From PLU to Namibia: One Teacher’s Journey through Global Education

By: Holly Dunbar ‘15

Students here in the United States take advantage of the free education  they receive. Half way around the world, Namibian students have to pay for their education. In addition, a typical Namibian student has to walk at least 5 to 20 kilometers each day, that’s equivalent to 3 to 12 miles.

Students who can afford to live at the schools spend the whole week there  and on the weekends walk back home.

Namibia is located in southern Africa whose western border is the Atlantic Ocean. Namibia has a population of approximately 2.1 million people  with only a 32:1 student to teacher ratio.

Fortunately, parts of Namibia such as Windhoek and surrounding cities have the privilege of receiving outside help with their education program.

After 20 visits to Namibia, six of those with her student teachers, Paula Leitz, retired faculty member at Pacific Lutheran University, has a passion and love for the country. Leitz attended UC Davis in California originally wanting to become a veterinarian but soon switched into Childhood


Paula Leitz along with Namibia members of the Ondoa Mobile. One of the first established schools in northern Namibia near the Himba Tribe. Photo by: Melissa Dunbar.


After receiving her teaching credentials from the state of California, Leitz was hired as a special education teacher right after finishing her fifth year. During this time Leitz received her master’s degree in Education.

Having a natural talent for teaching, one of Leitz professors, who she admired greatly, suggested that she continue on with education and work on a Ph.D.

Leitz moved to Washington state and went to the University of Washington to get her doctoral. Before finishing her degree, Leitz got hired by St. Martin’s University to be a tenured track assistant professor in the special education program.

She went on to finish her dissertation there at St. Martin’s University. After several years of teaching, Leitz was offered a visiting assistant professor at Pacific Lutheran University. It was then that she knew that teaching at the university level was her calling.

Working as a professor has allowed Leitz to do things that she would have never imagined, such as her student teaching program in Namibia.

The student teaching program in Namibia grew out of some work that Leitz had done with an USAID grant. Professor Ann Kelleher was the main writer of this grant along with Bill Teska, professor at PLU.

In 2002, Leitz made her way to Namibia for the first time along with several other professors from the School of Education.

The focus of the grant was on teaching training with teachers from the Ondao Mobile Primary School way up in the northwestern part of Namibia. It was a partnership between faculty at PLU, the University of Namibia and Hedmark College University in Norway.

Professors from all three universities collaboratively designed the teacher training program in October of 2002, and the first week-long training occurred in January 2003.

paula 2

Paula Leitz and her 2010 student teaching class. Visiting the Zebra Lodge near the largest sand dunes in the World. Photo courtesy by: Melissa Dunbar.

After revisiting Namibia, making sure that the skills that Leitz and the other professors had taught the teachers were being used properly, Leitz was determined to establish a go away program for her student teachers her at PLU.

“I have a great passion for the preparation of teachers and believe true cultural competence is developed in a culturally diverse setting,” Leitz said.

In 2008, the first group of student teachers (8 of them) began their student teaching experience in three schools in the township of Katutura.

“The schools are very diverse and provide a setting in which PLU student teachers develop their “teaching legs” and gain a deep cultural competence,” added Leitz.

Students who have the privilege of visiting another country and teaching another cultural not only help them grow as a person, but it allows the students to become the best possible teacher once they graduate.

Leitz loves seeing her students in action. “What really puts me in awe is watching our students develop strong teaching skills and their self-assuredness about their teaching skills,” said Leitz.

“That was my intent in developing this program and it excites me each and every time I see it happen,” Leitz chimed in.

Leitz always dreamed about having her own establishment in Namibia. She would call it, PLU Namibia Home.


Last day in Katutura, Namibia. Namibian learners show appreciation to PLU student teachers before the head back home to the states. Photo by: Brandi Hockman.

“Seeing her interact with the Namibia learners seemed so natural, as if she was meant to be there,” said PLU graduate Melissa Dunbar, who had traveled with Leitz to Namibia in 2010 for the student teacher program.

Although Leitz retired in 2012, she still stays dedicated to her student teaching program in Namibia and continues to teach the study abroad class once a year.





Categories: Academics, Nation & World, Other, Profiles, Student Life

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