Atherton / Namibia Link.
Etale and Back (the sequel) – Part 1
Those who read the Parish Magazine a year ago will perhaps remember the series of articles on the visit to our link parish of Etale in Namibia. Well, we’ve been back again and this time Dave and Barbara Bilney came with us. So this is the first in a short series of articles on what we did and what we found. It was certainly a very different visit than last year but no less humbling and inspiring.
For those that don’t know about our link, here is a brief reminder. Etale is in an area in the north of the country, not far from the Angolan border. Namibia itself has a population of around 2 million people (around 1/30th of the UK) and a land mass of around 4 times that of the UK. However, most of the people live in the north of the country, the rest being largely uninhabitable or massive ranches owned by the descendents of white Europeans who took control of the country many years ago.
We have had a link with Etale for about 10 years and we made our first visit to them last year. The majority of people live in the bush; a land of sand, small bushes and just a few trees. Most people live in family groups in homesteads; a number of typically round African style huts within a stick fence.
Life is very different from our western culture. It is focussed around the regular journey to collect water each day, of growing crops (mainly millet) for their own consumption and of cooking the food, which usually means millet porridge. In other words daily life in Namibia is usually concerned with doing enough each day to stay alive and to keep illness away. The major problems relate to HIV/AIDS and malaria. But despite all the hardships they endure they are a very welcoming and happy people. We all learnt a great deal from our visit and I believe each one of us has been changed in some way. We have certainly all been reminded of what is important in God’s world and the vast differences between different parts of his world.
If I could wave a magic wand, I would arrange for everyone here to visit our brothers and sisters in this part of the world. It would be wonderful if we could all have that opportunity of getting back to the basics of life – food and water to sustain us, simple houses to shelter us, a culture where there is time to enjoy each other’s company and a caring love of our neighbour.
In some ways this link poses a potential dilemma. Although I strongly believe that we should help the people and community of Etale, this comes with a risk that it will change their culture and their way of life. I guess to some extent that is inevitable but I fervently pray that they will retain all that is good and beneficial in their current lives. As well as us being able to help Etale, we also have a great deal to learn from them and their way of life. For me it is one of the really strong reasons for the establishment and development of these international links. May we all be humble enough to learn from each other.
In the articles over the next few months we will cover the very successful workshop that Carole ran for Kindergarten teachers, information about a project we feel we should help them with and which will make a big impact on their lives, the Kindergartens and the children that attend, and about life in Namibia. Whilst we cannot wave that magic wand and take everybody over there, we hope that in some small way we can bring Etale over here.
If anyone is inspired to help in any way, whether through church or elsewhere, please give me a call; my contact details are on the cover of this magazine.
ETALE AND BACK – PART 2
Carole and Reg Sinclair, Barbara and David Bilney visited our church link in Etale, Namibia in July. We had a wonderful time with the people in Etale and felt it was important to relate our findings and feelings about the trip.
The weather while we were in Namibia was lovely, it was very warm, hot at times, there was a lot of lovely sunshine and clear blue skies, ideal weather for shorts and t-shirts, although it did get cold at night. The skies were also clear at night which meant we could see a vast number of stars across the sky, that was a wonderful sight. For the local people July is their winter, and so during the day they wore coats, hats and scarves, and complained of the cold!! We have recently had a text message from Henock and Rakel, a couple of the kindergarten teachers, and they say the weather is getting warmer now.
The rainy season is usually December to March but this year the rains lasted longer and were more severe. Carole and Reg had particularly noticed the amount of water which was left at the side of the tar road as a consequence of the rains, this water was not there when they visited last year.
The benefits of the visit far outweighed any discomforts we had, and I would strongly encourage anyone who feels that they would like to go, to do their utmost to make the trip, it is so fulfilling and you make such wonderful friends. I look back sometimes and can’t believe I actually went, but when I look at the photographs, the memories return and I can picture myself back there again. Given half a chance I would love to go back.
Etale and Back (the sequel) – Part 3
Following the visit of Carole, Barbara, Dave and myself to Etale in Naimiba, Barbara’s article in last month’s magazine gave an excellent picture of life in that country. Obviously a very difficult life and one driven by poverty, hunger and disease. These directly influence what the people do every day and also, I believe, greatly affect their faith in God. They have a very strong faith that is visible, not just on Sunday but in everything they do every day. It’s strange isn’t it, people who have very little are often those with the greatest faith and those who are most demonstrative in their gratitude to God for what they have, despite it being very little. I’ll leave you to ponder that and what it means for us.
This month I want to talk about the Church in Etale. The main Church is probably a similar size to St. Philip’s or St. George’s churches. Sunday worship is always full of people joyfully praising God with the gift of beautiful harmonious voices. Music is always with the voice, no organ or other musical instruments here. We worshipped in this church twice during our visit and it was full of children and young people on both occaisions. How refreshing and uplifting to see so many youngsters in church.
I want to spend most of this article relating our experience of our visit to Omhedi outstation Church on our last Sunday in Namibia. Omhedi Church, part of the parish of Etale, doesn’t have a building, it meets under a tree. It is a magnificent tree and must be over one hundred years old. It’s branches spread out to give shelter from the hot African sun. There are some logs under the tree to sit on but most adults bring their own plastic garden chair. As we waited for the service to start, it seemed unreal to be sat under a cloudless blue sky in the African bush watching men and women appearing out of the bush in their best clothes carrying a bible, a hymnbook and a plastic garden chair.
As guests we were invited to sit at the front of the assembly. Unfortunately the branches didn’t give shade to that area and towards midday the sun was extremely hot and our heads were getting very red!
Worship is typically three hours long (but can be longer) however, with such joyful worship, time passes very quickly. The service is very similar to our own Eucharist and even though most of it was in their own language we were able to follow it and even join in. The altar was a small wooden coffee table positioned in front of the Priest on the sandy ground. Carole had been asked to read one of the readings. As she was reading, a couple of goats came to see what was going on and aimlessly wandered passed. It could only happen in Africa!
During the service we were privileged to witness four baptisms, four very young girls only a few months old. Again the words and actions were all very familiar to us, but what do you do in the Namibian bush for a font? The answer is simple, use a plastic washing up bowl. The bowl, held by one of the servers, had a nice floral picture on the bottom. It was a magical moment and I can think of no better place to be baptised than in the open air in an unspoilt part of God’s wonderful creation.
Our experience of Church in Namibia is one of great joy, simplicity and a greater sense of being a part of God’s world. It strangely reminded us that what is important to God is the people and his relationship with them. In our Church we must always ensure that procedures, administration, buildings and all other potential barriers do not adversely get in the way of loving, worshipping and praising our wonderful and gracious God.
Look out for the next instalment in next month’s magazine.
Etale and Back (the sequel) – Part 4
When Reg and I decided (almost immediately after our first visit!) to make a second visit to Etale, we felt we needed a purpose for our stay there. After some consultation, it was suggested that I run a workshop for kindergarten teachers. The participants on the course are all greatly to be admired. They turn up to their respective kindergartens day in, day out, maybe having walked some distance, to spend time with varying numbers of children – in some cases, like Etale, up to 90 children! They are armed with few or no resources and receive little or no pay. They have had no further education since leaving school, no teacher training at all. Now I don’t know about any other teachers who may be reading this, but the thought of walking into a class of small children with nothing but my voice terrifies me! So these people were already doing a fantastic job.
There were 22 participants – 18 women and 4 men. These included all the teachers from Etale and its outstations, a 7 months pregnant lady who regularly needed me to massage her swollen ankles, a lady who had been running her kindergarten for 24 years, a toddler who celebrated her first birthday during the week and a 2 month old baby boy! So as well as teaching and learning in the workshop, there was crawling and crying, sleeping, playing, cuddling and a lot of breastfeeding!
Have you ever been on a training course? Did you start about 9 a.m., coffee break mid morning, lunch, tea break mid afternoon where you could sneak off home? Well our days began at 7.30 a.m. with morning prayer, breakfast, workshop, short break for fruit, workshop, lunch, workshop, fruit, workshop and ended at 6 p.m. with evening prayer! (yes, we were all living on site for a whole week!) Each and every session started with everyone, me included, dancing round the tables and singing (I’m not sure what but it was a great ice breaker!). Then most sessions followed the pattern of me talking/explaining an idea/demonstrating; someone translating; participants listening; participants discussing in pairs/small groups; participants making resources to supplement what I had taken; participants trying them out. They loved playing ‘snap’ after I taught them the rules! Topics we covered were shapes, colours, numbers, basic maths, language and learning through play. Each day ended with a summary of what had been achieved – on the first day one lady said her achievement was learning to cut out shapes with scissors! (and she was the one who had been running a kindergarten for 24 years!!).
For me the best day was Tuesday – numeracy. In the morning we did activities related to number and counting. In the afternoon we each made a counting stick and a felt puppet. It was a magical afternoon – relaxed, happy, creative, singing whilst creating (mostly songs of worship). They were so engrossed they worked through the fruit break!
As I said earlier, the days were long and the participants hungry for knowledge and I began to panic that my resources wouldn’t last the week! So I prayed for guidance and ideas came. One was for the participants to try out their new skills on children. So on the Thursday morning we ‘borrowed’ some children from the kindergarten on site at Onekwaya and the teachers tried things out. They all turned up in the morning wearing their ‘Sunday best’ teacher clothes and it was brilliant! To walk around the room and see them proudly using their number sticks and puppets, or hanging numbers on a washing line, or playing a game with bottle tops for counters was so humbling! To see them having as much fun as the children with a ‘talk ball’ or an action song was magical!
All the participants said that they were ‘blessed’ by the resources I’d taken so thanks must go to all of you for monies raised for Etale which meant, with PCC agreement, I was able to spend up to £200 on training resources. I felt it was imperative that each participant had some resources at the end of the course that they could use as soon as they got back to their kindergarten. So just think, for about £8.00 per participant, a huge difference was made in the teaching and learning at 14 kindergartens – over 500 children.
What was evident throughout the week was the faith in God that these people have. They sang and danced the ‘grace’ before every meal – even before the fruit breaks. The thanks and blessings they gave me at the end of the week will stay with me for ever. And I thank God for the opportunity he gave me and for guiding me every step of the way.