Katy Watters reporting on a year at Otjikondo cut short

Katy Watters went to Otjikondo, Namibia expecting a full on year. It was cut short by the pandemic, but it’s pretty clear she got what she came for! Well done. Katy was supported by a grant from Hazel’s Footprints and trained with Project Trust

A busy term two at Otjikondo

If I had thought my first term at Otjikondo was busy, my second term could only really be described as hectic! The new school year started a week later than normal and was due to finish early too so everyone was very conscious of just how much work had to be crammed into a relatively short amount of time. And although things were therefore fast paced from the outset, we also made sure to balance this out by finding time to relax a little and have fun with the children.

This term myself and my fellow Gaps, Rachel (my project partner) and Jacob (recently arrived volunteer from Germany), had to start planning and preparing for our upcoming summer drama. Rachel and I had spent months deliberating which show to put on and, once we finally settled on ‘Annie’, it was soon time to start the auditions with the older children at Otjikondo. Choosing who was to play each part was not an easy task by any stretch of imagination! We had over 60 children turn up for around 30 roles and even though it was an enjoyable day, it was honestly exhausting and I’m not sure I would be keen to repeat it any time soon!

We kept up our usual Art and PE lessons with the children on weekday mornings and really got into the swing of lesson planning and prepping – something I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to say! The theme for the Art room this year was ‘Past, Present and Future’ and the idea was to create a timeline around the room including different periods in history and what we thought the world might look like in fifty years’ time. The kids, as always, really impressed us with their skills and it all started coming together really quickly which was incredibly rewarding. There is something very special about seeing something you’ve imagined in your head suddenly making its way onto the walls of the classroom for everyone else to have a look at too. Rachel and I had a blast getting really creative and pushing the kids to see all of the different kinds of work they could produce.

reading at otjikondo

A new approach to Grade One

My own special project this term was to assist and teach in one of the new Grade One classrooms. Otjikondo trialled a new set-up with Grade One this year where the large class, consisting of around 40 children, was split into two groups roughly based on ability. The idea was that the ‘Sunshine’ class, which was made of the children at a slightly lower level, would get more one-on-one teaching time and hopefully wouldn’t slip far behind the others allowing for a high transfer rate into Grade Two.  The other class, ‘Raindrops’, would take in the children who had a better grasp of English and they would be able to move at a slightly faster rate through the curriculum without having to worry about stragglers.

At the beginning of the year I began working in the Sunshine classroom alongside their teacher Mrs Sara. Since I was an extra pair of hands in the class, it meant I was able to do more targeted work with the children who were struggling to grasp certain concepts which I also continued after school in my remedial sessions. And the highlight of my week was teaching the Sunshine class by myself every Friday. This was a really big achievement for me as I had always taught alongside Rachel or another of the Gaps since the class size is quite large and our subjects are quite hands on, but, although the idea had originally terrified me,  I really enjoyed stepping up and taking on this new role. It certainly wasn’t easy, especially when some of the children had absolutely no idea what I was trying to teach them due to their lack of English, or when they got more confident and began to misbehave, but working with Sunshine very quickly became my favourite thing to do and I spent a lot of my free time working with them.

katy watters at otjikondo teaching sunshine class

Sports Day at Otjikondo

Another special memory from this term comes in the form of Sports Day. In the weeks before the big event, everyone in and around Otjikondo splits into their two teams, Yellow and Green, and a fiercely competitive air settles around the school. I was accepted into Team Yellow alongside Jacob, and Rachel into Team Green which made for some healthy rivalry in the Gap flat! Otjikondo takes sports day very seriously and so training took place every afternoon along with team building exercises and lots (and lots) of singing. Rachel and I were even contacted online by Gaps from previous years showing their support for their old team!

When Sports Day arrived at the beginning of February one of the teachers couldn’t make it into school due to flooding up North and so I was promoted from my job as a time keeper into the position of record keeper. This was truly terrifying as I was suddenly in charge of allocating the points to the children at the end of the races and therefore had the power to mess everything up if I wasn’t paying attention! Luckily one of the older students, Beyoncé (whose personality absolutely lives up to her namesake in case you were wondering), kept me on track and we had a great day sitting under the shade (a rare treat!) and eating the occasional fett cake! I am gutted to report that the Green team did win Sports Day, but Yellow Team will come back to take the trophy next year I’m sure.

We were really finding our stride…

I could go on and on and on about my favourite moments from this second term. It was jam-packed and it was stressful at times, but it really was a lot of fun. The second term to me was a lot more enjoyable than the first since I finally felt as if I really belonged in Otjikondo and both Rachel and I agreed that we just kept moving from strength to strength and making small improvements here, there and everywhere.  There was no more nervousness or fear standing in front of a class or in front of the whole school during assemblies, we no longer spent endless hours desperately trying to think of what to do in our Art lessons, and we felt as if the teachers and staff members around the school had become family. The weather wasn’t half bad either!

rachel and katy

As always, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The work load was at times pretty tough and it’s hard to keep going when you feel exhausted. There were many late nights and very early mornings, days where free time was unheard of and a few calls home that had to be rescheduled because marking spelling tests took priority. As much as I absolutely loved devoting myself to this project and getting involved in so many different aspects of life at the school, it was really demanding both mentally and physically. However, I still wouldn’t have changed anything about my experience regardless. Often it was in the hours where I was lacking enthusiasm, I felt low and I felt tired beyond belief, that one the of children would run up to me and give me a big hug or show me a piece of artwork they had spent hours working on, and it was proof that this project was worth every ounce of effort, no matter how hard to come by, that I put in.

…until Coronavirus arrived!

Due to the outbreak of Coronavirus the term had to be cut short, the pupils and staff members were sent home and my project partner, Rachel, and I were devastated to have to pack our things and fly back to Scotland prematurely. I had expected to have a full year of working and living in this beautiful part of the world that I found myself in, however with country borders closing all around us and lockdowns starting to be introduced, Project Trust had to make the difficult decision to repatriate us and bring us back home early.

It obviously wasn’t the ending that I was hoping for, especially as I didn’t get my chance to say goodbye to the children or the teachers since our departure was very sudden, but it was the ending that I was given and I have so many memories to look back on and to be grateful for.

saying goodbye to otjikondo

Reflecting on a year of learning

One of the most ironic things is that even though it was my job to teach and impart my knowledge upon the children at Otjikondo, in many ways I feel as though I have come out having learnt more than they did. We were thrown so many curveballs and challenges every step of the way that it would have been impossible to not have learned from our mistakes and successes and, ultimately, change along the way.

Furthermore, I have met many amazing people in the last number of months who have completely transformed my perspective on things. The Namibian way of life is much more relaxed. Everyone goes with the flow, making the most of chances as they come and always reminding themselves of how lucky and grateful they are when they don’t. This project has proven to me that I am able to achieve anything I put my mind to and to never give up on my goals, no matter how big or small. I have been shown that although I may not always end up where I want to be or doing what I want to be doing, that doesn’t mean I have failed. I have also learned a lot about myself and my capabilities in the short amount of time I was lucky to have out there, and I hope to continue to do so.

It is an odd feeling to acknowledge that my volunteering placement in Namibia has come to an end, especially so soon and so suddenly. The many days, weeks and months I spent in Otjikondo flew by almost as if we were on a timescale different to the rest of the world. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to call Otjikondo my home and to Hazel’s Footprints Trust for supporting me throughout this adventure. I am beyond heartbroken at having had to have left before my time was due, but the mark Otjikondo, and Namibia, has left upon me will stay with me always.

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