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!


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.

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 and hit the "donate now" button. Thanks!

God bless you!