Life in Caprivi relocation camps

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The challenge of learning and teaching in Caprivi's flood relocation camps

By Rosemary Nalisa, Namibia Red Cross Society National Coordinator, Resource Mobilisation.

It is quarter to one on Friday afternoon and school has just come out at a relocation camp in the Lusese area, about 30 kilometres out of Katima Mulilo in Namibia’s Caprivi Region. A quick glance at the neat rows of army-green tents pitched in the sandy, open space and you might think you are approaching a military base. All that identifies the classrooms from the rest of the tents is the student desks and green chalk boards illustrating the day’s lessons.

Amid the sea of blue and grey uniforms I meet 15 year old Chizabulyo Kawana, a Grade Eight student from the Nankuntwe Combined School, located about 80 kilometres East of Katima Mulilo. The school has 164 learners from primary to junior secondary school and 12 teachers.

Chizabulyo has been living in the camp for the past two weeks, since he and his community were relocated due to flooding that left their villages unlivable. “Life in general is difficult in this camp as we have problems finding food to eat, especially fish or meat. I have to go to Lusese camp about ten kilometres away every Friday to fish for the family”, says Chizabulyo.

Chizabulyo is an orphan who is staying with his aunts. He shares a tent with two aunts and four cousins and he says life is not easy in the camp where you have to share your personal space with strangers.

“The situation here is better (than in the village) because it is not flooded, but the tented classrooms can get very hot and we always fall asleep and lose concentration.

“It sometimes gets too dusty when we walk around and if it is windy, because there is no mat or carpet covering the sandy surface,” says Chizabulyo.

Chizabulyo’s teachers share his concerns. One teacher, Richard Mowa, says he is worried about the general disruption to the students’ learning that is brought about by the floods, which occur on an annual or bi-annual basis. “Bunking classes is the order of the day among the kids, especially those whose parents remained behind and they are on their own here. Some of the kids remained with their parents and have to repeat their grades next year as they will miss out on more than four months of learning,” says Mowa.

Mowa says another challenge is looking after children who are sent to the camps alone, while their parents remain in the villages. He cites several occasions where he and fellow teachers have had to put money together to buy food for some of their students to prevent them from starving. “We have children sitting for external examinations in Grade Ten and this situation and disruptions are not good for learning and teaching”, says Mowa.

The teachers are also worried about hygiene in the camp and say some community members are using the tented classrooms as toilets because they are scared of using the nearby bushes at night. “We need proper toilets in the camp otherwise we will be exposed to a possible outbreak of diseases including chest infections emanating from dust inhalation which is a major problem at the moment,” says Kisco Chika, another teacher at the camp.

Namibia Red Cross volunteers have been managing these risks by promoting hygiene and sanitation practices and distributing emergency relief items. During our visit, we distributed water purification tablets, mosquito nets, soap and other basic necessities to the people of this camp. In the coming weeks, the IFRC and the Namibia Red Cross Society will distribute further relief items and construct and rehabilitate new and existing latrines in the camps.

The teachers hope the traditional and national leaders will one day find a lasting solution that will bring stability, as the current situation is contributing to the already existing vulnerability of learners and the community.

The relocated schools usually move back to the flood plains between July and August, depending on how fast the water recedes. As for now, the relocation camps will be their homes for the next five or six months.