Namibia: The challenge of providing education in flood relocation camps

Published: 20 May 2013 11:17 CET

By Rosemary Nalisa, Namibia Red Cross Society

It is just before one o’clock on a Friday afternoon and school has let out at a camp in the Lusese area of Namibia’s Caprivi region. At first glance, you might think it is a military base, due to the army green tents pitched in neat rows in the sandy, open space. But the desks and green chalkboards illustrating the day’s lessons suggest something different. These are classrooms in a camp for families left homeless due to flooding.

Amid the sea of blue and grey uniforms is 15 year old Chizabulyo Kawana, an eighth grade student who has been living in the camp for the past few weeks. An orphan, Chizabulyo is being looked after by his aunt. Together they share a tent with his two other aunts and four cousins. “Life in general is difficult in this camp as we have problems finding food to eat, especially fish or meat. I have to travel about ten kilometres every Friday to fish for the family,” says Chizabulyo.

When not providing for his family, the teenager does his best to ensure he maintains his studies, but it’s not always easy. “The situation here is better (than in the village) because it is not flooded,” he says. “But the tented classrooms can get very hot and we always fall asleep and lose concentration.”

Teacher Richard Mowa worries about studies being interrupted every time there is flooding. “Skipping classes is the order of the day among the kids, especially those whose parents remained behind,” says Mowa. “Others stayed with their parents and will have to repeat their grades next year as they will miss out on more than four months of schooling.”

Teachers also worry about hygiene in the camp and say some community members are using classrooms as toilets because they are scared to go into the nearby bushes at night. “We need sufficient and proper toilets in the camp otherwise we will be exposed to a possible outbreak of disease,” says fellow teacher Kisco Chika. “We are already seeing a lot of chest infections from all the dust we are breathing in. It is a major problem at the moment.”  

Namibia Red Cross volunteers have been striving to manage these risks by promoting hygiene and sanitation practices and distributing emergency relief items. They hand out water purification tablets, mosquito nets, soap and other basic necessities and, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, are constructing and rehabilitating new and existing latrines in the camps.

The relocated schools usually move back to the flood plains between July and August, depending on how fast the water recedes. For now though, the blue and grey uniforms of Chizabulyo and his fellow students will continue to fill the seats of the hot and crowded tented classrooms.