by Rebekah Thornhill
Kibeta English Medium Primary School (KEMPS) started 14 years ago through a strong relationship between the Metropolitan New York Synod and the North Western Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. At the time, the local Tanzanian diocese realized the need for an English Medium School in the area. In Tanzania, most classes are taught in Swahili for grades 1 through 7, but all classes after that are taught in English. Having a school where children can start learning English at a young age means that they are able to be more proficient by the time they reach high school. It gives them a strong advantage towards success.
In 2003 the congregations of our synod all began raising money to go into an endowment that enabled the school to be built — classrooms, dormitories, and labs were all built through this partnership. Our synod has now supported 10 English teachers at KEMPS and continues to support projects and updates through fundraising campaigns like Udugu Sunday, held in September each year.
Teachers who go to KEMPS are loved deeply. "The children know they are there to teach English," says Pr. Perucy Butiku, Assistant to the Bishop for Global & Multicultural Mission, "but they also see the love of God." The teachers are loved so much that the children wrote a song about their English teachers. Every teacher they’ve had is named in the song. And now, it is time for a new verse.
Melanie Nelson is the next teacher headed to KEMPS. Growing up in Minnesota, she knew she wanted to be a nurse or a teacher. She went to Concordia College in Moorhead and teaching ended up being her right fit. A member of Zion Lutheran Church in Houston, TX, she’s taught kindergarten for over 30 years. When she first heard about the position at KEMPS, she was still teaching at a school near downtown Houston and things didn’t line up. Now retired from that position, she is ready for two years of teaching English at KEMPS. Over and over, she remarked how this happened in God’s time.
Melanie and her husband David Kingery have never been to Africa but have traveled the world to learn about their own familial history and the stories still being told. Of her departure for Tanzania Melanie says, "I am excited to be a part of the deep diversity and new culture… I want to be able to see both the bigness of the world and the smallness of being immersed in a community."
Melanie did say that while she’s excited, she’s also nervous and sometimes scared. Our most recent teacher at KEMPS, Michelle Mercado has provided a lot of help with this. Michelle and her husband Trevor Kearney were teachers between 2014 and 2016 with their two young children. "Michelle has been a great mentor for me," says Melanie. Michelle has shared things like what her family’s normal routine had been in Tanzania, their joys and struggles being abroad, and any number of things to be prepared for, from cooking and laundry to malaria and health.
Melanie is now preparing for her own routines and new relationships. "I have thoughtfully been anticipating how to make connections with the kids and teachers. I want to share my story, but I also want to hear theirs." She is excited to learn how to dress and eat and be in a community that supports one another.
Her husband David hopes to also join her in Tanzania. "I want to be able to contribute too," he says. "We’re capable, ready and excited for this journey. I know it will be a blessing."
Melanie Nelson leaves for Tanzania on July 19 with our prayers. To support the work of KEMPS and education in Tanzania, you can make a gift to the Tanzania Endowment Fund here.