This story originally appeared in the fall 2013 Harker Quarterly.
For the last five years, Jaap Bongers, Harker’s upper school art department instructor and chair, has used the summer break as a unique opportunity to personally donate items to needy children in the Republic of Zambia, a landlocked country in Southern Africa. This past summer he also spent time in Tanzania.
“I have been going there every summer and one time I even went during the Christmas break,” said Bongers, explaining that, in preparation for the annual sojourn, he uses the school year to collect toys, children’s clothes and children’s books (many of which have been donated by Harker students) for the African children.
Come summer, he fills a big plastic storage box with the donated items, which he takes with him to Africa. There, he donates the toys, books and clothes to the neediest children he encounters.
“I do this while traveling to very remote villages where there is still wonderful ages-old original culture. Initiation rituals, traditional dances by masked actors and healing ceremonies by witch doctors can still be found although it is getting harder to locate them.”
After handing out and emptying the storage box of donated toys, Bongers then refills it with ancient traditional artifacts he discovers and buys on his travels. “I note down their use, meaning and age. I have found objects and heard about customs that were not yet known. Once I return to Harker I use this information, the items and the pictures for my Study of Visual Art class,” he said, noting that his house is filling up with an impressive collection of ancient traditional African art.
The remote villages that Bongers visits are reminiscent of the hunter-gatherers and migrating tribes who inhabited the country for thousands of years.