Helping the Helpless
NAD feeds orphans, constructs school in Maluti
By Sandra Blackmer
The children’s smiles were dazzling—and contagious—as they playfully teased one another and greeted their teacher, “Good morning.” After initial instructions, the young students started pulling books off shelves, then sat at desks, brows furrowed, deep in concentration, as they began studying their lessons for the day.
Also situated on the Maluti Adventist Hospital campus was a more conventional building that comprised two additional classrooms. Another steel shipping container served as the school library. Kindergarten students met in an abandoned warehouse on the other side of the campus.
“The needs are so great there that when the NAD [North American Division] union education directors and I visited the hospital and school campus in Lesotho, we knew we had to do something to help,” says Larry Blackmer, NAD’s vice president for education. “We couldn’t just walk away and say, ‘How sad! We must pray for them.’ We believed God wanted us to combine action with prayer.”
What to Do?
Some 6,000 Adventists worship in 31 churches in the small African country of Lesotho. A region in southern Africa that never surrendered to the British, Lesotho became an independent country in 1966 and is surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. The 2.1 million residents of this mountainous and landlocked territory earn their living through agriculture, livestock, and manufacturing commodities such as electric power and apparel. Poverty is rampant—as is HIV/AIDS. Estimates indicate that in 2007 18,000 people died there as a result of AIDS.*
NAD educators visited the region on a Hope for Humanity mission trip in September 2007. They were to observe firsthand the HFH feeding program for orphans whose parents had died as a result of AIDS in Nhlengelo, South Africa, as well as the Adventist hospital and school in Mapoteng, Lesotho. They left determined to raise awareness of the children’s plight and to solicit funds not only to help feed the orphans but also to build a new school building on the hospital campus.
During the 2007-2008 school year, NAD educators and students throughout the division’s kindergarten through twelfth-grade (K-12) system raised more than $120,000 for Hope for Humanity’s feeding program for the orphans. Then they turned their attention to the needs of Maluti.
Blackmer concedes that building a new school is “a very ambitious undertaking that involves the costs of not only the building materials but also of the construction itself.” He and other educators determined, however, that if they could recruit volunteer labor—academy students as well as adults—to help augment wages that would be paid to locally hired workers, “with the Lord’s blessing, we believed the project was doable.”
“We just resolved to step out in faith,” Blackmer says.
Hope for Humanity (HFH) is the force behind millions of dollars collected annually by church members in North America to support humanitarian work in local communities and abroad. Headquartered at the North American Division (NAD) office in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, and run by department director Maitland DiPinto, HFH has been actively involved with meeting needs at Maluti Hospital.
“Maluti hospital serves a very underprivileged area with a high HIV/AIDS rate. They are doing a tremendous job there under very difficult circumstances,” DiPinto says.
One of the difficulties faced by the hospital staff, according to DiPinto, was being able to provide a quality education for their children.
“We felt that in order to give the kids a good education they needed a better school—better facilities,” he says. “So [the new school] was to give the kids a better education, but also a way to greatly enhance the ability of the hospital to carry out its mission by retaining well-qualified staff.”
NAD educators voted in December 2007 to attempt to raise enough money through Adventist K-12 schools division-wide to build a six-classroom building on the hospital campus. The incorporation of volunteer student and adult labor to help construct the facility greatly lowered the projected cost of the project, but the estimated total still came in at a staggering $250,000. This would cover not only the cost of the construction materials and local laborers’ wages but also would provide desks, books, computers, and playground equipment. The division education leaders pressed ahead by sending information and a DVD about the project to every NAD school and asking each of them to set a fund-raising goal of $5.00 per student—and although there are still more funds to be raised, the teachers and students responded.
In September 2009—in partnership with HFH and Maranatha International, and coordinated by Pacific Union education director Kelly Bock and contractor Robert Jackson from Washington State—40 students, sponsors, and other adult volunteers, the first of three groups scheduled consecutively to make the arduous journey by air to Lesotho, began work on the school.
“The interactions we enjoyed with the local workers and the spirit of cooperation and enthusiasm made it clear that God was our leader throughout the project,” Bock says. This school will enable the administration and staff to recruit more students from the surrounding area and to share the love of Jesus in a wonderful new facility.”
Maranatha International storyteller Richard Duerksen sees the organizational partnership as an asset to the project. Describing the cooperative endeavor among Maranatha team members, NAD educators, and HFH leaders as “a real pleasure,” Duerksen notes, “Our team included the Ecuador steel crew who fabricated the school’s steel structure as well as cement and steel workers from Mexico and Mozambique. This project truly represents the miracles that can be accomplished when international groups work together to accomplish the impossible.”
River Plate Adventist University sophomore and Spanish major Melissa Breetzke served as translator between Maranatha-sponsored construction engineers from South America and project organizers throughout much of the venture. Describing Lesotho as “a land of big mountains, noisy farm animals, and enchanting souls,” Breetzke says she had a “phenomenal time” there.
“It seemed like this trip was custom-designed for me,” Breetzke says. “Even though it was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, I was happier than ever.”
The people, she says, impressed her the most.
“They taught me Lesotho words and called me their sister and daughter,” Breetzke notes. “They laughed merrily at my attempts to make the clicking noises they use in their language, and they cheered when I remembered the phrases they taught me.”
She concedes, though, that the work turned out to be more strenuous than she anticipated. Because the heater in the room she was staying in didn’t always work, the nights, she says, “were freezing cold, and we woke up early some mornings to work for 10 hours hauling some of the heaviest pieces of metal I’ve ever encountered.”
Breetzke is convinced that the Maluti school project was “all God’s doing.” She says in Africa she found “the real stuff—the pure, concentrated bliss of a life well lived. This, to me, is a nearer taste of heaven than anything you find in books…. It was one of the best times of my life.”
The Role of Adventist Education
Blackmer notes, “One of the roles of Adventist education is to help students understand that they are part of a global community and that they have a responsibility to that community. The Maluti Mission project and the hundreds of other local community and international mission projects conducted by Adventist education every year allow our youth to share their time, talents, and resources with those in need.”
He adds, “I believe that children and youth from places such as Lesotho have lessons to teach our students. Many of these young people live with disease, hunger, and violence as part of their daily lives, yet they eagerly share what they have, and their smiles come from the heart. There is much that we can learn from them.
“The NAD is committed to finding ways for every student, every year—if they so desire—to become involved with a mission project.”
For more information and to view additional pictures, go to www.nadeducation.org/maluti or www.hope4.com/maluti.
Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor of Adventist World.