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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Leopoldville 1961 - The American School Opens

The American School of Leopoldville opened its doors September 18, 1961, in improvised facilities at the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (ABFMS) compound on the Congo River.  The school had been hastily put together to cater to a growing English-speaking community comprised primarily of American missionaries, US Embassy staff and United Nations personnel.  Although the Congo continued to be a concern for western governments, the election of Cyrille Adoula as Prime Minister the previous month appeared to offer the prospect of more stable governance in the young nation.
Notwithstanding its location on a Protestant mission station, the school was intentionally planned as an American school, to offer an American curriculum for expatriate American children.  In 1958, ABFMS (the only American church with a long-term presence in the city) established a hostel on the compound to enable its children from up-country mission stations to attend the Belgian metropolitan school – the Athenée Royale – but parents were concerned about disruption caused when children switched from French to English (and Belgian to American curriculum) during year-long furloughs in the U.S.  Further, after Independence, the Belgian school system ended (though a new Belgian international school continued at the main Athenée campus at Kalina)

ABFMS’s mission Treasurer, Jerry Weaver, worked with a member of the US Embassy to develop the school’s charter (eventually a cap of 60% native English speakers was established to maintain the American character of the student body).

TASOL - Sims House Halloween 1961

The school itself was housed in the Sims House, built in 1893 by the pioneer Baptist Missionary, Dr. Aaron Sims.  The modest brick residence, in the shape of a cross, was painted school-house red and accommodated a large combined 5th & 6th grade in the main wing, 3rd & 4th grades in the right arm of the cross, while the entire High School occupied the other arm.  The combined first and second grades were in an adjacent car port, screened in with a half-wall to provide a semblance of classroom structure.  An ancient iron-wood tree, said to have been the site where Henry Stanley negotiated the land concession for the Baptists, shaded the assembly area between the two classroom buildings.  There were 45 students enrolled in the 12 grades that first day.

Two-person desks (wood and steel with ink wells) ordered from FNMA, were not delivered until after a mid-morning rain shower.  Desks and tables ordered for ABFMS’ Christian Center in Kintambo were pulled into service.  Text books from the American Mennonite Brethren Mission’s (AMBM) Ecole Bellevue in Kwilu District, were eventually received.  The library consisted of a single shelf of books, featuring C.S. Lewis and other fiction tomes.  Notwithstanding its charter as an American School, the missionary influence was significant.  The Principal, Orv Wiebe, was seconded from AMBM.  His wife Ruby, taught 5-6th grade, while the wife of an MAF pilot taught 3-4th grades.  ABFMS continued to operate its hostel on the mission grounds, and a Swiss-American couple with the Bible Society, the Chaponnieres, hosted several Mennonite children in a rented house in Utexleo (behind the building currently owned by the French Embassy at the end of the Boulevard).  Under these circumstances, classes often started with devotional stories and prayer.  Sims’ Chapel, an earlier structure overlooking the river, served as the venue for Assemblies.
5th and 6th Grade Class Trip to White Mountain (Mangengenge). Mwana Mboka with red lunch box (l.)
The student body continued to grow as more expatriates returned or began working in Congo.   By the beginning of 1962, the school cleared ground for a six-classroom building and library on land below Sims’ House. The arrangement with the ABFMS hosts was that the buildings would eventually revert to the Mission.  Additional classroom blocks were built and playgrounds prepared before the high school moved to Mont Ngaliema in 1966 on land obtained through the auspices of the U.S. Embassy.  The elementary school remained at the ABFMS compound until the “pods” were built on the current campus in 1971.  Sims’ House is now used to support women’s programs of the Communauté Baptiste du Congo Ouest (CBCO – the Congolese church that succeeded ABFMS) and the purpose-built classroom complex houses CBCO offices and apartments.
 

Sims House today
  


10 comments:

  1. I was there 1961-64! In the picnic picture, and despite 50 years passed I recognize Teddy Lindland (3L blond crewcut), Dicky Robinson (6L, glasses), Altraf Nazerali (front row, light blue outfit), Jerry Lewis (right behind him in front of the Italian girl (?) who could whistle better than the boys), Mano Diakakis (leaning towards Jerry), big Bob (center, camera), Mr Wiebe (cap), Kathy (?) blonde next to him, "Aunt Myrna" my 5th grade teacher (background far right) and I think also Nancy Graber (far right) the school organist/pianist who often played Mozart to my great admiration. I still have the TASOL yearbook from 1963-4.
    what a blast from the past. where are they now? I wish them all well.
    Mike
    oproedros@gmail.com

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    1. OMG I can't believe I found this page. I was a student at the old TASOL campus in 1964 and and then moved over to the new TASOK campus before it was even finished. My Dad was w/ the American embassy and those were some of the most wonderful years of my life. I have no one in my life who would understand that type of life. I learned more there than than I could ever in American Public school in the states. I'd have to get my yearbooks out but I have 2 TASOL ones ('64 - '65) and 1 TASOK one ('66-67) Well they are stored somewhere. Mr. Wiebe was still there when I went.

      I remember at the elementary campus I remember going over to the hostel in the afternoon and having Cinnamon toast with my girlfriends who stayed there.

      My mom was the school nurse while we were there.

      I can't get over this. I can't wait to tell my Mom. You know I have tried over the years to find kids I went to school with but had no success.

      Cheryl

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    2. Sorry: e-mail is vanluven21@comcast.net.

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  2. you are right about the school and the quality of the learning. Yesterday a news item was discussing introducing civics and home economics to the schools, as if it is a major discovery: we at TASOL were already doing this in 1961! and I have not found any improvement in any school anywhere! equally important, we did not have "disciplinary" problems which plagued us in other schools - I can't remember anyone in detention and certainly nobody being paddled or hit with a ruler which was the norm elsewhere and is still legal in many states today. Love to contact you direct, check my email.
    Mike (oproedros@gmail.com)

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  3. I, too, was delighted to run across this blog, especially in that my dad was instrumental in the formation of the school. He died in 2013. Mike: the third from the left is Doug Uhlinger, not Ted Lindland, though you can be forgiven, as both had towhead blond hair (ah, that Nordic ancestry!) The primary reason for the school's formation was the devolution of the Belgian Athènée Royale after "indépendance" in 1960. Prior to that, the problem was that American kids returning from furlough in the States had to take an admission test upon returning to the Belgian system, and, having missed a year there, could not pass! This highlighted for me the difference between the European and American education systems, as I was one of those caught in the crosshairs. I respect the Belgian education I had for its rigor and emphasis on unflinchingly convergent thinking, but I also respect the American system, with its interest in divergent thinking and creativity. Now, how to combine the two? Perhaps TASOL/TASOK has done some of that :)

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  4. I stand corrected after more than 50 years! I still have a lot of respect for your dad and all the other teachers we had those days. I had neighbors who went to the Athenee and their education was much more memorizing and fixed curricula like dictee, with uniform calligraphy, such as it was 50 years earlier. Our system was better.
    I have unearthed a stash of old Leo pictures from those days and will be glad to contribute them if someone tells me how.
    Mike

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  5. I'm not sure which school I attended but my family was in Kinshasa 1965 to 1969. I am in complete agreement that education was much better then. At first we lived in the hills of Djelo Binza then moved to a place of Rue Lamaire in Kalinga which became Rue Shaba then Katanga. Near the golf course. My father was USAF and my mother started the Commissary down by COMISH and the American Embassy. Faces and names are fleeting and we are digging through boxes to find documents and photographs. This has spurred a desire to find our nanny, Helene. She was 16 when she came to live with us so would be 65 this year! We tried to bring her back to the states with us but unsuccessful. She had been abandoned at a catholic mission when she was little (looking for that place too). It's strange....... Once the Congo is in your heart, she never leaves. My mind tells me that it is likely too dangerous to ever go back (remembering the terror of coup's with gunfire, breaking glass, evacuations in the dark), my heart pulls me to the place, the smell of the earth when walking through the market with a cone of pili pili peanuts in one hand and a fresh bagette in the other. And Chiqwanga... I remember Chris and Andrew Wheeler (still in touch with them), Tony and Patricia Price, The Pellatiers, Dr. Close and his wife (father of Glenn Close btw) , the Pasco kids, Sabrina, Rachel. So long ago.

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    1. Maiden name is White, Wendy White. My sister is Suzanne (Suzi).

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  6. Are any of you on Facebook? I found this page as a result of a Google search for Orv Wiebe. He passed away Monday, and someone posted an obituary to the TASOK Alumni page over on Facebook.

    If you are on Facebook, the link is https://www.facebook.com/groups/2241984835/

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  7. Hi there, very sorry if it looks as though I am distracting from the original purpose of this fantastic, informative blog. My name is Holly Weldon. I am currently researching for a forthcoming BBC Radio 4 Documentary series on personal memories of the Early Cold War and we are looking for people who were in the Congo in the 60s who would be happy to talk to us about their experiences of that time. If anyone above is interested, or knows of anyone who would be interested, I would love to hear from you. Please contact me at Holly.Weldon@bbc.co.uk. Many thanks.

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