Windhoek — A group of Namibian high school children are preparing for a potentially life-changing two weeks at a special camp designed to raise their aspirations.
Around 40 learners from JA Nel Senior Secondary School in Keetmanshoop have been handpicked for the intensive 'UniCamp' organised by Wales's Cardiff University and the University of Namibia (Unam). They will devise and launch a national public health campaign towards the end of the camp using the skills and knowledge acquired.
Student 'ambassadors' from Cardiff and Unam will support and mentor learners at the UniCamp, which runs from Monday 21 August 2017 to Friday September 1 at the Unam Southern Campus in Keetmanshoop.
Workshops, activities, games and sports will be used to improve the self-esteem, communications skills and literacy of those taking part. Organisers hope that the experience will be transformative for the learners, with some progressing to university. The initiative is part of Cardiff University's Phoenix Project, a partnership with Unam to improve health and reduce poverty in Namibia.
JA Nel School head teacher Elizabeth Beukes said: "Our kids are coming from very poor backgrounds. Sometimes their self-esteem is not there - they don't know where they are heading to. It's our duty as a school to try to guide the learners into a direction where they know they are going to have a future".
"In regards to the Phoenix Project, I'm very excited. I believe immediately it's already boosted our kids because we're connected now to a project." She added that many of the learners live at the school's hostel because they are from the north of the country or rural areas many kilometres from Keetmanshoop.
Phoenix Project lead Professor Judith Hall said: "Elizabeth Beukes is an inspirational head teacher and, working with her, we hope to make a real difference to how these young people think about their future.
"We will boost their learning, we will give them confidence and we will give them life skills. It could be life-changing for some of them and that's very exciting for me."
The learners will participate in four main subject areas: healthcare, computer science, journalism & media, and business & entrepreneurship. They will work with the student ambassadors and be expected to launch a public heart health campaign for Namibia towards the end of the two weeks.
Pro Vice-Chancellor of Research, Innovation and Development at the University of Namibia Professor Kenneth Matengu said: "Anecdotal evidence suggests that non-communicable diseases including heart disease and problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes are increasing rapidly in Namibia.
"They cause disability, death and affect social and economic aspects of many Namibians. This initiative is meant to raise awareness to ensure that young people understand how to prevent them happening to the current and future generations.
"It's thus very pleasing to see students from the Universities of Namibia and Cardiff working together with learners from Keetmanshoop, and taking the initiative in health programmes for the country forward."
Deputy Minister of Health Hon Julieta Kavetuna said: "Heart disease will be a major public health issue for our country in the future. I am delighted to see the young people of Namibia, both students and learners, making a real contribution for the health of our nation by getting important preventative messages out there. Working together we can stop heart disease getting a grip on our nation and we can have a healthier future."
The UniCamp will be led by Cardiff University's head of widening participation and community outreach, Scott McKenzie, and will involve up to 10 students each from Cardiff and Unam.
Scott said: "We will use the overarching theme to deliver workshops and academic content. In addition to this, we will offer activities, games and sports to help develop the confidence, self-esteem, communication skills and literacy of the learners. We hope the programme might encourage some of the learners to progress to university."
The UniCamp will also be a valuable experience for the students from Cardiff University and Unam who are delivering the programme. The Phoenix Project is part of Cardiff University's Transforming Communities initiative to boost health, wealth and wellbeing in communities around Wales and further afield.