Enter the ‘Situngus’

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Caprivi Rural Folk Build Hut Hostels for Learners By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Due to the scarcity of proper hostel facilities in the Caprivi Region, residents have come up with an innovative communal way of catering for school children’s needs. Through an initiative called the “home service system” community members have started building huts in villages where schools are located for learners to live in during the week. Although this arrangement is not a new phenomenon, it is said to have gone a long way in addressing the shortage of hostel facilities in the rural areas. It is in these small huts or “situngus”, as they are known in Silozi, that learners stay while they attend school. However, according to the Regional Poverty Profile of the Caprivi, while such a scenario is seen as a good effort on the part of the community and traditional leaders, supervision for these learners remains rather poor. “They are generally without supervision and have to cook for and look after themselves. Conditions for studying are poor and it is virtually an impossible environment within which to achieve good results,” states the latest document. On the other hand it is suggested that as a community-run initiative the home service system should be harnessed and the education policy be amended to cater for this kind of system. It was further recommended that until such time as funds are available for the construction of hostels, the home service system should prevail. Closely related to this system is the Education Ministry’s policy on community hostels. These provide informal accommodation for learners in rural areas, with resources coming from communities as well as donors. The main aim is to make sure that children who cannot easily access education due to long distances from school or poor home conditions have access to effective education and their physical and psychosocial needs are catered for in a community hostel. Although the Ministry of Education has received the lion’s share of the national budget, tight budgetary constraints make it a challenge for it to construct new hostels. By the looks of things government has no intention of building new hostels, as its main priority is to construct new classrooms in order to tackle the backlog. “Hostels cannot be sustained by government and there is no idea to build new hostels,” said Chief Inspector for Hostel Management Gerhard Enssle in an interview with New Era this week. He however commended the community of Caprivi on their home service system, provided that attention should also be placed on providing proper meals and a conducive learning environment. Since independence, government has been spending a lot of money on maintaining and renovating hostel facilities in the country. Enssle said presently there are just not enough funds to maintain these structures even though some are in a dilapidated state. While there may be a huge demand for hostels in the rural areas due to long distances, most hostels in the urban settlements have become under-utilised. “The numbers of hostel enrolment have dropped dramatically especially in bigger towns like Swakopmund, Keetmanshoop and Windhoek. This is even coupled with vandalism and in the capital alone three hostel blocks have been closed down,” explained Enssle. It is against this background that the ministry, under its Five Year Strategic Development Plan, wants to convert most of the underutilised hostel facilities into productive business centres. Most hostels in the Hardap Region have already undergone this transformation. Currently there are approximately 195 state hostels catering for 42 900 boarders and as for the private hostels there are 87 such facilities that accommodate 13 171 learners.