By Catherine Sasman
Saved from near closure in 2000, the Roman Catholic St Patrick’s Primary School on the farmland Omamas serves as a lifeline to many children who might otherwise not be able to find placement in other schools.
Then, says school principal Hetta Claasen, the school started out with 40 children, all huddled in the corner of a classroom with their blankets and other belongings.
The school was started in 1955, but at one stage, there were not enough learners to sustain the project.
Today, the school has 172 learners enrolled, with 133 of them staying at the school hostel that was erected by former learners of the small farm school.
Many of these learners are orphans and vulnerable children who came from neighbouring areas, or children referred to the school from as far as northern villages in the country.
According to Claasen, the Ministry of Education subsidizes 100 learners. The rest of the costs are covered through philanthropic donors, such as the German-based Pro Namibian Children, that makes yearly contributions.
All learners pay N$100 per term for boarding. A further N$100 is required to go towards the school fund.
But, said Claasen, most parents still fail to pay any school fees.
“Many of these children arrive at the school without anything. For years, teachers have been collecting money at least to buy toiletries and other necessities for the children. We are not ordinary teachers. Teaching is our calling; we must make a difference,” said Claasen.
The school provides three meals to all children boarding at the hostel.
Because many of the children are vulnerable due to their disadvantaged backgrounds, the five teachers at the school exert strict discipline.
Dina Claasen, a teacher at the school, said children coming in for the first time usually have disciplinary and learning difficulties, but find the unswerving disciplinarian approach comforting and soon fall in line after two weeks.
“We teach the children in their totality; as much as we teach children how to read and write, we also teach them the necessary skills to be responsible citizens of this country,” said Claasen.
The school also boasts with the fact that it starts with a vigorous teaching and learning process from the first day of the year, unlike other schools that start with a 10-week readiness course.
The average pass rate of the school is 70 to 80 percent. Last year, the pass rate was 90 percent.
Children are given three meals per day, with teachers often having to stand in as cooks as well. Before Pro Namibian Children sponsored a modern kitchen for the school, teachers had to cook over huge pots over an open fire.
“There would be times when we took turns to oversee the cooking for the other to teach,” said Claasen.
As part of the holistic approach to teaching – and also because of a continuous squeeze for funding – children are expected to take ownership of chores around the school and hostel.
At six in the morning children are busy cleaning the schoolyard, the dormitories, and other amenities.
Children also learn how to plant vegetables and maintain the vegetable patch carrying carrots, onions, pumpkins and an assortment of others on the side of the school.
“There are so many things one should teach children,” said Claasen, who has served as the principal for the last 22 years.