By John McLaren
Donn and Karin Maier are leaving their comfortable home in Mt. Tabor for a three-year assignment directing and teaching at a small and growing international school in the impoverished West African nation of Benin.
For Donn, it will be a homecoming of sort since he spent his first seven years as part of a missionary family in Ghana. “We did not intend on ending up back in West Africa, but I look forward to seeing it through adult eyes,” he says.
The Maiers have deep roots here. Donn has been on the faculty of the Portland Lutheran School for 27 years, most recently as executive director, and Karin has taught there. They’ve been in their Mt. Tabor home since they married nearly 30 years ago, raising three children there. The house was previously owned by Karin’s grandmother, who had been there since the mid-1950s.
Donn, 51, will be the director (a combination of principal and superintendent) of their new school, while Karin, 49, will teach second and third grades and run the library. “It’s a small school, so we all wear a lot of hats,” Donn says.
The school is just beginning its second year, and will have three other full-time and a couple of part-time teachers. It is located in Cotunou, a city of about 1 million, and established by nonprofit Quality Services Internationals (QSI) at the request of the U.S. Embassy
“Karin and I actually feel very comfortable with the school part of the move,” Donn says, while admitting to some anxiety over the fact that Benin is one of the poorest countries in the world.
With a population of about 9.5 million, it is one of the least populous African countries. Only about 37 percent of the adults are literate, according to Internet sources, but it is also one of the more politically stable countries in that part of the world.
“We expect significant adjustments in our lifestyles and general awareness of surroundings. I’m pretty sure we won’t feel as safe as walking down to New Seasons or Tabor Bread. I’m not sure what I will do for my running routines either without Mt. Tabor in my backyard,” he says.
The school has 18 students of 11 nationalities and 41 students signed up for the new school year. Donn sees more similarities than differences between his new school and the well-established Portland Lutheran. Like PLS, “our school in Cotunou is designed to deliver a high-quality American education,” he says. Students come from embassy (U.S. and other) families, expatriates working in the area, and local families who want to continue their kids’ education in the U.S. or other English-speaking countries
The QSI International School of Benin, is one of 37 schools in 27 countries established by QSI. Although private, it gets financial aid from the U.S. State Department because it serves U.S. Embassy families. “The school focuses on a strong academic program as well as a strong values education,” Donn says, while operating on a belief that it has a responsibility “to design itself to ensure every child’s success”. It is not connected with any religion.
The Maiers will be at the school for at least three years, under their contract agreement. “For over 20 years we have been talking about using our careers to do some traveling” Donn explains. “Everything lined up for us about 18 months ago to take the leap. We were able to use an organization that specializes in international teacher/school hiring to find this position.”
The Maiers are scheduled to leave Portland August 1, flying to Benin by way of Belgium. They are keeping their Portland home and expect to return eventually.