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I spent a year in Namibia 2007-8 on a Project Trust project at a very remote school in the east of Namibia, quite near the Botswana border and a little way from the Trans-Kalahari highway.

Lucas controls the crowdView of the school

You might like the photos with commentary here (or click on the photos above).  Note that there are 4 pages of photos - navigate to them from the top menu. 

There is also a short  account of what I did below, or you can download my full end-of-project 'Community' report (30 pages, 1.3Mb pdf file) describing what I did, the place, the people, and particularly the bushmen people.

Here is the short written account of my year overseas.

I was in Namibia teaching at a rural farm school for Bushmen an hour north of the town Gobabis.  It was impossible for me to anticipate what the school would be like and even though the charity Project Trust did their best to prepare me, I was still repeatedly surprised by what was put in front of me.

Gobabis is a small town in Omaheke and the area surrounding the town is dubbed 'Cattle Country' due to the concentration of cattle farming in the area.  Even in Gobabis itself it's easy to see this influence, not just from the statues of cattle that welcome you to the town but also the enormous trucks, auctions, farm vehicles and farm retailers including agricultural vets and butcheries.  It is a predominantly white town as are the farms that surround it, but the Afrikaaner culture, I was to discover, is quite different from life at home.  Second in size to the white population is the Herero culture distinguished by the women's large traditional dresses.  There are also smaller groups of Damara and Bushmen.  (More details on the populations can be read in my community report.)

The school I volunteered at was not in Gobabis itself but an hour north - although we did have to make trips there for shopping and other necessities.  Between Gobabis and the school, lay only one small village (Drimiopsis) after which it was necessary to take the gravel road for half an hour passing through acres of scrubland farms before finally reaching Gqaina School.  And it was a very hot and dry mouthed experience if you weren't yet accustomed to the dry climate.  As its original plot of land had been donated by a farmer, the school was in the middle of scrub land with only a very small community surrounding it.  A few years after the school plot was donated, the remainder of the farm was sold off to the government and used as a resettlement farm.  This means that it was divided up into smaller plots and handed over to previously disadvantaged families; primarily groups of Damara people from further north.  A few of our students belonged to this group and were the only students who did not board.  Some of the land was also used for government property, so directly next door to the school was a prison! and police station and beyond that the local minister's office.  Although there were people nearby, the possibility of meeting and getting to know them was remote because it was too risky to walk along the roads after dark and because within the poor farming communities it was often difficult to avoid those abusing alcohol – a major issue in Namibia.  This meant that I spent most of my time in the school with either the teachers or students.

I had a number of duties to keep me busy at the school almost all day from 7am until I was too tired and dropped.  Although certain things were expected of me, I was also given a lot of freedom to choose which activities to get involved with and which innovations to develop.  From 7am until 1pm was school time where I helped in classes, especially with the students' English.  And sometimes I was actually there to help with the teacher's English.  Although this theoretically meant that I was not teaching I would also have to cover for any teacher who was on a workshop or ill and although there were only 10 teachers, it was surprising how often this happened; across a space of five weeks in June I recall teaching for four and a half of those!  I mostly helped in Grade 4 during the day time with Mrs. Maritz, the head teacher.  This was possibly one of the most rewarding aspects of the year for many reasons.  Grades one to four are considered 'lower primary' while grades 5 to 7 are 'upper primary'. This means that during grade four the learners must be prepared to work much harder and throughout the year Mrs. Maritz and I both tried to give them a strong foundation which they could build on. Mrs. Maritz is an excellent teacher with a unique perspective having never had any sort of teaching degree.  She's always learning on the job and was willing to try new teaching ideas that we discussed and created.  She's also the only teacher to have been taught English as a first language at school so was the only person to have the ability and confidence to correct my English!  We got on very well together, I learned a lot from her and it was always nice to have a down to earth English speaker around to talk to.

After school each day I was responsible for extra classes as well as clubs and activities.  For one hour each day, I would take some of the grade four children out of homework study to do one on one extra reading.  It was a real pleasure to see each individual develop and improve to the extent that some probably passed the grade simply due to that small amount of time that I spent with them.  I also took larger groups for reading and English weekly as well as one off-occasions such as when some were struggling with a topic in maths.

Thankfully it wasn't all academic and for at least a couple of hours each day I would play sports, let learners into the library or give them computer lessons on the small selection of ancient machines that were available.  I was really pleased when a number of the boys I'd been coaching for soccer made it into the zonal team and were given the chance to go to Gobabis to try out for the regionals.  Unfortunately just a day before the trials, we were told that there would be no money and that they would be postponed for a couple of weeks.  They never happened and not only the boys but also I was very disappointed.

Luckily for me, I had long holidays, which gave me an excellent opportunity to go travelling around Southern Africa.  My first holiday was at Christmas when I had 6 weeks to travel around South Africa, down the coast and spend Christmas and New Year in Cape Town with around 20 other volunteers from Project Trust.  I travelled through South Africa with various groups of Project Trust volunteers and was amazed to see such variety from the world renowned and dangerous Johannesburg to the peaceful Mossell Bay, and from the Zululand culture of St. Lucia to the terrifying experience of the world's highest bungee jump; we really tried to see and do it all.   Finally Cape Town was a wonderful opportunity to speak to other volunteers, find out how they were getting on and even borrow some of their ideas to use at Gqaina.

I had another opportunity to meet some of the volunteers again when we met as a small group of six in Mozambique.  This time I travelled mostly on my own to get there though what an experience that was - taking small cramped minibuses for hours on end, crossing border after border, struggling to pay for accommodation in Gaborone because the cash machines weren't working and finally hitching home to Namibia with diamond diggers on their way to Angola.  While in Mozambique I saw a different side of Southern Africa: the poorly maintained cities, the aggressive looking border control and the bribe-seeking policemen.  It was one of the most beautiful countries I have been to though and I managed to make it out to the well known Tofo beaches where I was able to go scuba diving and swim in some of the most beautiful waters in the world.

When I returned to Gqaina, it was a relief to be back at the school where I could finally unpack my bags and settle back into the routine of life.  I also met up with my partner, Adam again since he had been elsewhere over the holidays.  This term was sure to be different from all the others, as after 6 weeks Adam would be leaving as he planned to go home early.  After so many months living and working together it was strange to see him leave and the rest of my time there certainly changed from that point, though not necessarily for the worse.  All the teachers, and to my surprise even the children, fully appreciated that I could have left at the same time and that instead I had chosen to stay. Especially at the weekends which were always very quiet, the two teachers who lived on farms nearby would often invite me back where I would get to know them and their families better and enjoy restful siestas and braais (barbeques).

Finally the time came to leave Namibia and return home.  Although it was sad to leave the place where I had lived so simply for a year, it was also nice to return with so many memories and stories from my 12 months away.

UPDATE:  I have recently heard the great news that the a bushman child from Gqaina school has recently passed his grade 12 exams; the equivalent of completing high school in the UK.  Although to many people, this may not seem unusual, he is the first bushman child from Gqaina to complete grade 12 and has hopefully lead the way for many more after him.  He is now posed with the exciting opportunity to go to university and study further, possibly in law which represents a great achievement to all the teachers and staff at Gqaina and the secondary school he had been attending, Winnie du Plessis.