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!
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 www.SwimMikeSwim.com and hit the "donate now" button. Thanks!
God bless you!
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