Lately, I have felt really discouraged and it has led me to question myself and my motives for coming here. The challenges facing this school are overwhelming and I struggle to wrap my mind around ways it can be improved. I want to believe that even small, positive improvements are possible, but some days I have trouble even seeing that.
I often find myself feeling bitter towards Namibians and their culture. After having my shoes stolen from inside the house and food taken from my fridge, it is hard to maintain a desire to give. On a daily basis, people ask me for money or food. When I go for my evening walks, there is usually someone who stops me and asks for money. At school, the kids tell me they are hungry and ask for food. And even the teachers (who I know make a very good salary) have no trouble asking or even taking from me. I have explained numerous times to the teachers that I am a VOLUNTEER and that I do not have money nor do I have access to money. They ask me for unrealistic favors – to borrow my camera for the weekend, to type up their tests or assignments for them, to take photos of the entire soccer team – modify each one in photoshop and then develop them! And when I have agreed to do a favor, they rarely say thank you or even show any appreciation (which could definitely be a cultural thing, but COME ON!).
Getting together with other volunteers definitely helps keep me sane as I realize that I am not the only facing these challenges. However, we do spend a lot of time criticizing the way things are done here and voicing our frustrations, which can tend to be negative.
I don’t remember being as frustrated in Thailand. There were always answers for why things were done a certain way and although I didn’t agree with them, there were valid reasons why. There are so many things here that just don’t make sense to me…photocopying entire textbooks for a class (every year) but not purchasing new ones, learners getting punished for not wrapping their exercise books in wrapping paper, holding staff meetings during class time (because if we hold it after school the majority of teachers won’t come!).
The students here don’t care if they fail. Failure doesn’t mean the same thing it means at home. I have learners in my grade 8 class that are 21 years old. This means that they have failed approximate 5-7 grades since they started school! They are unable to make the connection between academics and career opportunities. They lack motivation to truly understand and excel.
Of course, you have to wonder… WHY?
My school (and I’d imagine the rest of the country) is filled with teachers who have no desire to teach. The majority have chosen this career path not because they love children or are born educators but because it is one of the few jobs that is always in demand and provides a reasonably good income. From what I have witnessed so far, most are lazy, take shortcuts and lack enthusiasm for their career. They do very basic lesson planning and avoid any lesson that requires them to prep anything.
For most of these learners, they have never seen life outside the village so they have no concept of the opportunities that exist. And realistically, opportunity is minimal here. With an unemployment rate of over 50%, there are very few job openings.
After grade 12, there are very few options for students who want to continue education. They can go to University of Namibia or the Polytechnic College. While they may have the grades to get into either, both schools are in Windhoek and the expense is beyond what most rural families can afford.
Which all leads back to – why am I here? Yes, my school needs a senior math teacher and if I wasn’t here there would be 250 kids without math this year. This is what I need to focus on and not let the rest bother me. If I can communicate the importance of math to the learners and help them to experience some degree of success in the subject, than I have been successful myself.
I apologize for the discouraging tone of this post, but I promised to be true to my experience when writing. Of course, I anticipated that these types of feelings would pop up, and I am not surprised but I wanted to share them with all of you.