Running on empty: San kids in dire straits

07 December 2018 | Education

Cocoma Primary School, which accommodates about 200 learners from marginalised communities in the Kavango East Region, is desperately in need of help.

School principal Moses Ndumba says the school is in dire straits. There is a lack of classrooms and furniture, no electricity and barely any food to eat. He said only half the learners sit on chairs.

Ndumba shared how the learners, the majority of whom are from the San community, are battling each day.

The school is situated in the Ndiyona constituency, about 160 km from Rundu, and was established in the 1970s as a mobile unit.

It made use of temporary structures until 2015, when the government constructed permanent ones.

The school offers pre-primary education up to grade 4 and the 204 learners are being taught by three teachers, including the principal.

“The situation is so bad, because if you look at the backgrounds of these learners it is a challenge. Most of the children are from the San community, some are orphans and others are on medication. We are only three teachers who have to care for all these learners,” Ndumba said. The school also has a makeshift hostel that accommodates about 124 learners. The hostel was constructed by the community and consists of four huts.

This means that about 30 learners sleep in one hut, which is a bad situation, but there is no alternative.

“Learners used to walk more than 20 km a day to come to school before I initiated the community hostel. It is not what we think is best, but at least it is making a difference,” Ndumba explained.

If it was not for the hostel, fewer than 50 learners would be able to attend school, he said.

He said when he arrived at the school in 2008, only 24 learners turned up. Ndumba said because of the poor turnout, he had to go into the community to engage parents, most of whom work on commercial farms. He said some of the learners were picked up along the river and he decided to educate them. “I was concerned to observe so many children in the community, but only 24 were attending school; that is why I had to do what I did,” Ndumba said.

He said at the time only three out of the 24 learners were from the San community. However, this year 75% of the 204 learners are from that community.

He said the children now love school.

“Some of the children dropped out of school, not because they do not like it, but because of hunger. What can we do if we only have limited food per day?” Ndumba said. He said when it comes to the hostel, he and the two teachers have to spend their own money to feed the children.

“These children are eating from our pockets. They do not pay for hostel accommodation, as we know they are from marginalised communities and some of them are orphans.”

Ndumba said only sometimes during “out weekends”, the learners return with a few food items from their homes.

Asked whether they are part of government's school feeding programme, Ndumba said they only received food through the programme on two occasions.

He said the only support they get from the Kavango East education regional directorate is transport services, when the learners return home for school breaks.


Ndumba said the school needs two more classrooms, as well as a principal's office and electrification.

They also need proper hostel accommodation. Kavango East education director Fanuel Kapapero said his office is well aware of the situation at the school. Kapapero said they have offered assistance when they can. He called on the Office of the Vice-President to come on board, because it advocates for marginalised communities to be educated.

Ndumba wrote a letter to Vice-president Nangolo Mbumba on 14 October but has not yet received a response. Ndumba also shared that a Chinese school based at the Amitofo Care Centre in Okahandja has adopted four of his learners, who are receiving free education. Another group of ten learners will benefit next year.


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