By Frederick Philander
The annual Namibian inter-cultural exchange programme among selected schools from all regions is indeed a positive educational activity that is steadily rooting itself among the local school community.
This is the collective view of three teachers involved in the UNESCO-financed project from the central, southern and northern part of the country. An international workshop to strengthen Namibian educational efforts to promote peace and tolerance among learners, is currently under way outside the capital.
“This programme is working like the proverbial bomb in our efforts to educate our children holistically,” said a proud Reggie Smith, principal of Suiderlig Secondary School at Keetmanshoop.
He has been with the programme right from the beginning and was part of a Namibian-Slovenia cultural exchange in the early years.
“That was an experience I will never forget – all those learners from schools across Europe gathered at the Slovenia exchange camp. I learned a lot then and came back enthusiastically implementing the many ideas I got from my European visit into our first learner camp in 2004,” Smith said reminiscently.
He initiated the first national camp to which 14 schools from all the country’s regions were invited to take part.
“We organized the first event under the theme ‘Reaching our common destiny’, which included a number of arts workshops all aimed at broadening the educational horizons of learners from all cultural backgrounds. I was astounded at the positive effects this camp had on the learners as well as the impact it had on the school environments. Even the respective communities from which the participating schools came underwent attitude changes one never expected,” Smith said.
Positive attitude changes towards each other by learners are of the many that had been a result of the cultural exchange camp that was held near Keetmanshoop.
“A tangible community awareness for the environment was also born and even the infrastructure at participating schools improved. These have been the positive spin-offs from the camp. Not only learners, but also teachers, who were initially skeptical underwent a change in attitude. Many saw these camps as a burden then, but after a few years they have positively responded,” he said.
Teachers are now more receptive towards the annual educational camps of which five have already been staged.
“The exciting part of the programme is that it even provides for teachers also to develop skills. The spirit is definitely very high among all teachers involved in the project. There exists a willingness that has exceeded all our expectations. Hence the fact that I wish to encourage all other Namibian schools to become part of the project,” said Erica van der Hoven a department head at Rehoboth Secondary School who last year organized a similar camp.
To Martha Hanghuwo of Omusheshe Combined School near Ongwediva the programme, which her school joined only last year, is a good event that needs support from the public as well as the private sector.
“Learners from my school joined the camp last year at Rehoboth and what an experience it was for the three learners and two teachers who attended the ten-day camp under the theme ‘Resilience’. It inspired the participants, who in turn inspired their respective communities in the north, even parents apathetic to education became involved. These are sure signs of the positive effect and influence the exchange camps have on all those who are involved,” Hanghuwo said.
Van der Hoven was of the opinion that the current promotion of the ideals of peace and tolerance should be broadened from school club level to all the learners at schools.
“Through a broader school base more community members can be reached through the educational programme and its activities. I would also like to see that this project be brought closer to the academic side of the curriculum in schools because there are so many similarities in content that cry out to be incorporated in the formal teaching system,” she said.
Smith has a lot of hope for the future of the exchange programme locally and between that of Slovenia.
“I am positive because the project was laid on a sound foundation. With this in mind I foresee a dramatic growth in the next few years. Teachers have now taken ownership of the project under the strong leadership of the national body, responsible for the raising of funding through UNESCO,” Smith said.