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.