I dont quite know where to start with this report. Im going to be honest with you though – I arrived back from Namibia yesterday and honestly, my last few months were hectic, there was no time to sit down and do a community report. I had a plan, but it never happened. So its debriefing tomorrow and now I am sitting writing this report in my strangely clean bedroom. Im just going to write about my year: my ups and downs, my accomplishments, and anything else I can think of.
Ally Macdonald came to Galashiels Academy and the beginning of my sixth year. Yes, I had thought over the years about doing a GAP year but I knew that it would never actually happen. My best friend, Jessica, wanted to go to the talk just out of interest, so I went along with her. Ally sold it to us, so in the middle of October, Jess, myself and Cammy (who ended up in Thailand) headed up to Coll. It was an amazing week, but when I came back I still wasnt sure what I wanted to do. When I was younger, well actually, up untill my second year school trip, I couldnt stay over night at other peoples houses, even my best friend who only lives two minutes down the round – I had this in the back of my mind when I was thinking about going away for a year. I was selected to go to Uganda but didnt accept it until a few weeks after whilst on my way to Asda. It was one of the best choices I have ever made. Of course, I never actually went to Uganda. Just after my prelims, and just after I had read A Gap in the life by Hazel Scott-Aiton, John phoned up to tell me that he had an amazing project that suited me and that he was sure I would love it. I wasnt 100% sure at first, as I had been gearing myself up to go to Uganda for the previous 5 months. In the end, I decided to go to Namibia, and 7 months later I found myself driving up to long, straight road to Otjikondo, which was to be my home for the year.
In itself, Otjikondo is the community. I dont want to just write about one aspect of the community at Otjikondo as I think it wouldnt show how amazing it is. I cant just talk about the religion, or the work, or the people. They are not what the community, but they do make up the community. So im just going to write about my year. I hope thats ok.
I saw the water tower first, and then Otjikondo came into view. It is beautiful. There was no children there when we arrived so it was very quiet. I couldnt have lived there without the children. They are the biggest part of the community for me and certainly the most special. They arrived on the Monday, arriving in drips and drabs throughout the day. Some were coming in donkey carts while others in BMWs. They are from such different and contrasting backgrounds: some children from Dongerhoek in Khorixas, which is a pretty dire location. I went there at the end of my year to visit the Tanigu Kindergarden which Gilly and Renier set up for the children of the township, though because it is one of the best Kindergardens in Khorixas, other people try to get in. The people there live in tin houses, many of them falling apart, but many of the nicely intact. I think it is quite remarkable how they manage to get big sheets of metal to stay together. While other children are from quite upgraded areas in Windhoek. There is also the fact that they come from many different tribes. There is the Damaras, who are rather out spoken and opinionated and who always seem to think they are right. There is the Ovambos who are a very gentle and reserved tribe, and then there is the Hereros, but there was very few at Otjikondo. Despite the drastic differences in the places that the children come from and the differences in tribes, they dont show it while they are at Otjikondo and they all get on so well. I thought remembering 240 different names was going to be difficult. When they all came running across the soccer pitch to greet us, shouting their names at us, I was in a slight state of shock – how was I going to remeber all these names?!? The first one I remeber hearing was Elvis but that is the only one that stuck out to me. I knew all the names within my first few weeks of being at Otjikondo. Ok, occasionaly when the girls changed their hairstyles, they looked so different so I was unable to recognise them, but as time went on, I got better. The children on Otjikondo will always have a special place in my heart, despite the many rows I gave them. One of the things I love is that if you do give them a row in class, they forget about it as soon as school is over. Friends again. I have had so many laughs with them all; spinning around the soccer pitch, chasing after them to get my stolen keys, dancing, music, training for athletics (the point of the year where I realised how unfit I was, well still am), picking figs, and so much more. These will be the moments which I will cherish forever. They were the moments I loved so much more. They were the times when we just got to muck about and have a laugh! Saying goodbye to them all was horrible. We left on the Wednesday morning, and I think I must have cried on the Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I didnt want to leave them, they mean the world to me. But it had to happen, im just hoping that I will see them all again. I liked my time with the children outside class, much more than I enjoyed teaching them. At the beginning, I was so nervous about teaching a class of 40 children, its quite daunting. But I got used to it and even though not every lesson went off without a hitch, overall, they went rather well. I remeber one lesson with the Grade sevens. I didnt really think it over properly and though that crayon drawings would be good to do in arts. Some of the learners are 15 and 16. I realised how bad this idea was when I saw all their faces drop as I was explaining it, I then burst out laughing, resulting in even stranger looks. But its something I will always remember! I think one of my best lessons was one of the first ones I did – shading with the grade three class. It was something that I had done in art at school and they all produced really good work. The sense of pride when a lesson goes really well is unreal, it boosts my mood for the remainder of the day. There were times when I enjoyed lessons and times when I didnt, but I definately learnt a lot. Before I came out here, the prospect of standing infront of a class, or presenting a speech, was horrible. I now feel that I could be put infront of any class of any age, and be able to think of something interesting to keep them occupied. Our mornings were filled up with teaching, while during our afternoons we had activities. I started at three with my remedial maths class. It was such a rewarding experience, especially when the children come up to you and say that one of the questions that I did with them came up in there test. I loved seeing them improving. Then I had my two activities. Some were playgroups with the grade ones. We had afternoons where we ran around Otjikondo pretending to be airplanes, afternoons aimed at making objects out of playdoungh (unfortunately the children ended up eating it), afternoons painting pictures with our feet! Then I usually had a craft group where the aim was to produce enough work to sell at the parents day in July. I attempted to make a giant paper mache pumpkin with one of my groups for the Halloween disco, which fell apart as soon as it entered the hall. There was many things that we attempted but didnt quite work out the way I had planned. So, as you can imagine, the weeks running up to Parents day were spent doing a lot of Paper Mache! In the end we had some really nice things. So that was my week days. The school is a huge part of Otjikondos community, so it was a huge part of our year. We got to know all the teachers quite well, but we didnt spend an awful lot of time with them, they had their lives and we had ours, there wasnt much time to get to know them remarkably well.
Our weekends were also filled up. Saturday mornings were spent cleaning. One of the many skills I have learnt this year is how to mop – there is a technique to it! After cleaning, we give the children their pocket money. This money comes from their sponsers. Every child at Otjikondo gets allocated a sponser (most from Germany but some from Britain). The majority of volunteers at Otjikondo choose their sponser child. Mine is the smallest boy at the school, Andrew Shikongo. I pay £100 a year. This money will go to the the school payments for primary school and then it will help to get him through high school also. Because of these payments by the sponsers, it allows the fee for Otjikondo to be really cheep, meaning that many children are given the opportunity to a good education. It also means that Otjikondo is one of the best schools but also one of the cheapest. Its quite remarkable. I have so much respect for Gillian and Reneir Stommel. They set up Otjikondo with literaly no money. Renier was a Brother in the monastry and Gillian an English school girl. They met and fell in love on a bus on the way to Cape Town. Reneir left the monastry so that they could marry, and despite their parents dissapproval, they got married and moved up to Ovamboland in the North of Namibia. They went with very little money, but soon began to earn a living. They ended up having four children and earning a number of farms around the area. Soon they set up Otjikondo. At first it was a very small school, but over years, the number of sponsers and donars has increased meaning that the school has grown in some remarkable ways. There is now a number of laptops of which the children receive lessons on, a new music project that has started up, arts lessons, pt lesson, bank, a shop, well supplied hostels, drama performances, class outings, a music week where some of the musicians get the chance to go to Swakopmund to play in an Orchestra. This is all down to Gilly and Reneir Stommel, who have commited their lives to Otjikondo and the people of Africa. They have looked after myself and Catherine so much. I cant begin to show in this report how much respect and admiration I have for them. They are two truely amazing people and I feel so lucky to have met them.
The Otjikondo community is made up of many things. The two main being the school and the children. There is then the hostels, which the children stay in and which are very respectable. The hostel staff who work their take the children under their wing and always make sure that they are well looked after. I loved the staff so much. We managed to have a great laugh with them and they even taught me some Damara. Then there is the church. I never went to church at home, and I doubt that I will ever go now Im back, but the church at Otjikondo is magical. Its a catholic church so every week we had a communion and knelt down and prayed. The singing was amazing. They do not have an organ or an accompanying cd, they sing on their own and its beautiful. Lastly there is the Otjikondo farm workers. Every day they go out on the farm at 7 and work all day long. In evening you will see them cutting up a kudu or driving around in the back of the backie.
All this put together and you get the community of Otjikondo. A remarkable place where I think everyone should get the chance to visit.
My biggest achievement this year has to be that I taught three of the pupils violin. It was amazing how quickly they managed to pick it up. By the time I left, I had one of them playing an Irish reel and Sky Boat song. Im so proud of them all and hope that they keep it up.
Lastly, one of my biggest challenges and saddest moments was on the 23rd of November on the Grade 2 outing. One of the boys drowned. I managed to swim over in time to pull the girl out the water. I thought she had died, it was such a relief when she took a huge breath. I sat and cuddled her until she could stand. Then children began shouting Where is Mbjitwa? He wasnt anywhere to be seen. The teachers came from the school and we walked through the water in a chain trying to see if we could feel the body. A male teacher found him. It was horrible as I knew that I must have swam right over him to get to the girl. This was one of my biggest challenges, but I managed to get over it. I now know that even if something horrible happens, life does go on and it will always get better.
The decision I made on the way to Asda was one of the biggest and best decisions I have ever made. This year has been so special to me and I cant quite believe that it is over. Otjikondo and Namibia have become my home.