International Education Week Spotlight: Increasing Communication in the Community

“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.”- Rollo May

Hannah, a WorldTeach Namibia volunteer, understood the importance of communication within her community of Ogongo, so she gathered some hard-working, curious students and started a community newspaper to disseminate information in her small, rural village. Here she shares her journey of working with locals to give them a voice in the community at large.

I must admit, during the past few years I have thought to myself more than once that newspapers are on their way out. With Internet access available nearly everywhere in the 1st world and rolling like wildfire through the 3rd world, the need for hard copies of information has almost become obsolete. Who needs to wait for the paperboy when you’ve got Google and CNN at your fingertips? As a volunteer teacher in a rural village school in northern Namibia, I have stumbled upon a rare population that still relies mostly on radio and newspaper for their news and entertainment. Weather forecasts, school closures, political party meetings, as well as lost ID’s and birth certificate announcements are all found in many of Namibia’s daily newspapers. I am a product of the Western world, but since my Internet access is limited, I have grown accustomed to purchasing a newspaper as often as possible to stay connected with the community and world at large. I also really like the idea of a newspaper, though it is somewhat difficult to silence the “go green” side of me. 

As part of my responsibility as a volunteer, I run the school library. I decided to dedicate a bulletin board within the library to current events as a way to integrate news and reading. The first Monday I cut out and put up news stories, I had kids practically running to the library to read them and ask me if I had any extra newspaper. I had no idea that newspapers would be such a hot item. After a few weeks of posting stories, one of my learners said, “Miss, why are there never any stories about Ogongo? (the village where I teach)” I had to think about this one. Obviously there are countless villages in Namibia that cannot be mentioned by name in a National newspaper. That’s when it hit me: why don’t we make an Ogongo Combined School newspaper where we can talk about local learners and local residents? A couple of days later, I put up a description of a tentative “Newspaper Club” with a sign-up sheet for those that were interested. I had over 50 people write their names.

At the first meeting of the Ogongo Combined School Newspaper Club, I explained that this paper was to represent their town, their families, and their stories. We brainstormed potential sections of the paper and what learners and adults would like to read about. Almost immediately, I had newly appointed “reporters” excited to go home and interview friends and neighbors about issues/celebrations/histories concerning their lives. Each reporter checked in with me during the next week to edit and fine - tune his or her unique stories. I mostly assembled the first addition with the help of two learners who had volunteered to be editors. The whole group had voted on a name for the paper, The Ogongo Star, as well as how the sections should be ordered. I merely had to show my editors how to use my blank layout to insert the information into the proper sections. When the day finally came to sell our first edition, the school was buzzing. Learners and teachers alike were flagging down newspaper club members to get their copy. Obviously, I was thrilled to see all of the excitement, but was even more thrilled with the news I received the following day. Apparently, many learners had taken the newspaper home to their friends and family who wanted copies of their own. They also had ideas for stories and were requesting more stories in their native language, Oshiwambo. This community support and involvement in the newspaper sent my school project in a new direction. As a group, we decided to involve the community as much as possible in our next edition and include more stories in the native tongue.

The next issue was a great success. Reporters went into the “field” (typically their homesteads and those of their neighbors) and wrote extremely thoughtful, relevant, and interesting articles about their community. When the next issue “went to press”, I allowed many learners to take extra issues on loan to go and sell within their villages and communities. Some learners even took copies to our Educational Regional Office where our Inspector of Schools bought a fresh copy. Not only were the learners of Ogongo Combined School proving that they were clever, aspiring writers; they were also supporting elders, mothers, farmers, and siblings to tell their stories that might otherwise go untold.

The Ogongo Combined School Newspaper Club has reached outside of the gates of the school and has involved a community in creating a written history of everything from everyday life on a traditional homestead to the catastrophic consequences of the annual floods. Though these stories may not be in The Namibian or the New Era (two National newspapers), they will continue to be thoughtfully published in the Ogongo Star.

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