Ohangwena Looks at Its Prospects

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By William J. Mbangula Helao Nafidi The Women Action for Development (WAD) recently created a historic platform for many residents of Ohangwena Region, one of the most under-developed regions in Namibia. The gathering created the opportunity for residents to meet their political, traditional, spiritual, community and business leaders in order to interact and exchange views on cultural and development issues. Many people have lauded the occasion as informative and educative because it created a rare opportunity to exchange views on many development issues. As a result of the staging of the event, those in attendance had the opportunity to share valuable information and concerns about their daily lives in terms of socio-economic development. Mainly sponsored by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, with Old Mutual as a co-sponsor and some logistical assistance from Helao Nafidi Town Council, the event known in the WAD calendar as a field day was historic in the sense that it was the first time for such a gathering in Ohangwena region. Apart from the First Lady Penexupifo Pohamba who opened the event and presented certificates to men and women who attended courses in various business management skills and HIV/AIDS care, there were other speakers who spoke on the socio-economic and educational development. These were the Governor of Ohangwena, the Director of Education and Acting Health Director. Besides, there was a speech on HIV/AIDS, illegal shebeens, self-reliance and community empowerment delivered by WAD Director, Veronica de Klerk. Cultural performances were part of the proceedings of interacting. One of the touching statements was made by the Governor of Ohangwena, Usko Nghaamwa, who described his region as one of the poorest of the 13 regions in the country. But he was quick to point out that Ohangwena has a great deal of potential for business development because of its proximity to the huge Angolan market. Nghaamwa said this when he spoke on the overall development situation of his region. “The fact that it is the main gateway to neighbouring Angola is a comparative advantage which presents it with an opportunity for growth. The Northern Railway Extension destined for Oshikango will no doubt have a significantly positive impact on development, ” said the governor. In terms of the 2001 population census 12, 5% of the Namibian population of 1,8 million live in Ohangwena region, which translates to about 21,3 persons per square kilometre, considered to be the highest population density so far in the country. The average household size in the region is 6,3 persons, this being the highest in the country after the Kavango region with 6,5 persons. The Ohangwena population rate growth is estimated at 2,6%, making it one of the poorest in the country. Besides, the region has the second-highest poverty index and second-lowest human development index. Speaking on the status of education in the region, Education Director Josia Udjombala told the gathering that Ohangwena Region was established as a Directorate of Education in March 2003. Before this arrangement, the region was part of the then Ondangwa East Education Directorate which comprised Ohangwena and Oshikoto Regions. Since the date of its inception, our region has seen tremendous growth and development. For example, today we are proud to indicate that in the span of three years, our number of schools has increased from 216 in 2003 to 232; our learner enrolments have also grown from 75ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 in 2003 to 87ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 450; the number of adult literacy centres has also increased from 289 in 2003 to 419. Such growth has boosted the adult literacy to 87%. According to Udjombala, of the 232 posts of school principals, only 212 are currently filled. About 88 posts that are filled – which is 41,5% – are occupied by female principals which, he claimed, is showing that the region is doing well in terms of gender balancing. The performance rates of the region at junior secondary, said Udjombala, has improved remarkably from 36% in 2003 to 38% in 2004, and eventually to 43% in 2005. This year his office has targeted 50% as the achievement rate. Despite what Udjombala described as remarkable growth and development, his directorate is not without challenges which, among others, he stated as: Firstly, some communities are not so enthusiastic in sending their children to school or who allow their children to drop out of school in the “middle of nowhere.” Some of the children who are not attending school include those with special needs such as children with disabilities, girls who drop out because of early marriages or teenage pregnancies, and children who drop out due to poverty in families. In addressing such problems, the Education Directorate had gone on a crusade of encouraging parents and other community members to send and keep their children in school for as long as it is necessary. The second challenge is the threat of HIV/AIDS which is causing the loss of both teachers and learners at “an alarming rate”. The numbers of orphans left by parents who died from the pandemic are increasing every single day. Udjombala complained that the pandemic is undoing the investment made in education for many years. As a mitigating effort, his office has established, at both regional and school levels, committees and clubs whose functions are to educate and inform teachers and learners about the dangers of the pandemic. The third challenge is the region’s constant failure to attract and keep well-qualified teachers, especially those trained at senior secondary education. In an attempt to address the situation, the Directorate of Education has established what is known as Ohangwena Education and Training Fund, through which students are sent to Unam to qualify as teachers. This year, the fund managed to send three. Upon completion of their studies, such teachers are required to teach at schools within the region for a period of not less than five years. The fourth challenge is the insufficient funding of educational programmes and activities. The national financial resources and budgets, according to Udjombala, have been failing to keep pace and to match up with the school enrolment rates, so much so that his office has accumulated backlogs in the supply of study materials, furniture and physical facilities. “In the face of such challenges, I am encouraged by the positive attitude and commitment of our people in this region. We see challenges as opportunities and believe, very strongly, that success in our schools cannot be predicated on wealth of commodity, but the commitment of all of us education officials, parents and learners,” said Udjombala who is still running education from Ondangwa in Oshana Region due to lack of operational facilities at the regional capital of Ohangwena at Eenhana. He is of the opinion that education is the only road out of poverty; it is the best weapon against racism, the best correlate to good health and vital to the continued growth of the economy and prosperity. “As an education region, our commitment towards the attainment of the Ministry’s stated broader goals of access, quality, equality, relevant lifelong learning and democracy remain focused and unshakeable. We shall continue to intensify our activities and resolve to attain the set broad policy objectives on a continuous and purposeful basis.” On the health front, the challenges could be much bigger, given the fact that the region, with a population density of 257ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 137, has only three hospitals, two health centres, 26 clinics, two voluntary counselling and testing centres, and two social workers. Speaking at the same event, Acting Director of Health Elobby Amundaba told the gathering that some of the challenges facing his office are the high prevalence of HIV/Aids at 18%, teenage pregnancies of 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 558 cases last year, poor sanitation, inadequate safe water, remoteness of the health centres, clinics and hospitals, poor road infrastructure and communication network. The region has a population ratio per nurse of 2ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 239, and doctors a ratio of 20ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 762. On average, each clinic serves an area of 392 kilometres. “At the moment we have only a meagre 12 doctors and an insufficient number of nurses of all types,” said Amundaba.