Located on 70 hectares of land, on the outskirts of Okahandja, stands Namibia’s first Buddhist orphanage. The Amitofo Care Centre, founded by a Taiwanese monk, is providing a home to more than 60 orphans and vulnerable children.
Opened in 2015 by its Patron Penehupifo Pohamba, the country’s first-ever Buddhist school in the Namibian education sector has left tongues wagging in Okahandja.
The centre is named after a Chinese word meaning mercy, hope, goodness and/or love.
The school started off in July 2016 with three learners but it now boasts 62. The learners are as young as five, six and seven and upon joining the school they make a commitment until they are 18 years of age which then allows them to leave the school.
The land on which the school is built was donated by the Okahandja municipality, but finds itself on a sticky wicket over allotment of 70 hectares of prime land in Okahandja at no cost for the establishment of the school. The town’s leadership is under vociferous pressure over the operations of the school.
Some community members are up in arms over the alleged indoctrination of Namibian children at the school who receive Buddhist teachings.
Amongst the concerns circulating in Okahandja is the school’s admission criteria which is focused on vulnerable communities which obligates a parent/guardian to sign a document which places these scholars in the care of the centre until they are 18 years of age. The school sets at its aim the indoctrination of children with Chinese culture, language and a Buddhist philosophy. From as early as 05h00 in the morning, these pupils are exposed to an exclusive Chinese diet, worship in the temple at 05h30 and martial arts training at 06h30. From 07h40 -12h00 a Namibian curriculum is taught for Grade 1, and after an afternoon nap, Chinese martial arts classes resume which round up at 17h00. The school was registered in December 2016 with the Ministry of Education regional office in Otjozondjupa, six months after opening its doors to the public.
The school is under fire from some parents, who have since removed their kids as they feel it will have a negative impact on the future of their children. During an interview with this publication, a widow living in Vyfrand Township confides what she observed during a visit to the school last year. Her child took her on a “tour” of the school and upon entering the Buddhist temple, she was prohibited. Upon her enquiry as to why, she was informed that “their God doesn’t allow women to worship in pants”. Asking about who this “God” was, her son replied Buddha.
The staff compliment at the school is comprised of four Namibian teachers and caretakers. One of the teachers informed this publication about a young boy who did not bow correctly according to the Buddhist custom. His punishment included bowing 100 times by saying sorry to Buddha. The chef, school administrators, one Chinese language teacher and two Martial Arts trainers are all Chinese in origin. The centre is donor funded with funders hailing from the United States, England and China.
When the school opened, one of the requirements for a potential principal was that he/she must be a retired principal.
Paul Damaseb, a retired principal who in the past also served as the mayor of Okahandja, was since appointed as principal.
Damaseb said he is primarily responsible for the academic leg of the centre, adding that: “I do not know much about the happenings in the hostel.”
Some parents also expressed concern over the fact that the children are only allowed to go on holiday during the December holidays under very specific conditions and timelines.
“Parents must ask for them to be released. They only go on holiday during December because if you let them go each holiday they might not want to come back because they are not used to the system. In some cases some learners do not have parents or they come from poor backgrounds, so where do we send them?” he questioned.
Damaseb said the school is meant for orphans and vulnerable children from all over the country. To date they educate scholars from the Omaheke, Khomas, Otjozondjupa and Northern regions.
There are also some kids from Okahandja in school.
This year the school only offers Grades 0 and 1, Damaseb said the school will continue introducing grades annually.
The Patriot understands children must adhere to a Buddhist philosophy: meat is banned on site and the orphans must attend two ceremonies of worship at the Buddhist temple per day.
Two of the parents who spoke to this publication in Okahandja this week, both said they removed their children from the school because of the activities conducted at the school.
“If I knew what they are doing there I would never have taken my child there.
My child is traumatised to the point where he soils his pants and I cannot allow that to happen again,” said one of the parents who is 52-years-old.
For founder Master Hui Li, this is only the beginning, as he plans to spread the Dharma across Africa by opening a similar centre in every country on the continent. This may seem ambitious but Master Hui Li has vowed to not only devote this lifetime, but to return to Africa in a reincarnated form to continue his quest.
70 hectares of land donated
Situated on land equal to 70 soccer fields, Okahandja Mayor Congo Hindjou concedes that the previous council resolved to donate the land to the Amitofo Centre. However, no ministerial approval was sought and thus this cannot be considered a done deal.
Damaseb echoes Hindjou’s sentiment by adding that “the land belongs to the municipality and previous councillors donated it to Amitofo but the current ones[councillors] do not agree because Council never informed government about the donation plans.”
Damaseb said there are plans by the council to charge Amitofo to lease the land. “ I heard they might lease it to Amitoto, they are happy to pay for the land, as the money comes from donors.”
In awarding the land to Amitofo, a Namibian farmer was moved in the hope of settling him on a resettlement farm, but the move is yet to take place.