Mangetti – Better Than No School [opinion]

Fifteen year-old Rauna Simpson stands still, staring into a closet in the hostel of the Mangetti Dune School at Tsumkwe where she is a Grade 3 pupil.

It is the last day of the school term and Rauna has to pack her belongings for the journey back home, which is about seven kilometres from the school.

Pulling out a piece of clothing, she immediately drops it into a white plastic bag. When asked why she chooses a plastic and not a duffel bag, which is sitting on the far corner of the bed, she says “that is not my mine. I use a plastic bag to carry my things,” and turns her face away.

While she packs away the rest of her belongings, two of her friends, who identify themselves as Jacqueline Alberto and Estella Sagaria, enter the room and help Rauna gather the rest of her items from the closet and place them on top of the bed.

A few minutes later, with all her items packed in plastic bags, Rauna is ready to go home. She has to either hitch-hike or walk if she is not lucky enough to get a lift.

Mangetti Dune School – a former military base school – enrols 363 pupils but its hostels could only accommodate 80 boys and 60 girls up until recently, when they made space for a total of 178 pupils.

Age and neglect are visible in and outside the buildings, especially at the hostels, which were built in the 1980s. The hostel buildings are in a dilapidated state. Most of the window panes are broken, while only a few of the toilets are still functioning. The showers, too, are not working. The ceilings are falling apart because of water leakage and the floors are smudged and dusty.

The school’s principal, Menesia Gomes, says part of the reason why the buildings are in such a bad state is overcrowding, since the school is forced to accommodate children from needy families in the area.

“The school cannot turn away children who are in dire need. That’s why we take in more than the required number of pupils in the hostels,” she says, adding that their problem is not the number of pupils, but the conditions of the buildings.

Gomes says both the girls and the boys’ hostels are “too small and need to be extended”.

“As principal, it is hard to accept the bad living conditions these children are experiencing. But truth be told, these hostels need to be renovated,” explains Gomes.

The school’s superintendent, Emmanuel Sitemo, argues that the shortage of beds also adds to the burden.

“A number of beds in both the girls and boys’ hostels is to blame since many of them are broken and need repair,” he says.

Sitemo explains that beds, which are still in good condition, are arranged in such a way that they accommodate at least four to 11 pupils in one room.

“In the girls’ hostel for example, you will find 11 of them sleeping in one room, while four boys are also forced to share two single beds that are put together to make one,” he explains.

According to Sitemo, the children will have to endure the current conditions until the school gets funds to repair the broken beds.

Fortunately, the school’s dining facilities and the kitchen were given a facelift by Heritage Caterers, who also donated new dining tables, chairs, and utensils.

The caterers also provide the school with some meals.

According to Gomes, their involvement came after the school had sent out various appeals to government to renovate the dining facilities.

“Before the renovations, our dining hall was just an open space. The children would sit on cold floors to eat their meals,” she explains.

Gomes further says it is very rare for organisations and companies like Heritage Caterers to “invest in marginalised and vulnerable communities” such as Mangetti.

“We are very humbled and honoured that they heard our appeal for help after various calls to the government,” she states.

Heritage Caterers’ help came after the Ministry of Education had called on all its contracted catering companies to carry out a survey on the state of the hostels, cooking and dining facilities in the areas they serve in 2012. The company embarked on the project that has cost them about N$720 000 soon after.

Chairperson of Heritage Caterers Meutumbala Shingenge-Haipinge says although the Ministry of Education took note of the survey contents, it did not have the necessary resources to maintain all the school’s facilities.

Shingenge-Haipinge will also install solar panels to replace the old diesel generator for power supply.

Gomes says the generator, which is unreliable and expensive to maintain, only supplies power to the school between 09h00 and 14h00, making it difficult for the school to send out emails or make urgent calls before and after.

“We believe that by relieving the pressure of power supply to the school, government resources will be freed to focus on other areas of need, thereby creating an even more conducive learning environment,” says Shingenge-Haipinge.

Source : The Namibian