The Rev. John Naumann, 70, was pleasantly surprised to see the fall leaves around Billings when he arrived last Friday. He was half expecting snow.
Then again, anything beats the dry, arid weather he came from.
Naumann has spent the bulk of the year for the past five years in Tanzania, Africa. He is the founder of the Amani Development Center in Makang’wa, south of the capital city of Dodoma, a program that focuses on relieving poverty in the area.
Prior to that, Naumann spent 16 years as rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Billings. He retired in 2005 and started the project in Africa.
In the years he’s been there, the project has grown in ways that Naumann couldn’t have imagined.
“I like to say the tree is bearing fruit to an amazing degree,” Naumann said. “When I arrived, there was nothing. Just thorn bush covered wasteland. But now it’s entirely different.”
Through the Amani Development Center, villagers are given job opportunities to get food on the table and access to a decent education.
Naumann said there are between 45 and 47 people employed at the main center in Makang’wa. Twelve others are employed at new centers in the area.
Between 15 and 30 others are employed through relief work.
But the program provides more than jobs. The overall goal is to make the local area economically self-sufficient. Since Naumann started the project, windmills, access to water and schools now dot the landscape. Some villagers with extra income are upgrading their homes from clay to red brick and cement structures.
Naumann said there are plans for creating vineyards in the area this coming year.
“The morale has lifted tremendously because the people have hope,” Naumann said. “They realize they are not alone, that you can gain the support to learn. They do have the understanding that there is no such thing as a free lunch. They have to be paid for. They want to work for it.”
Naumann comes back to the states for one month each year, followed by a month in his home country of Australia. After that, he heads back to Tanzania, what he describes as a 7-day a week job.
“This is village life and with village life, you don’t just shut people out,” Naumann said “I think fostering and developing a love for the people. That’s important.”
To celebrate his homecoming this year, organizers of the Amani for Africa USA Foundation will be holding a banquet Saturday in Naumann’s honor.
“We’ve done smaller parties — lunch parties and dinner parties,” said Ralph Spence, president of Amani for Africa USA Foundation. “This year we had a donation for a bigger banquet type party.”
The event begins at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Billings Hotel and Convention Center.
Spence said they expect about 140 people.
“If it goes well, we might continue this each year from now on,” Spence said.
The event includes a silent auction and musical entertainment by the Craig Olson Orchestra.
For information, visit www.amanicare.org.