This past week has been an unusual one. The school teachers of Namibia called an immediate strike for higher wages & the strike is now into its sixth day! Like most workers in this country, teacher’s wages are quite poor compared to many of their contemporaries around the world. The strike was sudden & comes only a few weeks before the students end of year exams.
The strike has had a profound effect upon the After School Program. Why would students come to the After School Program when the usual School Program is just not happening? Many of the students have gone into early holiday mode, which is unfortunate. Instead of the usual 100 young people turning up each afternoon, we have only been averaging around 20.
On one afternoon, I (Mike), set myself up in one of the classrooms with a stack of reading books scattered around adjoining chairs. I love to read & I thought that some of the children might like to come & read also. Surely this could fill in 15 to 20 minutes of what could be a long afternoon. Two & a half hours later I was exhausted & ready to call it quits. The usual volunteer / child ratio does not allow much individual tuition, however one of the advantages of the teachers’ strike has been some great one-on-one opportunities.
Slowly but surely one or two of the children (all girls from Grades 2 to 4) would come in, pick up a book, wander over next to me & ask if they could read it. The books came if all shapes & sizes. Many were large & colourful. Stories about fat cats, stories about going to school, stories about family life, stories from the Bible, stories from Dr Seuss & stories about animals. They would pick up the books, make a tentative start, gain in confidence & turn the page in excitement to see what was going to happen next. What joy it was to see their interest in reading & to find out that the scary white man from Australia was not all that scary at all. He would actually sit & listen as he heard the stories read (sometimes over & over & over again).
Some of the girls were good readers & some were not. Some of the Grade 2 girls were better readers than those in Grade 4. At the end of the day it didn’t matter. What did matter was that they were willing to have a go & practice reading in English out loud. On occasions they would get suck on a word & need a little prompting. A word here & a nudge there got them through to the next page. As one of the girls was nearing the end of her second or third book & beginning to get restless, another one or two would wander into the room & the whole process would start all over again. Can I read you a book Sir?
What a simple joy & privilege it was to sit & listen to Namibian girls read. I have been thinking about how different their lives will be in comparison to their Mothers & Grandmothers, many of whom may not have received an education at all due to poverty, living in a rural community or war. Whilst many of these girls live in difficult circumstances, thank God that they live in times of peace & have the opportunity to have an education.
The quantum leap over the past decade in regard to computers, cell phones & the internet will have a profound effect on how these girls grow up & take their place in Namibian society. Their Mothers & Grandmothers may have grown up on the farm in a society of order, respect & defined expectations. These girls however will grow up quite differently & have many opportunities their elders did not. Mind you, their expectations, dreams & goals will probably end up well below their counterparts in Australia because we live in a very unequal world.
Many of the students at the After School Program want to grow up to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses etc & by God’s grace let’s hope they do. Let’s pray that their love of reading story books will become a love of reading in general which will catapult them into University & beyond. Lets pray that in generations to come Namibia will no longer be a developing nation, but a developed nation with a good standard of living, low unemployment & sound wages.
On Wednesday we showed the DVD “The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe”. We had around 25 children & leaders watching the movie which none had seen before. They were amazed at what they were seeing & it held their attention for the full two hours. I think the leaders enjoyed it just as much as the kids! We explained the Christian undertones & they seemed to understand the analogy between Christ dying on the Cross & rising again, & what they saw happen to Aslan.
The week finished off with Bible devotion & chorus singing. No need for musical accompaniment in Africa! The children know the songs & they are always keen to sing (& sing & sing). The choruses “Here I am to Worship”, & “There’s no one like Jesus” are always popular. Uncertain how much longer the Teacher’s strike will go on for, however the smaller numbers do provide some unique opportunities.
Some of the budding readers!