When the Rev. John Naumann retired as a pastor six years ago, he didn’t really retire.
The Episcopalian priest, who formerly served as rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Billings, left for central Tanzania to improve the lives of its citizens.
With the help of many financial supporters, both in the United States and in his native Australia, Naumann has worked tirelessly to develop programs to teach and train and alleviate poverty in the rural central African nation. Naumann and the Amani Development Organization have worked on everything from developing sources of clean water to growing grapes for income.
Naumann, 71, is back in Montana for two months to visit with longtime supporters and find some new ones to fund the work. He will speak at a potluck dinner Sunday in Billings and is available to give talks to churches and other groups.
In 2000, when Naumann was still at St. Stephen’s, he took a three-month sabbatical in Tanzania. He came back to Montana and started raising money to dig deep-water wells to people villagers in the semi-arid region of the country.
In October 2005, he retired and moved to Makang’wa, south of Dodoma, which is the capital of Tanzania. He now lives at the Amani Development Center, where he directs the work of the nonprofit.
The work of the development center has evolved over the years. These days, much time is put into a grape-growing enterprise, which Naumann hopes will soon become an officially government-recognized training center.
Amani also operates a grain mill, a sunflower seed oil-processing plant and a budding pig enterprise.
“What we call the bran from the milling and the cake from the pressing plus some other things all go together to make good pig food,” Naumann said.
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All of these ventures, which produce income, also serve as training ground for locals to learn skills that can help them make a living.
“Most of who we work with are needy people and children,” he said. About 27 permanent workers are employed at the Amani center, Naumann said, as well as a varying number of semi-permanent workers.
“At the present time, with the food need in the area, anything from 30 to 80 people a day do what we call relief work,” he said. “And they’re earning some money to help buy food for their families.”
The other major focus of the center is two schools. One that is near Amani teaches 130 kindergarten and preschool students on weekdays. A second school, about six miles away, is the only English-language medium school in the region, Naumann said. It has about 150 students in preschool, kindergarten and first grade. Another 60 or so students will be added each year until the school contains seven grades.
Both schools have heavy input from the local villages, Naumann said.
“We help facilitate, but they have to run it,” he said. “Everything has to be related to the local community.”
As Naumann spreads the word about the work of the Amani Development Organization, he makes it a point to tell people that 97 percent of all donations go to the work, with only 3 percent going to expenses. All of the fundraising done in the U.S. and Australia is by volunteers, he said.
Money to the nonprofit ministry has steadily increased, Naumann said.
“And everyone who comes across to visit returns as an enthusiastic supporter,” he said. “You spend time with these wonderful people, and you just have to get involved, because they’re involved. They’re not just sitting back and saying ‘gimme.’ ”