Over the past few weeks I’ve been spending time with Owen, a Community Health Assistant (CHA) in Aus, going out into the “Location”. Namibia has recently implemented this new program where every community has a CHA. Their purpose is to go into the community and see people where they live, finding out what they need, what their issues are whether those issues are medical or social and then making a plan to address those needs.
Most of the visits we had this week were to find out why students were not attending school. To give you some reference here’s a bit about education in this small community. There is only one school and it is a primary school that has pre-primary through grade 7. After grade 7 each student must go to a secondary school in another town. They can either live with a family member or live in the hostel at the school. There are fees involved so many of the children from here can not go (although beginning in January there will be no school fees, just hostel fees). The school and hostel fees are not very much but when you make so little (or you spend what you make unwisely) there is not enough money for school. Consequently many of these children end up dropping out. It is mandatory to attend school in Namibia until age 18. The school year runs from Jan-Nov. in three terms with long breaks between each term.
Here are a few cases we have discovered.
- An elderly couple who live in a tin shack with no water or electricity. Neither one can get out of bed very easily so their daughter and her three babies are living with them to help out. The father of the babies also lives with them and can’t find a permanent job so he’s doing odd jobs when he can to help support all of them. They are living off of the elderly couples pensions (the word pension here means welfare-all the elderly people get N $1000 per month. At the current exchange rate that is about US $72.00). The woman has pain in her eye that keeps her up at night and can’t walk because of old ailments. The man had his leg amputated a while back and is experiencing phantom pain that he is positive comes from stitches that were left in. The plan for these two people is to get them transportation to the clinic so they can be assessed by a nurse.
- A 13 year old girl has not been to school in several weeks and she has an 18 year old boyfriend who is a school drop out. They are sleeping together. We spoke with the school first then we spent some time with the girl. She had many reasons for not coming to school but says she wants to become an office worker one day and recognizes the need to get an education. We then went to the family home to speak with the adults there and spoke with her Aunt and Grandmother. They said she is disrespectful sometimes and that the real problem is the boyfriend. Their house is tin with dirt floors and many, many people live there. We counted how many and came to about 18 who are in and out all of the time. There is no privacy and if you put something down, it will be picked up and taken by someone else before you can turn around. Beds are shared and the Aunt and Grandmother are not ever really sure who is where. We then went to speak with the boyfriend and his Grandmother. We talked with him about the legal consequences of dating someone so young and that he could be charged with rape and put in jail. He was insolent and would not even look at us while we talked. We have checked on the girl several times and she is back in school (there is one teacher there who is very fond of her and trying to motivate her into being at school too!) so that’s a beginning. Our plan for her is to help her apply to go to an all girls boarding school in Windhoek. She says she is willing to go but we will see what happens. There is no money in the house to pay for her to go to secondary school in another town so for her to continue her education, this is the best bet.
- A 16 year old boy who dropped out of school in grade 7. He does not like school and does not want to go to a traditional secondary school. He is good with his hands, likes to fix and build things. Also likes to draw. I gave him some paper to draw on and he’s going to draw a picture for me. I’ll post it when I get it. He lives with his older sister and younger brother. There are also 2 other brothers who are away at secondary school. There is no father in the picture and the mother is in the north of Namibia working to support her children. A family friend is housing them and taking care of them. The older sister has finished school and is working at one of the lodges in town. Our plan is to look into a vocational school for him. His sister showed us things he has fixed that now work. They were electrical and electronic things. Seems a good fit and he sounded like he’d be interested in learning a skill.
- Three brothers who live in a tin shack with no parents around. The parents moved to a farm for work and left the children to fend for themselves. They are 13,11 and 8. The 13 yo has not been attending school since February because he spends his days trying to find food and wood so his brothers have something to eat. The younger two boys are still attending school regularly. There is one family member who is supposed to be looking out for them but we have yet to locate him. We asked them where they are getting food and they’ve been eating the maize meal that the town gave out last month but it is finished and now they are eating pop (it’s like a porridge). We immediately got them some more maize meal and a bag of meat. Over the weekend the town was giving out fish to the people in the location so we got a portion for them and are giving some of it to them every day. Our plan is to locate the family member to see what he says about the situation and then to get a referral out to the Social Workers so they can come assess the situation to get these boys more permanent help. I am also going to get them some clothes and shoes (thanks Jacob Watkins!) this week.
- A 15 year old girl who was in grade 8 in Rosh Pinah (a town about 100km from here) living with a family member. The family member left Rosh Pinah so she had nowhere to live. Her older sister has submitted an application to the school in Bethanie (a town about 60km from here) where she can live in the hostel. They are waiting to hear from Bethanie. Our plan is to contact Bethanie so hopefully she can begin grade 8 again in January.
- A 16 year old girl who was in grade 9 in Bethanie. Her accommodations fell through so she had to come home. There is a teacher there who was very encouraging who has helped her re-apply including a spot in the hostel. The teacher has told her she is in but our plans are to make sure that is the case.
- A 15 year old boy (grade 7) who has not been to school for the past 3 days. He couldn’t give any explanation about why but promised he would return on Monday. He is one of the kids in the house described earlier that has 18 people living there. We checked on Monday and he was indeed back in school.
This week we were mostly concentrating on locating the kids who have not been in school to see why and see what we can do to get them in school. School fees are certainly an issue, but there are many other social problems going on in this small settlement. Assessing the needs is challenging because there are so many. In thinking about it and studying it, my opinion is there is an underlying feeling of hopelessness because there are so few jobs and so little to do. When I leave, I want to have left a mark. I want to have made a difference for the kids of Aus. And to do this, I think I must start with after school programs. There is a group of students who want me to help them with reading, but there are few books so we are starting with short stories about dogs. The principal at the primary school is in support of this but getting it actually started has proven to be rather challenging. There are many road blocks that I am weeding through presently. I’ll keep you posted!
Thanks for reading….I spent a week in NC for my son’s (Andrew) wedding in September. We welcome Amber into our family with open arms, although if feels like she has been a part of our family forever already! They've been dating since high school. It was a picturesque event held on Bald Head Island. If you’ve not had the chance to visit that gem of a place, I highly recommend it. So many of our friends and family were there to celebrate the nuptials, thank you to those who made the trip…it was wonderful to see everyone even briefly! It was rather hard to get on the plane to fly back to Namibia since I probably won’t go to the states until I am finished with service (June, 2017). That’s a long time and I really do miss everyone! Yes, I’m homesick sometimes. Cards and notes and packages are greatly appreciated!!!
“Just remember there is someone out there who is more than happy with less than what you have.” – Unknown