BATTLING THE ODDS AT DONKERBOS
(NAMPA FEATURES SERVICE)
By Charles Tjatindi
DONKERBOS, 07 APR (NAMPA) - A learner, exhausted after playing ?touch? with her friends runs to the only tap that provides water to the hostel of Donkerbos School. Bending slightly forward, she turns the tap open, with her left hand placed just beneath the opening of the tap to receive water.
As expected, the tap is dry. Disappointed, she slowly turns away and returns to her friends.
?There is no water again,? she announces to her friends, who all shake their heads and retire to the shade of a Camelthorn tree to rest.
Seated a bit further away from the learners is an institutional worker responsible for preparing food for the learners. Seeing the disappointment on their little faces, she slowly turns the other way as if to avoid the learners seeing her pain.
For many of these learners and hostel employees, having to deal with a limited supply of water for hours, or sometimes days, on end is nothing new.
As the school does not have its own borehole, it has had to share the only borehole for more than 100 kilometres with the community living around the school. In fact, the borehole belongs to the community who can decide who uses it and in what quantities.
Donkerbos is a tiny village in the Omaheke Region inhabited largely by the San. It is located some 260 kilometres from the regional capital of Gobabis in the Otjombinde Constituency.
The village is home to the primary school which accommodates learners from both Donkerbos and the hamlet of Sonneblom. Both are inhabited by San people, most of who moved here several decades before the establishment of the village to be near to their hunting activities.
Teachers here often joke that working at the school has sent them back to the 17th century, as no form of communication - other than word of mouth - exists at this village.
?We are a few decades away from when people used drums to communicate with each other,? a teacher quipped when Nampa visited the school.
Not only does the village fall out of the mobile telecommunication network range, but the school does not even have a fixed telephone line in its office to communicate with the outside world. Had it not been for their wristwatches, the teachers joke, their only method of telling time would have been the shadow-stick method.
As much as they joke about their situation, the reality on the ground is insurmountable for the staff and over 200 learners accommodated at the school.
To reach Donkerbos by road, one has to drive along a thin track formed by car tracks, which is characterised by the thick sand of the Kalahari. Even with a 4x4 vehicle, as this reporter encountered, it requires great skill and plenty of luck to reach the school without getting stuck in the sand.
It is this state of affairs which has rendered most staff at the Donkerbos School unable to travel out of the village - unless they are willing to endure the hardships that go with it.
?This road is about a mere 30 kilometres, but it takes more than an hour to drive along it due to its sandy condition and the fact that it is uneven in most places,? a teacher at the school commented.
The absence of electricity at the village means the school and its hostel is shrouded in darkness after sunset.
The situation at night is no easier than during the day. At Donkerbos, a learner with a new mattress becomes an instant hero as others scramble to share it. In the end, only one or two would be lucky to be sharing the new single bed mattress with the owner.
As most parents are unemployed and live on a hand-to-mouth basis, it is almost impossible for them to cater for their children?s hostel needs.
The hostel dormitories are two huge corrugated iron-sheet structures; one for boys and one for girls.
There are no beds in these ?dormitories? and learners are forced to brave the cold floors with their worn-out mattresses, with up to three learners often sharing one mattress. As there are also no cupboards to hang their clothes in, learners make use of some structures of the roof to hang their clothes from.
School principal Hedwig Kazarako who had just returned from Gobabis to seek help with the water crisis when this news agency visited the school, is a worried person.
?I have tried everything possible to bring relief to all here, but to no avail. Teachers and learners here feel isolated and forgotten. I don?t blame them; there is no way someone could live like this and be happy about it,? she noted.
Less than 10 metres from the school hostel is an open drain, filled to the brim with sewerage water. After several complaints and calls to have the drain cover restored fell on deaf ears, teachers opted to fence off the area around it to avoid children playing near it.
?A learner fell into the sewerage water once. Luckily teachers were nearby and assisted to get him out. We then decided to fence off the area around the drain to keep children away in order to avoid similar incidents,? Kazarako stated.
As the learners line up to receive their plates of food ? porridge with soup - one cannot help but admire their courage and determination to go ahead with their schooling despite the odds stacked against them.
One by one they enter the open corrugated iron sheet structure they use as a dining hall. Sitting on the ground, they first kneel down to say a prayer before eating.
The rest of the meal is enjoyed with happy chatter, with the occasional playing in-between.
As the sun sets on Donkerbos, the learners retire to their dormitories to prepare for bed. The camaraderie they have built amongst them is too obvious to be overlooked; the elder learners act as ?parents? for the young ones in the absence of the hostel matron or teachers.
Soon darkness will fill the air as night falls - leaving any plans for a brighter tomorrow for those calling Donkerbos home, to the next day.