion of education, and in a thousand other ways.

This is not the most fascinating post, I know, but hopefully you appreciate this little look "behind the curtain" of the school building project. This sort of reminds me of what legendary baseball manager Tony LaRussa said one time when he was trying to describe the apparently simple task of stealing a base. After beginning to explain the managerial thinking involved in base stealing, and apparently feeling like he had only scratched the surface, he leaned back and summarized: "There's a lot of stuff goes on." Well, I try to keep the details out of the public eye, since they are rather boring really, but when it comes to swimming the English Channel and building a school in Angola, "There's a lot of stuff goes on."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Happy Day - $51,385

Yesterday was a great day. In the mail I received an anonymous gift for $2000 from a woman who had read about my swim in a national weekly newspaper (a.k.a. tabloid), the National Examiner. I don't know who she is, but it sure was wonderful! That brings the total to $51,385. And thus we have passed the original goal of $50,000. I'm doing a little happy dance.

Wow. $50,000. Where I come from, that's a lot of money. The most amazing thing is almost all of it has come from small donations. The average donation was $145.82. The median was fifty bucks! (Those numbers don't include the very important $10,000 gift from the Tuthill Fund.)

If you read my previous post, however, you know that I, and we!, are not done yet. Because of changes in government policy, our Angolan church partners need to build a bigger school than originally planned. The new six classroom school will cost $70,000. So that is the new (and final, I promise!) goal.

I am very open to new ideas of how to bring more people in on the fun of helping to build a school in Waku Kungo, Angola - a school that will serve 630 people who otherwise would have little or no access to education. With an average donation of $145.82, we need 134 people to discover the joy of giving to such a wonderful project. Can you recruit one or two or ten of them? With our help, about 630 kids like this...


...can face the challenges of their lives, through education.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

You Can't Fight City Hall...

...especially when that "City Hall" is in Luanda, Angola.

So, for a very long time now I have been trying to raise $50,000 to build a school in Waku Kungo, Angola. If you are reading this, you probably already know that. As of today, we are at $49,250. Thanks be to God, and to the hundreds of people who have made donations to the school building project because of my English Channel swim.

I arrived at that goal of $50,000 based on the cost estimates of our church partners in Angola. They arrived at that cost estimate by figuring out how much it would cost to build a FOUR room school building. It was a FOUR room school building because that was the minimum size required by the government for the government to be willing to provide a permanent teacher for the school.

However - and I have feared this for a while, after hearing from the Angolans, but have waited to tell others until things were more clear - the government has changed the rules, and now a school must have SIX classrooms for the government to be willing to provide a teacher. Apparently, the rule change cannot be "got around." They have to build a SIX room school. Ugh.

The good part of this is that the school will be able to serve 50% more students (the need is still far greater). The bad part, of course, is that it will cost more. I am working on getting a new cost estimate for the school building.

I want to be clear that I have great trust and confidence in our Angolan partners. They are talented, conscientious people. This is not a situation of "bait and switch." They are frustrated by the rule change, just as I am.

Situations like this seem almost ridiculous to most of us in the U.S. We are used to cost overruns on projects like this, of course, but we really aren't used to people "changing the rules in the middle of the game." But Angola is truly a "developing" country. That doesn't just mean that it is developing economically, it also means it is developing in its social and governmental structures. Seven years after the civil war ended, things are still shaking out. Working in the midst of some uncertainty is part of what it means to try to give Angolans the tools they need to rebuild their country.

I will, of course, post additional information on costs as it becomes available. I'll also write again before long about what the plan is for the fundraising, whether and how I'll keep it going.

In any case, we will very soon be celebrating hitting the $50,000 goal!

Peace everyone!

Mike

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Looks like fun, no?

Here's me, a very few minutes after the swim. Obviously, I was filled with joy!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Closer, closer

Fundraising progress. $45,050. This is wonderful! $50,000, here we come.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Angola Visit Update

As previously announced, I was unable to make my planned trip to Angola to have a ground-breaking ceremony for the school in Waku Kungo. When I first scheduled my trip to Angola many months ago, the calendar looked clear for them. But in time, some unavoidable scheduling conflicts arose. The Angolans tried to work around the conflicts, but in the end, and very understandably, the key people needed to make my visit a success just weren't available. Not speaking Portuguese, no less Kimbundu, Umbundu, or Kicongo, Angola is not a place I could go and "wing it." So, no trip.

Our partners in Angola are still very interested in having me come to visit Waku Kungu when construction gets underway, or soon thereafter. We don't know the timing yet of the beginning of construction, but it should be fairly soon after we are able to send them the full $50,000. As I have mentioned before, they wisely want to wait until all the money is in hand before they begin construction, as this will significantly reduce construction costs.

As of today, the fund raising total is $43,237 (wahoo!), including the $10,000 from the Tuthill Fund of the Illinois Conference. A few weeks ago, we sent the first $20,000 to Waku Kungo, and today we sent another $10,000. The Tuthill money should be sent after final approval is given around the middle of November. So, by the end of November, we will have sent $40,000. If we can bring in the final $6,763 in the next few weeks, we should be able to have the full $50,000 for them by Christmas!

A great deal needs to be worked out, including finances and finding the best time for the Angolans and for my schedule next year, but hopefully sometime in the first half of 2010 I'll be able to go and celebrate with the folks of Waku Kungo at some point in the construction process.

So, although the swimming part of my adventure is over, the task is not yet fully complete - and I'll keep working on it, one "stroke" at a time, until that school becomes a reality, serving hundreds of children and helping them face the challenges of their lives, through education!

Thanks for your support!

P.S. If by some strange occurrence you have not yet donated to the school project in Angola, by all means, I encourage you to do so! Just click here, and contribute to "Mike's English Channel Swim" - 100% of donations go to build the school (not pay for my swim!). You can also write a check to "SwimMikeSwim," and send it to Second Congregational Church, 318 N. Church St., Rockford, IL, 61101.