Johanna Shilongo* was part of the first 50 students that left for studies at the Loudima Institute for Technical and Vocational Training in Congo-Brazzaville in March last year. She was excited by the thought of returning home after three years with a qualification from a foreign country, but little did she and the other students know what lay ahead.
Shilongo and her roommate recently terminated their studies and are now back in the country. They talk about not attending classes at Loudima, of students not having textbooks or notebooks, an empty library and teachers without any syllabus. They also say the institute in Kitaka is not accredited.
Shilongo terminated her government-funded studies when she returned home with 23 other students this week, due to what they term the “unbearable academic and living conditions” there.
They shared stories of being served tasteless meals, of students suffering alleged witchcraft attacks and coming into close contact with large snakes on the premises.
A total of 100 Namibian students flew to Congo-Brazzaville last year, with the last group leaving in November to undergo three-year studies alongside students from that country.
Five teachers also arrived back home this week. New Era learned that a further 10 students are back in Namibia after they ended their courses earlier this year. Another group of students and teachers at Loudima desperately want to come home, but have been told by the government to wait, she said.
When the Namibian students first arrived at Loudima Institute they found that classes had already commenced.
A typical day at Loudima starts by the students being woken up by the sound of iron banging on metal railings at 05h30. By 06h00 they are expected to be in the open-air dining hall for breakfast, then attend classes as from 07h00. They would only have lunch at 16h00 and dinner would be served at 19h00.
“There are two television rooms, but it’s all in French, so we didn’t watch TV because we didn’t master the language. We remained in our rooms, but since the Congolese love sports, the boys would play soccer and girls often played handball outside,” Shilongo explained when asked what they usually did after supper.
“A day in the camp is frustrating and depressing. There is nothing to do… same suffering. We felt we were taken to Congo to suffer. Our government sacrificed a certain number of people to suffer, even if they don’t want to admit it.
“When our officials visited us, they didn’t even sleep in the camp, but in hotels, because they know how bad the conditions are there,” Shilongo remarked.
The school is situated in a jungle. The surrounding area is green and encircled by mountains and tall trees and it rains almost every day, she narrates, pointing out that the school is far from civilisation as the nearest town is more than 100 km away.
Drinking water they obtained from a village 25 km away and used a generator for electricity, but power was only available for a few hours a day. Bathing water is pumped from a river, which the students said is oily and dirty.
Shilongo recalls arriving in the town, Pointe-Noire. It’s dirty. The hotel rooms didn’t have water or electricity. She says the students were tolerant and tried to cope with the situation. When they arrived at the school the hostel and dining hall were also very dirty: “We tried to adapt to the situation. We couldn’t really complain because it was in the beginning.”
“We started with French courses, but we didn’t have French textbooks and after six months we were expected to be taught physical science, law and sport in French. Since the learners were first expected to attend basic French classes in the morning their classes began at 07h00 and ended at 09h00, a routine that went on for about four months until the end of June.
“But in between we had a two weeks holiday in April and sometimes the teachers would tell us ‘Tomorrow there are no classes, it is a holiday’.” By end of June the students went on a three-month holiday, which ended in September. This included visiting Ouèsso, a town close to neighbouring Cameroon.
Shilongo said there they met other young learners from that country who also came for holidays. Altogether they were 600 students in one place.
“The living conditions were terrible. From there most of the students became sick. We were taken there (Ouèsso) because the school didn’t have money and there was no food,” Shilongo said.
Namibian students then proceeded to Oyo district, where President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s was born. There the students stayed in a hall at the stadium, still accompanied by learners they met at Ouèsso. They continued with their excursion to the country’s capital, Brazzaville, for another two weeks before heading back to the school, where they spent another month on holiday.
“Most of us fell sick in Brazzaville. Most male students came back with chicken pox”, she recalled.
Classes didn’t resume in October as expected, because they did not have notebooks. Classes only restarted in November when teachers were told to teach just what they know, because they also didn’t have any syllabus or textbooks to work from. This situation lasted until December when the students went on holiday again.
Shilongo says thereafter they wrote several letters to the school management, but nothing fruitful came of it, causing the students to resort to peaceful protest.
A fight broke out between students and a Congolese police officer when the students tried to stop the police from arresting a Namibian official, who was accused of instigating the students to petition the institute’s management. Shilongo said after the shooting they were fed up and decided that enough is enough.
In that country they also had to pay for medication, but “When you are sick you are told there is no money to pay for medication,” she said.
The students further complained about the quality of food served. “The menu is not enjoyable. The fish has scales and blood in between. The tripe (matangara) has hair and sand in it and is cooked in beans,” said Shilongo.
She also recalls how Namibian and Congolese students stopped sharing rooms in April after a Namibian student allegedly started suffering psycho-spiritual attacks. She explains that the Namibian student had had a misunderstanding with a Congolese student over a chair, which they also used as a laundry line. That evening the Namibian girl could not sleep, as she was apparently suffocating in her sleep.
“Students started fainting, vomiting stones and hair. For instance, if my friend lost hair then I would vomit up the hair. We used to sleep in the chief matron’s house together, praying” and were afraid to eat, she said.
Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation spokesperson Helena Ujombala this week said the permanent secretary Alfred van Kent is still writing a press release regarding the Loudima issue: “Once he is done I will send it through.”
* Not her real name.