Report No. 2: The school — GERMAN VISITOR BEATRIX AT AMITOFO CARE CENTRE NAMIBIA

My second week at Amitofo in Namibia starts with an award ceremony. The second trimester just finished, so it is a good moment. In each class 3 prizes will be distributed: for the best performance, for the best development and for the best behaviour. There are 3 classes, which means 9 prizes will be given. The pupils are not aware of anything this Monday morning. But it is clearly extraordinary that the director, Min Chen, is in the courtyard, talking there with Paul Frederik Damaseb, the school principal. The children are asked to come together in front of the stage which is located in the middle of the courtyard. Paul enters the stage and asks the children at the beginning to sing some songs. They are absolutely enthusiastic in following his request. Afterwards, Paul increases the tension of the children by starting to give little hints that a secret is waiting for them this morning. At the end he lets the cat out of the bag and all children start to beam. Some literally start jumping from one foot to the other, hoping that their name as well will be mentioned. The prizes are distributed. Not every hope is satisfied. But after a short moment of disappointment you can see the change in the children`s faces and that they start to share the delight of the happy ones. The director holds a little speech. The celebratory moment is over.
The Namibian school system disposes of the grades 1 – 12. For some years now the visit of school is free of charge. But because of the difficult financial situation it is currently considered to reinstall school fees. Visiting school is compulsory.
The Yuan Jue Private School, which is financed by Amitofo Care Centre, offers currently three classes: one pre-primary grade 0 with 23 children and two grade 1 classes with totally 31 children. The next school year will start in January 2018 and by then the first grade 2 class shall be offered. It is the explicit target of Min Chen to offer the complete Namibian curriculum in the school. All grades (0 – 12) shall be offered within the next years, thus offering the children the possibility of a continuous education in a safe environment with stable structures and known friends. An education which even exceeds the curriculum of public schools as the children benefit from an almost daily martial-arts- and Chinese-training as well as from an ethics- and meditation classes given by a Shifu (= respectful way to address a teacher). These lessons are not about religion but about the sharing of values and the learning of meditation as an art to achieve a balanced and focussed mind.
To offer all grades means a large extension of the school. It is planned to offer 500 places for pupils at the Yuan Jue Private School. Teachers as well as all the other staff – e.g. kitchen assistants or cleaning staff – needs to be increased accordingly. In consequence Amitofo Care Centre and Yuan Jue Private School will become increasing importance as employers of the region.
But for the time being these are still plans. Currently, there are fifty four 6-8 years old children, who have to be provided. So caregivers take care of them when they are not in school. Caregivers are young women originating from the different Namibian tribes. Each caregiver is looking after 8 children, doing homework with them, comforting them and sleeping directly next door to them. This measure shall make sure that it remains normal for the children to talk in their native language and to sing their own songs. It is not the target of Amitofo to disconnect the children, it is the target to teach them diversity. And their native culture is of course part of it.
Today`s interview is with school principal Paul Frederik Damaseb. He is 63 years old and is Namibian talking Damara.
Q: Paul, since when do you work for Yuan Jue Private School?
A: I have started to work here around June 2016.

Q: What is your educational background?
A: I was teacher for 37 years, also in the function of a principal. And for some years I was the mayor of Okahandja.

Q: The children are coming from difficult environments: What are the consequences?
A: First of all it is sad to see that not all children have similar chances. Some children are coming from a really poor environment and it is good to see that Amitofo brings at least some of them back into the system. Sometimes they show deficits in cooperation or in adjusting to the new environment. In these cases, it is of course helpful to have a long experience. It will support you in finding ways of solution. Sometimes we do extra classes in the afternoon to help the children to adjust, sometimes we ask other schools for help. Here, in Okahandja, there is a good exchange within the schools. Teachers from other schools are willing to come and support us in case of emergency.

Q: The curriculum is extended compared to the curriculum of Namibian public schools and offers for example classes in meditation: Do you see any effect on the children?
A: Yes, indeed. You can notice that the children become more focussed and that they calm down. The Kung-Fu-lessons provide them with a good physical fitness.

Q: Does it make a difference for you to work for a Buddhist organization?
A: No, not at all. For me it is a question of values and of the target. We all are working for the best of children and to reach this goal it does not make a difference if you work for a Buddhist or a Christian or whatever organization. Continue reading Report No. 2: The school — GERMAN VISITOR BEATRIX AT AMITOFO CARE CENTRE NAMIBIA

Report Part 1 – German visitor Beatrix at Amitofo Care Centre Namibia

Finally, in the early morning of 22 September 2017, I arrive in Windhoek, Namibia. 6.30 a.m. Dawn offers a variety of colours between grey and rose, the coming heat of the day can already be felt in the cool morning hours. Swallows change direction in the very last moment before crashing in me. These are my first impressions of Namibia after leaving the plane. Min Chen, the Taiwanese deputy director of Amitofo Care Centre, picks me up and drives me to the Care Centre. It is located close to Okahandja, at street C 31. It is a very undulating road and on top of one of its „waves“. I can see all of a sudden the red and blue roofs of the centre. Driving down the wave let them disappear immediately.

We arrive at noon, resting time for employees and children: There is nothing around but savannah. The first thing you will note after stepping out of the car is this incredible silence. Now and than a bird, now and than an insect, very rarely a car passing by. Nothing else. You get used to this silence quickly: In the second night the flap of a moth will make me wake up – and I live in 50 m distance to a highway in Germany ….

Min is leading me around, showing me the centre: The centre contains of various building complexes. There are for big halls: the multifunction hall, the gym hall, the warehouse and the restaurant/administration hall. All of them huge. The rooms for employees and guests are behind. The centre is giving work to 11 employees from various Asian countries and 23 local employees. Currently, some positions are still vacant and the director is looking for more local staff to be employed.

The dormitories and class rooms of the kids are located in separated buildings, which are grouped around a inner courtyard. All rooms are airy and of sufficient size. 54 children aged between 6 -8 years are currently living in the centre, visiting pre-school and school (grade 0 + 1), learning amongst other things English, Mathematics, Chinese, Kung Fu. Their education at the school is cost free and is made possible by donations.

Then I have got the chance to meet employees and children. The warm welcome helps to feel comfortable. The food is tasty and the rooms are nice. So the big adventure which I would like to share with you can begin.

I will pick up certain topics and present them to you. Each report will also introduce one of the employees at care centre and of course this time we will start with the director, Min Chen.
Min Chen is 42 years old and comes from Taiwan. She is working for Amitofo Care Centre since 2009. At the beginning she was in the administration area. As a next step she decided to take over the position of a director of Amitofo Care Centre Namibia when it was offered to her.

Q: Min, when and how did you first came in touch with Amitofo Care Centre?
A: My first contact was indeed a professional one: I was looking for a job as a designer and a friend of mine knew somebody at Amitofo. She put us in touch and that is how the cooperation started.

Q: You are living and working now in Namibia for 2 years: What was your biggest challenge until now?
A: One of the biggest topics that occurs when working in a different country are the intercultural differences. It takes a while to understand the different values and mindsets – on both sides. It is our ambition to offer a good working atmosphere for local employees and for those employees coming from different countries. So understanding and respect are needed. It is not always easy but we are on a good way. Bureaucracy is another challenging topic: To get acquainted with new legislations and regulations is a hard and difficult job. We are happy that the Namibian people are so friendly and patient and always willing to answer our questions.

Q: How does the integration of the care centre into the Namibian surrounding work out?
A: We have local volunteers who are our board members. We are supporting three soup kitchens, we receive donated wheelchairs, which we distribute. To find the receivers, people in need can send in an application. We will visit them to check the situation in order to make sure that all donations really go to the people in need. And we organise international events, where donors and people from Namibia come together.

Q: What are the ambitions of Amitofo as a Buddhist organisation?
A: At the beginning there were fears that Amitofo’s target might be to do missionary work. This is definitely not the case. Our interest is to provide the children with the possibilities offered by a good education and a safe environment. We want to create an open mindset in them which is open to other cultures and helps them get an international vision of the world.

Q: Which steps are planned next?
A: We will apply to implement the grades 2 – 7 step by step in order to provide the complete Namibian school curriculum. Further constructions are ongoing, as it is our goal to offer domicile for more children. And of course we continue our current program. That means we currently look for children to join our school for grade 0 + 1. Applications were made and we are going to visit their homes together with a social worker to make sure that we choose those children with the highest need.

Q: What do you demand of yourself and of your employees?
A: I am happy when I see that people are passionate in what they are doing. It is great to see an international community growing together and learning from each other.

Q: What did you expect for yourself when you accepted to work in Namibia?
A: I had a certain vision in mind when I accepted my position as a director. There was a certain clash with reality after my arrival but it is my ambition to solve all the problems and to create an open and respectful environment focussing on the benefit of the children.

Continue reading Report Part 1 – German visitor Beatrix at Amitofo Care Centre Namibia