Rundu in January!
on Susan Somers (Namibia), 24/Mar/2010 06:52, 34 days ago
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Rundu and Education in Kavango.After 4 months hidden away at NIED, I decided it was time to actually see‘the real Namibia’ and head north so I convinced my employers to let me off on a field trip to Rundu. The majority of Namibia’s population live in the north of the country along the fertile strip of land near the border with Angola. Its also where the poorest people of Namibia live.I got a lift in a truck delivering pre-primary materials and as we drove the 700km north, the countryside changed dramatically. The brown scrub land and rock became brown/red soil and green veld with trees. Crops were growing in fields and animals were eating grass. Long, empty, and impossibly straight roads, where we passed through 3 tiny towns in 5 hours, gave way to numerous villages and settlements full of life and people and goats (one even lost its life under our truck when it changed its mind just as it got across the road and dashed back the way it came!) Once we crossed‘the red line’ it was almost like being in a different country.The weather in Rundu is rather a bit hotter than my home in central Namibia and receives a good bit more rain. Apparently you get used to it, but not in the space of a few days and I admit to remarking on the heat rather frequently– and was told that it was quite cool compared to last week/month! There were also sudden, heavy but short showers as we’re coming into wet season.My purpose in Rundu (apart from getting out of NIED and travelling a bit) was to meet with the Education Volunteers there and get an impression of life, schools and education in the Kavango region. I stayed with Jelda (another Sept 09 Vol like me) and her house mate Karin, an Inclusive Education advisor who’d been there over a year. I also met with other education volunteers from Interteam (a Swiss group)Everyone was incredible nice and eager to bring me along as they did their jobs.On Wednesday I got visit a large town primary school on the first day of term– which was chaos. There was a staff meeting at 6.40 and school began at 7.10 with the principal introducing the staff and making a long speech. Then parents queued to pay the registration fees (a complicated process of form filling and receipt writing that was supposed to be done on Monday and Tuesday) or collect last year’s report so their child would know if they had passed and what class they were in now (all fees had to be up to date before they could get this). Teachers tried to track down their timetables, class lists, book lists and get hold of enough furniture for their classes. All the while the 1200 students wandered around, no real messing just hanging around. No one seemed too worried or surprised by this lack of organisation. I was told most classes wouldn’t get started until the following Monday.The school facilities were quite good but they had problems with maintenance and toilets. They had recently gotten flush toilets but the children didn’t know how to use them properly and they soon got clogged with leaves and grass and twigs been thrown in (instead of toilet paper) Then they trained all the kids to use the toilets (even though some were still a bit suspicious) but soon ran out of toilet paper again and the kids began to use oldplastic bags (since they knew they shouldn’t use leaves and twigs) which caused worse problems. They are still working on that but have also constructed some ‘drop’ or ‘dry’ toilets to use as well.In the afternoon I met with 2 of the local Advisory Teachers with regards to what they saw as the education challenges of the region (and what they feel NIED should be doing!) It was a very interesting discussion (although the meeting was over an hour late to start) and gave me some good input on the needs of the region (more training, follow-up training, language training and transport to provide training being the reoccurring themes!) Most of what I had worked out for myself held true but it was good to have it confirmed!On Thursday I visited some of the nearby rural schools. For the first one we drove along a twisty rutted sand track and then parked at the edge of the village and walked the last bit on foot (the last bit of the sand track was too deep for the car) The village huts were made of mud and straw and arranged in groups with a reed or wooden fence around them. Women were sitting under trees washing clothes, cooking, grinding maize/pap or just chatting. Some of them called out to Karin in the local language (the sequence of greeting is long and complex and seems to involve repeating‘ehh’ alot!)The school had 4 classes. We visited the principal first, who was filling in his roll books, while his class just sat there (they were still doing that when we left an hour later) One of the teachers was out sick so her class were just sitting there too. Another was teaching but had 40 learners and only 20 seats and about 12 desks. They were all piled in, sharing desks and chairs while in the corner of the classroom was a large heap of broken desks and bits of chairs that unfortunately they didn’t have the materials, tools or skills to fix. The last teacher invited us to see a lesson she had prepared, which was very good (she played games using flash cards made out of old cardboard boxes and chalk to draw boxes on the cement floor) She was really keen for feedback and tips to improve.The kids, especially the girls, were a bit shy about playing games - not used to it and afraid of making a mistakes.The next school was bigger and still sorting out classes and books, as they had a new, very young and inexperienced acting principal (it quite had to get staff for the rural regions) The last and most remote school had serious problems. Like the other 2 they had no electricity or running water but this school didn’t have any kind of toilets (the kids just went in the bush)they had temporary classrooms (built of straw and reeds) large classes (one had 72) and some serious staffing issues (the principal was a non-functioning alcoholic who didn’t really speak English!)All that sounds very bleak but I also met some wonderfully friendly teachers doing their best with what they had and eager to learn and improve. Karin has been working with many of them over the past year and finds most of them want to develop their skills, even if the progress is slow and hard won. The children in all of the schools were remarkably well behaved (no messing if the teacher wasn’t in the room!) enthusiastic, welcoming and cheerful!On Friday I also got to visit one of the‘special’ classes for the hearing impaired. There are a high number of children with hearing impairments as childhood ear infections often go untreated and lead to serious hearing loss. This class is a recent development and they are working still on getting funding and specially trained teachers. There are over 60 children in it (it’s attached to one of the more advantaged schools in Rundu) ranging in age from 7 to their mid-teens. At the moment they are all in one class but the staff and volunteers have gotten the ok to hire more teachers and carers (as the children live in a hostel attached to the school)The provision for SEN in Namibia at the moment is pretty poor– not surprising considering the challenges in providing quality education to the non-SEN. There are no learning support teachers, the teachers have huge classes and little time or ability to provide for the learning needs of the less able. Children who fail to pass a grade must repeat it (sometimes more than once and with no help to overcome their difficulties) Unfortunately for those with SEN, even of the mildest kind, there is little provision at present. There is an official government policy of ‘inclusion’ and an aim ‘to provide education for all’ Strategies to tackle the issueare being formed but the facility to provide help on the ground is, so far, non-existent.Apart from Education matters in Rundu, I also got to see a bit of the town and area as well as getting to know some of the Northern volunteers. We had pizza in the Omshare lodge (while looking at Angola across the river) and had a pancake night with some of the volunteers and their friends. We had a movie afternoon (when it rained) ate/drank ice-coffees and I even bought a bike at the‘House of Love’ (a second hand bike and repair shop ) I shopped in a huge Shoprite (much better than Okahandja) and lived the life of a Rundu volunteer for a week. I also took alot of showers and slept with the fan on to survive the sweaty heat!