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In the late 1400s Portugal was a tiny European state with a strong maritime tradition. It entered the race with England, Holland, France and Spain to accumulate as many colonies as possible worldwide. Portuguese explorers circled Africa and headed inland from East and West hoping to secure territory across the continent. They nearly succeeded, but could not defend such a vast swath. In the 1800s a British South African entrepreneur, Cecil Rhodes, accumulated colonies and protectorates up the central backbone of Africa giving Britain a route from Capetown to Cairo. Though Portugals trans-African dream was shattered, they did eventually defeat Dutch, British and German incursions and claimed (but did not control) vast colonies of Angola on the west of Africa, and Mozambique on the east.
By the 1800s throngs of impoverished Portuguese peasants flooded into Angola. Portugal’s right to the area was recognized by the Conference of Berlin in 1884. Through the centuries, slaves and rubber poured out of Angola’s ports headed for the Americas. Tribal divisiveness, tropical diseases and lack of firearms prevented any serious resistance by Angolans.
In the late 1800s missionaries from Europe and America settled throughout Angola and began to establish excellent educational, medical and agricultural facilities. Of course they opposed the very brutal exploitation of the indigenous people and therefore earned the hostility of the colonizers. By this time slavery had been redefined as “contract labour” (“para o ingles ver” – ” for the Englishman to see” – and be fooled). But the brutality was legendary.
One of those missionaries was Dr. William Sidney Gilchrist of Nova Scotia. With hundreds of other missionaries of many denominations Sid invested his life in the health of Angola’s people. At his retirement in 1970 he began a speaking tour around Canada. At the very beginning he, with his wife Frances and daughter Betty (also a missionary in Angola) were killed in a traffic accident in Alberta. The five sons turned their grief and their love of Africa into the Gilchrist Memorial Angola Student Trust Fund.
Angolans have suffered from 40 years of colonial war (1961 – 1973) and civil war (1975 – 2002). The Gilchrist Memorial Angola Student Trust Fund (GMASTF) was established with the intention of offering educational opportunities for Angolan refugees. Scores were helped to study in many vocations in Portugal, USA, Britain, Brazil, India all over Africa and Canada. Close liaison was maintained with U.N. agencies to help screen candidates.
In 2002 the Angolan Government signed a ceasefire with UNITA and the country began the complex process of post-war reconstruction. A generation of internally displaced Angolans had grown up without the benefit of formal instruction or traditional cultural instruction, To address this need, the Fund (now known as the Angola Memorial Scholarship Fund and composed of Canadian, U.S. and African volunteers) is directing some resources to very basic education at village level-trades training, primary school, health studies, and domestic schools. It is much like our approach of a century ago. But now there is a small body of highly educated Angolans ready and able to use our help in rebuilding their shattered land.