2/3 of the way through
on Marika VSO-ing in Namibia (Namibia), 25/Aug/2010 18:02, 34 days ago
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I braved the beginning of the last week with the decision not to overlook the matter of cheating. The general consensus seemed to give me the impression that it’s not very surprising, not really a big deal and much less likely to happen in the end of year examinations. After over a week had passed, I wasn’t so emotionally bothered by it, so it felt ok to raise it with the school’s Principal and arrange a mini meeting with him and the Maths staff, ifnot to caution them (in his words), but to at least make them aware that it was known and not just overlooked and accepted. I felt that I needed to do this, if anything just to prove to myself that I can confront things if I want (admittedly more of a selfish motive here). I was aware that this mere action would risk the whole ‘building relationships’ or ‘relationship-orientated’ philosophy of VSO that we are regularly reminded is better to be prioritised above our ‘task-orientated’ philosophy. A prime example of this I think is demonstrated by a story Dave, who is based in Opuwo told us, who is working in ICT where the volunteer before him got so fed up of the amount of time colleagues spent playing solitaire on their computers (and believe me, we are talking hours a day spent on this game across the country), he went and deleted it off everyone’s computers in his office. From then on he was hated by his colleagues and it even took people a longer while to trust Dave who was to come next. On the other hand, as ‘visiting’ volunteers we are in a much easier position to make explicit things that others wouldn’t dare speak out about risking their status, reputation and such like. I’m reminded of this every time the Principal asks me if I mind being known as the person identifying a certain issue. We can call a spade a spade as we have little to lose. So, I didn’t think it would be too risky overall, and unusually the Principal insisted on bringingin other less relevant individuals in management. The issue was gently raised and discussed but on the whole there was complete denial on their front so I felt like I left feeling like a bit of a mug, but at the moment, I think it was still an ok choice to make and unusually it hasn’t bothered meas much as it might have back home. I’ve definitely been avoided a bit since then and have felt uncomfortable at times, but with the structure of the week and the upcoming break to help, I hope the damage will be limited. I may have decreased my realm of work in this particular school, but theygenerally haven’t been motivated from the start so it felt like there wasn’t much to lose on this front either. Time will tell I guess.With this aside, I’ve been able to find my way around the mysterious sea of getting a few more things done in the Regional Offices. I’ve managed to do a relatively large print job of Grade 10 revision material for use at the beginning of next term that I initially did just for the Katima circuit/cluster, but then managed to find the resources (paper) to produce these for the rest of the schools in the Caprivi region, roughly 50, which will be hopefully distributed by their relative Circuit Inspectors. I’ve heard that is somewhere in this link of the chain between the Inspectors and the Principals whereletters/messages don’t always reach their intended destinations. It was a simple resource comprising mainly of past papers with solutions. The reason why I put it together is after my realisation form visiting schools that most departments could not put together the past papers for the last few years even and these were the ones in town, so I imagined what the situation would be like for the rest in the villages. I needed to visit 3 schools to put together just the papers for the last 9 years. Reduced to try to minimise paper and with typed out the solutions too, I wondered if no-one haddone this thus far. Is it the accessibility to the past papers, the print room, the paper or ‘what what’ as the Namibians say? In doing the solutions, was it due to their own lack of confidence? Having witnessed not one teacher get full marks in last year’s paper at the earlier workshops inthe year, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case. I have been left to use John’s bike as he visits Uganda for the month and am sure to have been improving my balancing skills resulting in the lack of a bike rack. Alongside my daily backpack that is coming close to being my 2nd portable office not limited by the closing hours and lack of keys at my school, I managed to balance 3 realms of A4 paper (500 sheets each) somewhere between myself, the saddle and the crossbar, sometimes with the help of my canvas shoulder bag that alters my centre of balance greatly. And not just one journeyacross town, but three. Not such a drastic affair, I know, I don’t want to be a drama queen, but despite still chilly mornings, Katima is getting hot and that ups the difficulty. Summer is definitely on its way.I’ve managed to put forward a proposal and have it accepted to run some workshops next term for several thousand Namibian dollars. I then heard that out of the N$689 000 available for workshops only by ETSIP (I’m actually unsure what this acronym stands for), the Regional Office has only appliedto use a fraction of this money so after my first proposal was accepted, I then sent in a second to essentially triple my request. Fingers crossed. This situation of available funding that is not maximised is typical of what we’ve seen here time and time again with so many resources. They are available, but just not maximised in their use. Besides the fact that workshops can be run for minimal cost, money is not the obstacle here, but motivation from those who have the access to these resources. What are the rest of the Advisory Teaching team doing that’s stopping them from applying for this free source of funding?The other interesting theme of the week was the issue of me having an‘understudy’. Unbeknown to me (and many others that demonstrates the lack of communication that is ongoing) two adverts with the last being in March had gone out for someone whom I thought and hoped would eventually take over my role. This could be called a potential ‘counterpart’ that VSO and the Home Office are drilling us about the necessity of having in order to have our visas approved and make volunteers more effective. I had a lot to talk to the Circuit Inspector about this. Although, she is one of the few hard working and ‘motivated ones’ she had avoided dealing with this since March it seems, but for justified reasoning. With the only requirement stated in the advert being a 4 year Education qualification (increased from the original 3 years that led to ‘too many unsuitable applicants’) and no financial incentive beyond a teacher’ salary, it seems the advert was ‘one of those aimed towards the unemployed’. The result is we had a privilege of a mere 4 applicants, two of whom did not fulfil the qualification requirements, and one of the remaining two having only done a couple of months relief teaching since graduating. The situation seemed very disheartening especially as there are current teachers who I have worked with and seen potential, but perhaps with no financial incentive, why would they choose to apply? Nevertheless, I was asked to put together interview questions and ideas for these two candidates. I will be sure to keep you postedon the outcome.The last weekend involved more visits to the Zambezi River. As the winds are still present, the water ripples and laps against the bank almost imitating the sound of the sea. Katie and I braved an hour of horseback riding around the Fish Farm. The horses were rescued from an unusually withdrawn missionary school, have improved in their health after not being looked after very well and were a bit less tamed than the few I’ve experienced, making them all the more alluring, but I would reconsider riding them again. Most horses I’ve seen here in Namibia have been wild and that seems to suit them better. It’s funny seeing them roam freely around the open grounds of the fish farm when I visit.I’m making a bit more of an effort with learning Silozi by even trying a lesson. It has been hard to learn as fellow colleagues have no hesitation in teaching me Subbia and Sufwe words, as if they enjoy confusing me with the various spoken dialects. My attempts to use my newly learnt phrases areacknowledged with smiles but also tend to provide more amusement than anything else. On the whole, even though it seems that at home I was not particularly known to be a comedian but here people seem to find me pretty hilarious. It’s worth some effort, even if the language might only be heard maybe a third of the time. There are 7 ‘recognised’ languages in the Caprivi region alone, one of 13 regions in Namibia. Just multiply for an estimate. Today is the end of the 2nd term and we have 10 days break. Hitting the road tomorrow morning heading South - yipee!