Tomorrow, members of the Pacific Lutheran University community can see how powerful their education can be.
“Namibia Nine” is a documentary conceived by Dr. Joanne Lisosky, a professor of communication at PLU. In alliance with the Wang Center for Global Education and the PLU Department of Communication, Lisosky and an array of colleagues have produced a documentary on the experiences of the Nine Namibian exchange students after matriculating at PLU.
“The Namibia Nine” event takes place at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 28 in the Karen Hille Phillips Center. The film will be screened followed by a Q&A with the former Namibian Lutes and the filmmakers.
“This is a ‘Where Are They Now’ type story of these nine students who were chosen [to attend PLU],” said Melannie Cunningham, director of multicultural recruitment and logistics manager for the documentary. “This story is powerful.”
South Africa was charged with the responsibility of preparing the region of South-West Africa for independence after gaining control of the country after World War I. Instead, South Africa maintained
control and enforced the segregation law known as Apartheid (segregation on grounds of race). In the 1980s, a war for the independence of South-West Africa began.
Lutherans around the world rallied together in an effort to aid South-Wwest Africa in gaining its independence.
“You see, this story is rooted in the fact that more than 50 percent of the people in South-West Africa were Lutheran,” James Unglaube of Evangelical Lutheran Church said. “[South-West Africa was] one of the most Lutheran nations in the world.
Unglaube and other Lutheran church officials conceived the idea of bringing 100 high school graduates from
Southwest Africa to the U.S. to attend 29 Lutheran colleges and universities.
“We invited colleges to accept these students and grant them full scholarships…and they did,” Unglaube said.
After receiving a $2.5 million grant from the German government to create the Namibia 100 program, South-West African students traveled to study abroad in the U.S.
PLU was one of the 29 colleges that was invited to participate in the project. Under the direction of former PLU Pastor Ron Tellefson, more than $300,000 was raised to bring nine South-West African students to the Pacific Northwest.
Originally, Tellefson was asked to raise enough to bring only one South-West African student to PLU.
“I was able to raise $50,000 (four years’ tuition) in pledges for scholarship support within ten days,” Tellefson said. “I asked the President, ‘What shall we do next?’ He responded, ‘Bring more [South-West Africans] to PLU.’”
In three months’ time, nearly $350,000 had been pledged to grant four-year scholarships to eight South-West African students.
“We were able to educate eight young people…more than any of the other 28 Lutheran institutions,” Tellefson said. “[In the early 2000s] we were able to welcome our ninth scholar.”
South Africa relinquished control of South-West Africa in 1990, and the country was renamed “Namibia.” Following their time at PLU, each of the nine returned to Namibia in hopes to use their education to aid in the development of their newly founded country.
Several of the Namibia Nine now serve roles in the Namibian Government. Pendapala Andreas Naanda, ’92, now holds the positions of personal assistant to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and deputy ambassador to the United Nations for Namibia.
“PLU has broadened my way of thinking about the world around me,” Naanda said. “It’s an education that has prepared me for my diplomatic career.”
Other Namibian alumni serve as leaders in science, such as the Senior Forensics Controller for the Department of Home Affairs, and at universities, such as the director of communication and marketing at the University of Namibia.
“Our nine all supervise people…and their staff will tell you that [they are] different from other managers,” Cunningham said. “What’s different about other managers in the building is that [they] didn’t receive their education from PLU. The staff recognizes that difference in [the Namibia Nine].”
Six of the nine Namibian students will be in attendance tomorrow night, including Naanda.
“I feel like [I’m] going home,” Naanda said. “This is what the Lutes would call ‘homecoming.’”
For the PLU community, this film is a powerful demonstration of the value of a Lutheran education and what it truly means to be a Lute.
“The film reflects fruitful liberation through education, leadership for the indigenous people of Namibia, and the vital roles these Namibians are playing in building a democratic nation,” Tellefson said.
“They’re family,” Cunningham added. “They’re Lutes.” 🅼