African mission trumps Hawaiian vacation for couple

She will work in a school; he will help establish a garden

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

Dennis and Lynda Blake of Nowthen had planned to take an exotic vacation to Hawaii.

Instead, they are using that money to travel to Africa’s South Sudan this fall. There they will spend a month helping out in a school with a dirt floor, working on a garden, cooking over an open fire and sleeping under mosquito netting to protect themselves from insect-borne diseases.

“I don’t even camp,” Lynda said with a laugh. “I don’t have any interest in bugs. I don’t like roughing it.”

Dennis and Lynda Blake are headed to Africa.

But they are both very excited and confident the trip will work out well.

“We believe that the Lord is going to take care of us,” Dennis said.

They will be traveling with Lynda’s cousin, Dan Peters, and another person.

Peters is part-owner of the BOB FM radio station in Ramsey, and has started several radio stations in Africa.

Lynda said it was after he launched a radio station in South Sudan that he learned about the desperate need for a school there.

Sudan had been embroiled in a civil war. A year ago, South Sudan broke off to become independent. Because of the unrest, children hadn’t gone to school for years, she said.

Peters set about helping to launch  a school in Yei, South Sudan. Two hundred children ages 4–12 initially enrolled. None had been to school so all started in kindergarten, Lynda said.

Now the school has about 450 students.

Lynda had taught kindergarten in Champlin before retiring after 32 years. She plans to help teach at the school in the morning and train teachers in the afternoon. The school has three teachers and four paraprofessionals. Classes are taught in English.

Dennis will help out in the school and at the radio station, and will be working on a self-sustaining garden. He also hopes to see what he can do to start a farmers market. He was one of the organizers of the farmers market that began last year in Nowthen.

One of the problems is water for the garden. There is a well but it dries up at times. The Blakes have collected $500 in donations to deepen the well to fix that problem.

While in South Sudan, they will stay at a brick building near the school.

They expect conditions to be somewhat primitive. There are lights but no electrical outlets. Electricity is turned off at 10 p.m. to conserve. There is no running water.

The school has minimal supplies. A wall was painted with blackboard paint and there is chalk, but not much beyond that. There are no desks. Some children bring their own chairs. Those without chairs stand or sit on the floor, although Lynda said some of the young girls stand all day because they don’t want to sit on the dirt floor and get their uniforms dirty.

Lynda and Dennis Blake with some of the 17 foot lockers full of school supplies that they plan to take with them to Africa.

The Blakes have collected school supplies and will take foot lockers full of supplies with them on the airplane to deliver in person to ensure that they get there. They had planned to fill 10 foot lockers, but they were given so many supplies they are bringing 17. The foot lockers are filled with everything from pencils, crayons and teaching materials to flip flops, backpacks and inflatable balls for the playground.

“The Nowthen Alliance Church has been very helpful in backing us,” Dennis said.

Dennis and Lynda will be paying their own way to Africa, and are no longer collecting school supplies.

Although the Blakes will be gone for a month, they are arranging for people to stay at their home so they don’t have to be concerned about that while they are gone.

While the trip will be a far cry from their exotic Hawaiian vacation, when the Blakes heard about the needs in South Sudan they looked at each other and said, “Let’s go.”

“We’re thrilled to death. We’re very excited,” Dennis said.

“We have a lot to learn,” Lynda added. “This is going to be an interesting venture.”

To learn more, go to www.royalschoolinternational.com.

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