May 21, 2003 - Charlotte Observer: Mark Howe had to go halfway around the world to gain a real appreciation of the cows he helped tend as a youngster on his family farm

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Namibia: Peace Corps Namibia : The Peace Corps in Namibia: May 21, 2003 - Charlotte Observer: Mark Howe had to go halfway around the world to gain a real appreciation of the cows he helped tend as a youngster on his family farm

By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, August 15, 2003 - 9:43 am: Edit Post

Mark Howe had to go halfway around the world to gain a real appreciation of the cows he helped tend as a youngster on his family farm



Mark Howe had to go halfway around the world to gain a real appreciation of the cows he helped tend as a youngster on his family farm

Africa brought it all home

Peace Corps helped him appreciate the cows of his youth

DAVE BAITY

GASTONIA, NORTH CAROLINA - Mark Howe had to go halfway around the world to gain a real appreciation of the cows he helped tend as a youngster on his family farm.

He escaped the daily early morning milking when he graduated from Ashbrook High in 1992 and entered N.C. State University. But the chore was always waiting when he returned.

"When I came home for a holiday, I had to get up at 4 a.m. to milk the cows," Howe recalled with a chuckle. "The first time that happened, I said this is not the way life is supposed to be. There has to be a better way to earn a living."

So he graduated with a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1996, a master's in operations research at Georgia Tech in 1998, and landed a job with a Dallas, Texas, consulting firm.

After two years of helping trucking companies cut costs by operating more efficiently, though, he joined the Peace Corps. He'd seen TV news reports about floods in Africa thatkilled hundreds and sparked a famine.

"I hadn't done much volunteer work in Dallas, and I thought it was time I began to give a little something back to the world," he said.

In early 2000, the Peace Corps assigned him to teach math at a school in Gobabis, Namibia. After 10 weeks of training on how to create lesson plans, manage classrooms and speak a bit of Otjiherero, he settled to the task of trying to make basic algebra and geometry relevant to eighth- through 10th-graders who shared his farm background.

When the students learned he was also a farm kid, they kept asking about how many cows his family had.

"The average African in Namibia earns about a dollar a day, and their wealth is measured in the number of cows they own," Howe said. "If you own 40 cows, you're solid middle class. Eighty to 100 cows and you're wealthy. When I said our family had 300 in our herd, they thought I was really rich."

Howe, now 28, grew up after integration had broken racial barriers in Gaston County housing patterns, schools and employment. In Namibia he encountered a culture akin to the segregation the U.S. abandoned in the 1960s.

Namibia had been colonized by the nation of South Africa and observed its early segregated culture. African tribes were relegated to a village of tin-sided houses, shanties and mud huts a three-mile walk from Gobabis, while white South Africans populated urban areas.

Since the school was located in the village, Howe hoofed it to and from work each day. And teaching math was a daunting task.

School attendance until age 16 is mandatory, but the Namibian educational system won't allow failing students to repeat more than one grade. Social promotions had produced classrooms full of students who weren't working at grade level.

"Only about 30 percent made passing grades," he said. About that many scored high enough on tests to make it to the 11th and 12th grades of high school and have a shot at college.

The rest were marking time until they could leave school and return to the family farm, even though it locked them into a life of poverty.

Howe said his experiences there taught him as much about his own life as it did about Namibian culture.

He came away with:

An appreciation of what's really important -- the family and friends he left behind.

"I learned that material things don't really mean that much," he said.

A greater sense of the world.

"There are good ideas in all cultures," Howe said. "Just because the ideas are different from ours doesn't mean they're bad."

The knowledge that education is the key to a better life.

"I saw students with the ability to go on, finish high school, get scholarships, attend college and land good jobs," he said, "but they had no hope for the future because they couldn't overcome the culture in which they grew up."

Many became pregnant as teens and locked themselves in the cycle of poverty that trapped their parents, he said. "I guess it's the same everywhere."

But he also learned to appreciate that people in any culture have similar needs.

"Everybody wants to be loved," he said. "They want a better life for their children than they have. We're all God's children, whether we drive a beat-up car, a new SUV or have no car at all."

Want to know more?

Mark Howe said the three goals of the Peace Corps are to serve the underprivileged of the world, educate other cultures about the life and values of the United States, and educate Americans about how people in other nations live.

He's available to present programs on his experiences in Namibia for school, civic and church groups.

His e-mail address is mark_howe@hotmail.com.

Dave Baity
Dave Baity: (704) 868-7749; dbaity@charlotteobserver.com.



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Story Source: Charlotte Observer

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Namibia; PCVs in the Field - Namibia

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