by Joni Astrup
A trip to South Sudan in 2012 has forged a deep connection to Africa for a Nowthen couple and revitalized their retirement years in the process.
Dennis and Lynda Blake initially traveled to South Sudan in 2012. Dennis has returned to Africa three times since then and they both will be going back again.
“It’s changed my whole outlook,” said Dennis, 68. “I feel revived. It’s given such purpose in our retirement.”
The Blakes initially went to South Sudan to deliver school supplies, help at a school and start a well project. Dennis returned to South Sudan a second time to work on plumbing at the school campus.
On his third trip to Africa he brought school supplies and helped at a school in a ghetto in Ghana.
On his fourth trip to Africa a month ago, he visited a school in Uganda. There he helped establish an apple orchard and farm to provide food and vocational training for the students. He and Lynda hope to return there to help with the harvest and plant the next crop and to work in the school. The work in Uganda has allowed Dennis, who is one of the founders of the Nowthen Farmers Market, to put his interest and knowledge of farming to good use.
The schools in Uganda and South Sudan that the Blakes have helped are both affiliated with Royal School International. Lynda’s cousin, Dan Peters, is involved with that organization. He also is part-owner of the BOB FM radio station in Ramsey.
Dennis said they can’t get into South Sudan now because of the unrest there, but they are free to travel to Uganda.
He said the school children in Uganda desperately need food.
About 350 children attend the school. That includes 80 boarding students, many of whom are orphans.
During his recent visit to Uganda, Dennis said every day he watched a 3-year-old orphan boy take his little brother by the hand, get their bowl of porridge, sit down under a tree and share their porridge.
“That’s all they had was each other, the school and the people there. It just breaks your heart,” he said.
During his stay in Uganda, he and others prepared a 5-acre plot of ground on the 15-acre campus for cultivation.
They planted maize (corn), beans, onions and 175 apple trees. The apple trees are a new variety that can be grown in a tropical climate, he said.
The produce will help feed the children who attend the school. Eventually, Dennis said they may be able to sell apples to raise money for scholarships.
He also is working to bring fresh drinking water to the school.
Dennis said people from Nowthen Alliance Church have donated money to dig a well and to help with the farming project in Uganda. The African school doesn’t have a well now and relies on rainwater. Children are constantly carrying water from where it is collected to the school, he said. Work on a well at the school was expected to begin last week.
Dennis said he next hopes to install plumbing on the campus for toilets, for cooking and so the children can have clean drinking water readily available.
Lynda, a retired teacher, will focus her attention on the classroom. The Blakes went to Colorado for training through Community Bible Study International and Lynda will apply what she learned to train teachers when she goes to Uganda.
Overall, Dennis said the African trips have been rewarding.
He recently received a letter from students at the school in Uganda. They referred to him as “Lovely Dennis” and “Papa Dennis.”
They wrote, in part: “We would like to thank you for everything you have done in our school like teaching us methods of farming, planting and praying for us. Your presence has made us happy, joyful, and it has pleased us.”