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Educating the Himbas of Kaokoland

Mon, 18 March 2013 03:18
by Markus Munenge
Columns

The period from 6-10 August 2012 was the most profound period in my career as an educator, particular in my seven years of providing education to the people of Kunene Region.
I spent this whole period navigating the mountains and valleys of the great Kaokoland, visiting mobile units.
Kunene Region has the Ondao Mobile School. This school has its administrative office in Opuwo, with three principals and an HOD.
The school has more than 40 mobile units around Opuwo, Purros, Epupa and Ruacana areas providing education to the Himba children.
The principals and HOD all stay in Opuwo whilst the farthest unit is more than 120km away from the town.
The units are mobile in response to the nomadic lifestyle of the Himbas for they migrate from one place to the other in search of better grazing for their livestock.
And so the units follow them wherever they go. The units’ physical structures are predominantly tents (used as classrooms) and foldable chairs. Everything is portable.
There are more than 50 teachers employed to teach children in the mobile units, most of them are just ordinary Grade 10 and 12 school leavers.
They endure the hardship of staying miles and miles away from the beautiful township life and live to see the harshness of nature, every day.
These teachers would stay for two to three months without accessing Opuwo town, simply because of the rough terrains of roads on which cars hardly travel and the long distance to town.
In summer, mobility is almost impossible, due to flowing rivers. And so the units are left on their own. Inside a tent with no chairs, desks and tables, with lack of textbooks and stationary, quality teaching and learning is beyond reasonable doubt. Teachers are not professionally trained to teach and have little or no access to in-service training.
Children sit on logs and use a few tables to write on. The difficulties of the roads (a distance of 10 km would take you almost two hours to drive) makes it difficult for education staff to constantly supply teaching and learning materials (e.g. textbooks, exercise books, pencils, etc) or even visit the units for capacity building and support.
Under normal circumstances, it would take the principal or HOD two to three years to visit all the units. The tents accommodate multi-grade teaching in some instance (Grade 1 & 2 combined or Grade 3 & 4 combined) due to few learners. Parents who have more than three children would send them to school on a rotational basis for there has to be at least one child remaining to look after livestock.
Where teachers have a problem with the arrangements of sending kids on a rotational basis, parents would threaten to remove all their children from school until a consensus is reached.  
When the pasture for animal is poor, they move in search for better pasture, and the units have to follow them, making sure that children are not denied access to education, a fundamental human right.

Does the education of a Himba really matter?  History has it on record that during the 19th Century, we had some arrogant so-called scientists and scholars who propagated that Blacks and Jews were the lowest form of human species on earth.
They labeled Jews as creatures with nothing but long ugly noses and Blacks as having big ugly lips hence they were described as stupid and barbaric.
Some scholars argued that if there was a need to educate a creature whom heaven has intended for a hoe and livestock ownership. Some scholars spent their life time justifying how relevant it was to a black child to look after livestock for he has no place in a contemporary world with knowledge and skills that education has to offer.
I cannot argue on the affirmative for I am conscious of the fact that history has proven all these bigots, arrogant scientists and short-sighted scholars wrong. Through education, blacks, whites, Jews and all people of colour are the masters of their own destiny today.
As a matter of fact, there are many Himbas that have graduated from the mobile and conventional schools who are now playing a significant role in this country.
Every person should be encouraged to go to school and learn. The challenges faced by the Ondao Mobile School in Kunene can be defeated.
There is a need to engage education officers in Kunene through the Ondao Mobile School indabas so as to delineate and find practical ways that would enhance not only access to education for the Himbas but with quality education as well. Economic and social progress dictates that Himbas will inevitably, as it is the case now, live harmoniously and habitually interact with all other people of the world. The 21st Century dictates co-existence and the Namibian nation will, in unison, move towards realizing vision 2030 as a people with a common destiny.
Himbas are normal human being just like any of us. On the basis of this premises, history will judge humanity very harsh if we don’t do much to educate a Himba child.
Till next time, I rest my case.