Retired Development Specialist Makes Home In African Bush
After a career in international development that took him to 30 countries on four continents, John Miller ‘64 could have retired anywhere. He chose the African bush. From his 2400-acre reserve in South Africa’s Waterberg Mountains, the former USAID consultant is now helping his rural community grapple with issues of environment/conservation vs. development/growth and higher education. His expertise is highly appreciated but, John confesses, the woman he met on a horse safari in 2000 had much to do with his decision to settle in this beautiful, sparsely populated region.
Together, he and Wendy Adams purchased land in the African bush three hours northwest of Johannesburg with stunning vistas and abundant wildlife. Equus Reserve is home to the riding operation, Equus Horse Safaris, as well as John’s community activities. Through the Equus Waterberg Fund, the couple is raising money to help needy students from the local high school continue their education. At Meetsetshehla Secondary School, John sits on a committee that reviews student applications for financial assistance. The scholarships typically cover 80% of educational expenses for five students each year; these students have gone on to study mechanical and electrical engineering, information technology, water purification, accounting and medicine—skills very much in demand in this remote region.
Meetsetshehla School is an exception to the “indifferent” educational approach found at most farm schools in South Africa, John says. Established in 1986 near the town of Vaalwater, the state-aided independent school for 700 students receives support from the Northern Education Trust. Thanks to the high standard of education they receive, Meetsetshehla students are motivated to excel academically and achieve graduation rates well above provincial and national averages—as high as 100% in 2006.
“All of these students are very, very poor,” says John. “The fact that they want to do anything beyond high school is surprising and of course wonderful. Our Equus Waterberg Fund, raising money in dollars, can really have an impact because school costs are nothing like they are in the U.S., particularly for vocational training.”
With his background in urban planning and development, John also makes a significant impact in his community as chairman of the Waterberg Nature Conservancy. The organization of more than 50 landowners is devoted to conservation issues and is contesting proposals for two development projects that the landowners believe are misguided. “At one extreme, there is a proposal for a holiday resort featuring two golf courses, two 30-bed hotels and 800 housing units,” says John. “At the other extreme is a proposal to build a 200-unit residential development on pristine land located within UNESCO’s Waterberg Biosphere Reserve. The conservancy is paying close attention to both of these projects, as well as nearly 20 others of varying environmental impact.”
An economics major at Washington College who earned a graduate degree in urban planning, John launched his international career with the Peace Corps. Assigned to the region of Bahia in Brazil, John worked on community development projects in the city of Salvador. His USAID work later took him to Quito, Ecuador, for two years, where he helped government officials plan and build a new community for thousands of low-income inhabitants. He assisted the Bolivian ministry in formulating national housing policy, and was part of teams working on solar energy housing in northeast Brazil, urban analyses in Guatemala, disaster relief in the Caribbean, and housing polices and projects in Honduras, Chile, Jamaica and St. Lucia.
Over a period of several years in Portugal, he assisted in the design and implementation of low-income housing projects. “The Portuguese l learned in Brazil was indispensable to my work there, as well as later projects in Mozambique and other Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa.”
His international work also took him to Asia, the Middle East and West Africa. In Southern Africa, John managed a technical team that drafted regional protocols for the Southern Africa Transport and Communication Commission. He carried out an evaluation of housing projects in Zimbabwe, and worked on the privatization of the Malawi Railways. His work in Botswana focused on integrating HIV/AIDS awareness into local planning.
In 2000, from his post with Abt Associates in Johannesburg, John directed a staff of consultants working on a variety of development projects in 11 Southern African nations—primarily in urban development and public health. Since his retirement in 2002, John appreciates the peace and beauty of their mountain reserve. In addition to his community activities, he enjoys tennis, genealogy, reading, writing, walking, counting the daily egg production, and harvesting vegetables from Wendy’s organic garden. Read his article about Meetsetshehla Secondary School in The Sunday Independent.