Delayed School Days Of A Street Boy

17 Jun 2013 06:10
By Paulus Shiku

KOSIS, 17 JUN (NAMPA) - Government continuously rescues children in challenging situations such as those living on the streets and missing out on education because they are very poor, but most of the time, such assistance might not be enough.
Take Innocent Swartbooi, for example. He was found wandering the streets of Keetmanshoop at the age of nine in 2012, looking for food. He never attended kindergarten or primary school until earlier this year when he started Grade One at the age of 10.
His parents are both alive - his father, Efraim Goliath, 42, lives out of town, and he only relies on his unemployed mother. They sleep in a dwelling constructed with scrap pieces of cardboard, zinc and blankets.
These conditions, accompanied by a lack of food, forced Swartbooi onto the streets at the age of seven, begging passersby for money or food to fill his tummy.
His mother told Nampa in an interview during February this year that she never saw the need for her only child to attend school as she could not afford the school fees.
This news agency reported about Swartbooi then, and that article prompted the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare (MGECW) to place Swartbooi and 19 other boys and girls in similar situations in different schools in the Karas, Hardap and Khomas regions.
All of them were ?street children? who dropped out of school because of poverty, but mostly due to a lack of parental and guardian care.
What makes Swartbooi's case different from the other 19 'street children' is that they have ?proper? homes to go to during school holidays, while he does not have such.
The group?s school attendance now was made easier by the Ministry of Education, which introduced free education for primary school learners in the country this year.
Swartbooi, 10, now attends school at the Jan Samuel Herero Primary School in the Kosis village near Bethanie, and also lives in that school?s hostel.
Children of his age are now in Grade Four.
This reporter caught up with him at that school, and curious to see if he can write his full name by now, asked him to write it on a piece of paper. He managed to write his first name only.
?I want to be a teacher when I finish school. I do not want to go back to Keetmanshoop, but I want to see my mother,? he said when prompted to say what he wants to do in future.
His teacher, Maria Lambert, has the tough task of teaching Swartbooi from scratch.
?I just finished teaching him to write his name, but we will continue with the surname next week,? the teacher noted.
Acting child caretaker at the school, Christina Tjaheta, is very close to Swartbooi, and the boy regards her as his second mother. She took him to her house, and took good care of him during the May holiday this year.
Tjaheta says the fact that Swartbooi was brought to school is still not enough, as there is still no arrangement made for him to get proper care during school holidays.
?We find ourselves in a situation where he has nowhere to go, because he cannot stay in the hostel alone, and cannot go back to Keetmanshoop to live on the streets again. So, I took him to my house.
The social worker told us that there is no other option but for him to go back to Keetmanshoop, and to return when school resumes,? Tjaheta explained.
She thus wants to know if Government cannot help organise a guardian for the boy, adding that she is ready to take up that role, but will need financial support to provide for Swartbooi?s basic needs.
?I love Swartbooi. He is a good boy, he never misbehaves. I just feel sorry for him when the school closes again. I wonder where he will go,? she said sadly.
School principal Bernardus Patrick Siebert said Swartbooi?s case is rare due to the fact that he started school late, and has no proper home to go to during school holidays.
?This situation cuts the ties between him and his mother. The school is not allowed to cut family ties, but now we are in a difficult situation, and the MGECW must organise something so that he is able to see his mother,? Siebert said.
In response, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) in the MGECW, Rosa Nikanor acknowledged that an arrangement is needed for Swartbooi to have proper parental care and shelter when away from the school.
The PRO said her ministry plans to trace one of Swartbooi?s aunts to ask if she could take care of him during school holidays.
Nikanor further stated that should that arrangement fail, another will be made to place the boy in foster care for this year.
?Another possibility that the ministry might consider is to relocate Swartbooi to a children?s home in Windhoek, because Keetmanshoop does not have childcare facilities,? she added.
The PRO, however, stressed that none of these plans are in motion yet.
Approached for comment on Sunday, Swartbooi's father said he appreciates the efforts made to keep his son in school, and that he does not have any objection to the current situation.
Goliath was on a visit to Keetmanshoop when this reporter met him by chance.
He said Swartbooi's mother also left Keetmanshoop to go and stay in the Blouwes village, situated about 50 kilometres north-east of Keetmanshoop.
?They can take him and give him proper guidance and education, because we as parents failed to do that because of poverty. I will also inform his mother,? said the father, who wanted to know if his son is behaving well at school.