The end to an incredible journey! Rachel Azzopardi, Otjikondo

Rachel Azzopardi travelled to Otjikondo School, Namibia, supported by a Footprinter Grant. The pandemic brought her experience to an abrupt end, sadly. Here she tells how it felt to be rushed home from the Otjikondo we are so fond of, and that Rachel’s grown to love. 

This wasn’t the Otjikondo plan!

It was never in my plans to be here, writing my final article, sitting at home, with a messily packed suitcase wide open on my carpet. Four months early.

I find it quite hard to describe the emotional rollercoaster that Katy and I have ensued over the past two weeks. Partly because it makes me want to burst into tears but partly because of how hard it is to comprehend everything that’s happened over the past seven months and the ambivalent emotions I feel when I look back on it.

It began sometime around January 2020 when memes and twitter posts started popping into our radar about the so-called coronavirus which had appeared in China and was causing quite a rumble in the media. The severity of the situation only became apparent after several weeks of scrolling through flippant articles and Instagram posts when the virus appeared in Namibia.

COVID arrives in Namibia

A week after, two tourists were tested positive with the virus, Katy and I were sitting outside the dining hall on a Sunday morning, waiting for the children to come out of their hostels. Gilly appeared though the kitchen door and broke the news that the Namibian government had made an urgent closure to all schools and the Easter holidays would be starting the next day. Next thing we knew, Katy and I were helping stuff the children’s final pair of flip flops into their suitcases and hugging them goodnight and a lovely holiday.

Hugs we didn’t expect to be our final ones for a long time had been given that evening and it’s something I’m so happy we took the time to do. The next day, parents hurried in and out of Otjikondo in virus panic, barely stopping to say hello.

A few hours later we were told to pack our bags and leave Otjikondo by that evening. Before Katy and I could fully process, we were on our long journey home. Racing against the chances of the borders locking down and being stuck in Africa for who knows how long. Project Trust worked tirelessly to get us home and managed to work out a route. It would consist of a flight from Windhoek to Zambia, where we would stay a night and then take a flight from Zambia to Ethiopia. We would meet more Project Trust volunteers in the airport and wait amongst the madness of masks, gloves and the occasional boiler suit until our flight to London was called.

Home to lockdown & reflection

Being home was strange, almost unnatural. I never thought it would feel so peculiar to be somewhere that was so familiar. Initially everything felt odd, but fitting back into family life in Edinburgh was easy to begin.

I used to have very little problem achieving little in the day. But now, it bothers me. I have the urge to get up and go and find it very important to be productive. This is one of the largest benefits I have gained from the past seven months at Otjikondo amongst many others.

But to address the big question. “What have you learned from the past months in Namibia?” The answer could be so long but the first thing I would say the second term was an extremely different learning experience to the first. In the First term, everything was new and I was learning an abundance of new skills. The second term was an opportunity to refine and develop those skills into sophisticated abilities. All the mistakes I had made in the first term turned into lessons and both Katy and I saw the change in our confidence, organisational skills, planning and teaching abilities, alongside many other capabilities.

The skills we developed from the first term made the second term one hundred times more successful and challenges that seemed almost impossible the term before became easy. I’m just disappointed I couldn’t have finished the last term of our year which certainly would have been the best. Looking back on some of my favourite moments would be, finishing the reorganisation and revamping of the library, green team winning the sports day, choosing a sponsor child, dressing up as Santa to bring presents to the kindergarten, opening shoeboxes from Germany, our nativity play and I could list so many more.

However the times I will reminisce most fondly are the ones where I would just spend casual time with the kids. Reading stories on the school floors, wrapping crickets in paper as ‘presents’, falling asleep to Friday TV time. All moments I hope to remember for the rest of my life.

To future volunteers!

Something I would tell future volunteers at Otjikondo is: understand it will be hard work, and there will no doubt be some extremely difficult times. Whether it’s been a week of naughty children, an argument with your partner or a weekend of homesickness, something will get to you at some point. The important thing to understand is to make sure you are looking at the bigger picture. The tough times will only be a small part of your year if you make them that way.

Positivity and Resilience is vital for having a successful year at Otjikondo. Meaning, if something doesn’t go your way, don’t look at it negatively but as a learning experience in which you can grow. Someone who is considering Otjikondo should know, you are the only one who can truly decide how you want your year to pan out. It won’t always be easy but in many ways the times when you are able to recover from the hard parts will be the best memories of your year. Having to cut my year short really made me glad I made the best of my time in Otjikondo and made me realise how important it is to embrace the moment.

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