Namibia: Hostels Health Hazards for Children

Most of the toilets at the Okaukuejo Combined School hostel and school grounds are out of order (file photo).

THE unpleasant smell of urine hits you as you enter the boys' hostel block at the Okaukuejo Combined School.

Inside the ablution block, a cleaner appears to be losing the battle to scrub the floors of the bathroom and toilet as the strong unpleasant smell persists, but entering the toilets makes the idea of having anosmia not a bad proposition.

It is evident that the cleaners and matrons are trying their best to maintain hygiene in the dilapidated bathrooms, but their task appears insurmountable.

Just across from the bathroom block are the dormitories. Walking in, one immediately sees the dirty and damaged beds, chipped walls and a floor with no tiles. Looking up, the roof has no ceiling boarding.

The Okaukuejo Combined School is situated at the Anderson Gate - the southern entrance to Namibia's world-renowned Etosha National Park, at Ombika, and takes children from Grade zero to Grade 10. This is just a few kilometres from a number of luxurious tourist attractions and internationally acclaimed holiday spots.

While it is evident that the school staff are trying their best to keep the school and hostel premises clean and decent, the infrastructure is in such a dilapidated state that it is almost unthinkable that human beings live there.

The school can accommodate 395 pupils a year and the hostel has a capacity of 226 boarders, although it currently houses 145 children.

The majority of the pupils (about 60%) are from the marginalised Hai//om community, but there are others from as faraway as the coastal town of Walvis Bay.

Head of department at the school Petrus Tjiveze, who was standing in for the principal when The Namibian visited the school last Thursday, said they recently constructed additional hostel blocks where the Grade 10 girls are housed.

Apart from the crumbling state of the hostels and school buildings, they also face a challenge of not having enough mattresses and beds.

Tjiveze, however, said the school recently bought new mattresses and that donations have helped in other areas.

"There are those who have helped us, and continue helping us. To them, we say a big thank you.

"Some pupils from other regions came here and went back because they refused to stay in such conditions," he stated.

Some of the school buildings were constructed just after independence, while others were built around 2007, and some hostel blocks in recent years.

Tjiveze said comparing the buildings constructed just after independence and the ones constructed in 2007, apart from several other factors such as maintenance, indicates that the quality of building craftsmanship also contributed significantly to the dilapidation of the school buildings.

"The buildings inaugurated in 1992 are in a better condition than those from 2007, which is 10 years ago. That tells you a lot about the quality of the buildings," he said.

Most of the basins and toilets in the ablution blocks are out of order and emit a stench.

He, nonetheless, praised the matrons and cleaning staff for doing their best to make the school and hostel just a little more decent for the pupils.

"We are trying. We are really trying, but this is what we are sitting with. This is the reality of how these children are living, and expected to learn," he stressed.

Tjiveze added that apart from the living conditions of pupils, there is an urgent need for teachers' accommodation.

"The teachers are currently sharing bachelor flats - two per flat. We need accommodation for our teachers," he said.

The Okaukuejo Combined School is not an isolated case.

Kunene regional education director Angeline Janse told The Namibian last Wednesday that the Outjo High School and the Opuwo Primary School hostels were forced to close by the health ministry, who deemed them a health risk for pupils.

Pictures of a dilapidated Frans Frederick school hostel at the Fransfontein settlement near Khorixas, also in Kunene region, caused a frenzy on social media as the public expressed dismay at the living conditions of the children.

The principal of the school, Naftalie Goraseb, told The Namibian on Wednesday that after a visit from the regional office and a promise to have the school renovated, he was positive that the conditions will have improved by the end of this year.

"They said with the available resources, they will address the matter," he said.

The hostel, with a capacity of 210 pupils, currently houses 180 boys and girls.

Although the pictures of the school only surfaced recently, Goraseb said the condition of the hostel is not unknown to government.

The principal joined the school almost three years ago, and said former staff members have indicated that letters about the condition of the school were written as far back as 2004. Although promises have been made to renovate the school, it never happens.

The community has since been involved with former pupils and parents of pupils at the school to start renovating the hostels.

Former pupil, Franco Claasen (35), was found painting one of the rooms at the boys' hostel block. Claasen's son is in Grade 5 at the school, and his daughter will be starting at the school soon.

"Our children are learners here, so we just have to help," he said while painting. The principal said while arrangements are being made to renovate the school, they are also working on teaching the pupils to take care of school property.

"We have here what you call the 'broken window syndrome'. The children see broken windows everywhere, so they feel it is okay or normal to break windows. That is something we are addressing," he said.

Despite the bad condition of the hostels, Goraseb said they continue to instil the importance of cleanliness among the pupils, which is the reason why the hostel blocks, although rundown, are still kept clean.

"When the issue came to our attention, I notified the deputy director, and they immediately went to visit the school and made recommendations," Janse said, adding that the education ministry was fully aware of the situation.

Pointing out that the budget for renovations was very tight and that it had to cater for renovation at all the hostels in the region, the director said Frans Frederick will be "treated as an emergency".

"We are working around the clock to deal with the matter. We do not want to embarrass our ministry, so with the little money we have, we are treating it as an emergency, and will renovate the hostels," Janse told The Namibian.

She added that they are faced with great challenges regarding hostel dwellings. They even at some point resorted to building shacks from corrugated zinc sheets, just to have accommodation facilities.

"It's tough, but we are doing the best we can," Janse said.

They are thus very happy to see that despite the many challenges, pupils in the region continued to do better every year.

Parents in the Fransfontein, Khorixas and Outjo areas agreed that although the children must be grateful that they have accommodation at the schools, they do not deserve to live in conditions such as those at Frans Frederick.

"When the results come out, our children's performances are compared with those who sleep on mattresses. They want our children to pass like those children at Otjiwarongo who sleep on mattresses, bath with hot water and watch television. Is that fair?" Frieda Garises asked rhetorically.

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