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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]


PLU-Namibia connection still strong — after 15 years

By Drew Brown, Editor

Edwin Tjiramba ’93 and

Louisa Mupetami ’92
INSPIRATIONAL RETURN: Edwin Tjiramba ’93 and Louisa Mupetami ’92 during their recent return to the Northwest.

From a small, desert-covered country in southern Africa comes one of the more influential groups of PLU graduates. Early this summer Edwin Tjiramba ’93, director of institutional development and Louisa Mupetami ’92 , director for the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (both at the Polytechnic of Namibia, Windhoek), returned to Washington. They had two main reasons to return: to tell their inspirational stories to the Lutheran churches that sponsored them, and to continue learning how to bring educational development to their university.

The Namibian Student Project at Pacific Lutheran University was born in 1986, after two Lutheran bishops from Namibia—a country of 1.7 million people northwest of South Africa with a 50 percent Lutheran population—requested support to educate young Namibian native leaders.

Opportunities did not exist for black Namibians to receive a baccalaureate degree in their country. At the time, Namibia remained under the illegal rule of South Africa—and the oppression of the apartheid movement.

In August 1986, Ron Tellefson, who had served as university pastor for 10 years, was on a sabbatical. He asked President William Rieke how he could serve the university during this three-month period.

“President Rieke asked me if I could raise $50,000 to bring a student from Namibia to PLU.” Tellefson said. “And I believed we could do that.”

With the support of PLU, Tellefson set out to raise the money. Over three months, more than $335,000 was pledged from 55 congregations of Region 1 (Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho & Alaska) of the ELCA. This financial support ultimately enabled eight Namibians to attend Pacific Lutheran University. Tellefson was soon after invited to become a development director for PLU. The PLU/Namibia program blossomed from there.

“You never know what impact a program will have. You start with an idea and hope for the best,” Tellefson said. “As we can see now, it worked out wonderfully.”

It has been a decade since the first Namibian student first graduated from PLU, and the success of the students, in addition to Tjiramba and Mupetami, speaks for itself:

The first student, Kuuva Kongeli ’91 is head of Namibia’s forensic lab, investigating homicides and other crimes; Kauna (Ben) Shingenge ’91 was recently appointed first secretary of the Namibian delegation to the United Nations in New York; Eva-Liisa (Kafidi ’92) Shilamba is a mother and is now working in the area of health care instruction in Namibia; Penda Naanda ’92 works for office of the foreign ministry in Windhoek; Lahja Mbango ’94 is a special reporter for Namibian Broadcasting Corporation, travelling extensively with Namibia’s president; Thomas Shikongo ’95, the latest Namibian to finish at PLU, is an educator and school principal in Northern Namibia.

Although Tellefson is retired from PLU (he heads Enrichment Ministries with his wife, Eileen), he hopes that more Namibian students can come. He envisions a program where students would spend their first two years at Highline Community College (the Des Moines, Wash. school has a Namibian program), and their last two at PLU.

“It has been great working with these people” Tellefson said. “To see these students learn, and bring their skills back to Namibia, is truly inspirational.”

Pacific Lutheran University Scene
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