Marianne Young

Marianne Young

High Commissioner, Windhoek

Part of UK in Namibia

14th August 2013 Windhoek, Namibia

An Anglo-German labour of love, devotion and educational excellence in northern Namibia

Otjikondo, Gillian & rainer Stommel
Gillian and Reiner Stommel, founders of Otjikondo School

I have just spent the most fascinating evening with a remarkable Anglo-German family in Kunene Province, north western Namibia, en route to the far north to see the effect of this year’s drought emergency. Gillian and Reiner Stommel are based five hours drive north of Windhoek where they run Otjikondo School, which they founded in 1990 for underprivileged children.

Finding out how this hard-working farming couple from Europe came to establish a school for the “poorest of the poor” in rural Namibia was interesting enough but even more so when I found out how they had met.

Reiner, who hailed from a small German village, first arrived in Namibia as a young Oblate Brother (Catholic missionary) in 1952 where he helped establish St Michael’s Missionary Station near Outjo, 70km south of Etosha. He took a rare holiday out of Namibia to visit other members of his order in South Africa in 1967 and met a vivacious 21-year old English girl whilst travelling on a bus in the Cape. Gillian, daughter of Lord and Lady Steel from Wolsingham, County Durham, had been on holiday visiting friends when the chance encounter took place. Reiner initially told her he was a hairdresser based in Namibia but eventually confessed that he was a catholic missionary. So began a difficult courtship across two continents that was hampered by strong disapproval from both families and the Catholic church to boot. It was not long before they both took the biggest plunge of their lives, with Brother Stommel gaining a papal dispensation from his monastic vows to marry Gillian and start married life as a penniless farm manager in rural Namibia.

HE Young at Otjikondo with Balls_Blog
HE Young donationg sports material to the school

They eventually bought and built up their own farm in the Kunene region as well as having four children together but always kept in mind a shared dream to set up and run a school for African children. This finally turned into reality 14 years ago when the chance arose to buy the Otjikondo Farm site the year before Namibia gained independence from South Africa. Despite being a real gamble due to the political uncertainty of the time, Reiner soon built a novel African community designed school and hostel with help from German funding and Namibian government support.

Otjikondo Class Room Blog
Pupils of Otjikondo School in Classroom

The school is now home to 238 junior school aged children drawn from neighbouring communities as well as across the country. It has scored the highest primary school exam results for the entire Kunene region for many years and is seen as a model school which draws others to learn from its proven example and strong community ethos. British gap year students also work at the school each year providing another strong British link with the establishment and, in 2007, Gillian was awarded an MBE by HRH The Queen for the remarkable impact she has made with her contribution to educational development in Namibia. (She views it as an award for the entire Otjikondo team.)

It is most fitting that the school’s slogan is “a single step forward”, based on Chinese philosopher Laozi’s 4th century BC quote “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”. Both Gillian and Reiner have plenty of spring left in them and asides from being wonderful hosts are looking into introducing solar power as another big project if additional funding can be raised to help cut down on the school’s sizeable electricity bills.

HE Young at OtjikondoII Blog
H.E. Marianne Young with the School

I was able to address the children at their morning assembly during my visit and tell them a bit about the work of UKinNamibia  and introduce our Facebook page and commend them on their beautifully kept school and exam successes. The poor things were due to write more exams that morning so, after donating a few footballs as part of our London 2012 Olympic legacy work, I left them to it and removed further distraction – but hope to go back for one of their stage shows and open days.

HE Young addressing pupils in class Blog
H.E. Marianne Young in Class

Spending a night at Otjikondo whilst enjoyed the Stommels’ remarkable hospitality proved to be a really fitting start to my latest familiarisation journey to get to grips with issues and challenges on the ground here in rural Namibia and revealed yet another fascinating British link in this vast country. To learn more about Otjikondo School do visit their website and pay the school a visit if you are travelling in north western Namibia. It is as much of an inspiration as its founders.

To learn more about the Stommels’ fascinating story get hold of a copy of Namibia Calling by Michael Schnurr, which tells the tale of their remarkable love story and achievements.

About Marianne Young

Marianne Young is the current British High Commissioner to the Republic of Namibia. She arrived in Windhoek in June 2011 and presented her credentials to the President of the Republic of…

Marianne Young is the current British High Commissioner to the
Republic of Namibia. She arrived in Windhoek in June 2011 and presented
her credentials to the President of the Republic of Namibia on 3rd
Mrs Young joined the FCO in 2001 following a career in international
journalism, including time spent running an Asian maritime press office
in Singapore and a traineeship on the UK’s Times newspaper.
Her first role in the FCO was as a Press Officer in News Department,
after which she went on to be Head of the Great Lakes Section in Africa
Directorate and then Head of the East Africa & Horn Section.
In 2005, she became the first Head of Communications for the Engaging with the Islamic World Group.
She moved to the British High Commission in Pretoria in February 2007
and served as the Head of the External Political Section and Deputy
High Commissioner to the Kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland.
Mrs Young moved across to the British High Commission in Windhoek in
June 2011, and presented her credentials to the President of the
Republic of Namibia on 3rd August 2011.
On her appointment as British High Commissioner to the Republic of Namibia, Mrs Young said:
“I am honoured and delighted to be appointed Her Majesty’s High
Commissioner to Namibia. I look forward to working to strengthen the
many commercial, political and cultural ties between our two countries,
and to help the many British nationals who holiday there. My family and I
are particularly thrilled to be remaining in southern Africa – and to
have the opportunity to explore this beautiful country further and
discover more about its people and culture.”
Curriculum vitae

Full name:
Marianne Young

Married to:
Barry Young

Two daughters and one son

June 2011
Windhoek, British High Commissioner

2007 – 2011
Pretoria, Head of External Political Section and DHC for the Kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland

2005 – 2006
FCO, Head of Communications, Engaging with the Islamic World Group

2004 – 2005
FCO, Head of East Africa & Horn Section, Africa Directorate

3/2003 – 8/2003
FCO, Head of Great Lakes Section, Africa Directorate

2002 – 2003
FCO, Press Officer, Press Office

2001 – 2002
FCO, Departmental Report Editor, Press Office

Joined FCO

Senior Correspondent, Fairplay Group, UK

Staff Editor and then Asia Editor, Fairplay Group Singapore

Graduate Trainee at The Times newspaper, UK

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