calendar January 23, 2007 in Global Vision

Area Lutherans help fulfill a dream: Special education half a world away

Our partner Tanzanian church is opening a new university to train teachers. March 11 is set aside to raise awareness, funds for the project


To learn more or make a contribution contact Joanne Carlson at 610.383.7112 or jcarlson@sepa.org

In the U.S., laws ensure that children with special needs receive services they need in order to get an education.

In northeastern Tanzania, special education teachers are few, and only 1 percent of children with special needs receive schooling. The rest are kept home to be cared for by their families.

The Lutheran Church in that region is working to change that picture by opening a new university to train special education teachers and specialists in other needed professions. And they are doing it by mobilizing a global web of experts and supporters that includes Southeastern Pennsylvania Lutherans and educators from local institutions.

The Sebastian Kolowa University College, or SEKUCo, is on track to open this October in Magamba, a village north of Lushoto. The campus’s programs will help to alleviate a shortage of professionals in special education and law and educate specialists in eco-tourism. It is the vision of the Rev. Dr. Anneth Munga, SEKUCo’s acting provost and wife of the bishop of Tanzania’s North Eastern Diocese, and builds on the diocese’s experience at its two-year-old Irente Rainbow School for mentally handicapped children.

Locally, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod (ministrylink.org) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (www.elca.org) has had a long companion relationship with the North Eastern Diocese (www.elct-ned.org) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (www.elct.org). Visits and exchanges involving bishops, pastors, church members and educators have led to support for the Rainbow School, the Mwangazaa Education Center for teacher training, scholarships for school children and bicycles for circuit-riding pastors in Tanzania, among other things. So when Dr. Munga visited the Philadelphia area in 2005 with her vision for SEKUCo, the synod embraced the challenge to help.

A task force of about 40 people from Southeastern Pennsylvania have been working to raise funds, implement instructional technology and design curriculum for SEKUCo. The group includes local Lutheran pastors and members, representatives of Lutheran agencies including Ken-Crest Services (www.kencrest.org), which helps individuals with developmental disabilities, and faculty from local schools including Penn State’s Great Valley Campus, Arcadia University, the University of the Sciences, and the Chester County Intermediate Unit. A work team from the synod visited Magamba last August to help prepare the site.

Lutheran congregations and individuals have so far contributed $70,000 to the project, according to Joanne Carlson, assistant to the bishop for global vision. Eventually the synod hopes to raise $1.8 million in gifts and grants for the new campus.

That financial contribution pales in comparison to the commitment of the North Eastern Diocese, which has pledged that each confirmed member of the church will contribute $1. This in an economy where full-time employment is rare, and the average worker earns just $375 per year – and a household may have many confirmed members and just one wage earner. Many households will contribute several days’ earnings to the project.

SEKUCo has many other partners around the globe, including the Tanzanian government, which out of respect for the diocese’s track record has donated land and buildings to the campus, church agencies in Germany, Sweden and Finland, and the University of Bonn.

March 11 has been designated SEKUCo Sunday in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, an event designed to increase awareness and raise support for the university project. With just months left before the campus opens, there is great need for funds to help make Dr. Munga’s vision a reality. For information about how to contribute, contact Joanne Carlson at 610.383.7112 or jcarlson@sepa.org. Learn more at ministrylink.org/sekuco.