11/4/11

Why Volunteer?

The reasons people choose to volunteer with WorldTeach certainly vary person to person, but as one Namibia volunteer found out, they also vary over time. This volunteer's initial reasons for joining WorldTeach shifted and boiled down to one very specific reason to persevere during her term of service.


Many people volunteer overseas with very idealistic notions of the impact they will have, and the change they will effect in their volunteer communities. I have to admit, when I volunteered in Kenya for 3 months after junior year of college, I went with pretty grandeur notions of my (meek and feeble) volunteer efforts in my Maasai community. While I now scoff at people who volunteer overseas and have these exact same thought processes, (WHAT kind of long term effect do you think you’re going to have by playing with children in an orphanage for 2 weeks?), I think it was important for me to have those idealistic notions, and then subsequently to have them squashed after my three months in Kenya. I say that because this past experience has allowed me to come to Namibia with much more realistic expectations and goals.

People have asked why I came to Namibia to teach English for a year (especially with a music and psychology degree, and no intentions on making teaching my career?) The long, boring answer has to do with my desire to work in the field of International Development, and how I believe education, especially from an early age is the key to a country’s development and growth. If you were to ask me that same question now, the short answer is: I came for Klaudia.


Klaudia is a truly remarkable learner in my grade 6 English class. While she does not get the highest marks in my class (she is currently 8th out of her class) I have never seen a learner work as hard as she does. She is so eager to learn, always asks questions, volunteers answers, and always tries her hardest. Ask any teacher, I’m sure they would prefer this type of learner over the smarty pants kid who gets the tops marks, but who doesn’t apply themselves fully because they KNOW they’re that smart. On their August English exam, I had a written a passage about Nelson Mandela, and subsequent comprehension questions. A few days after the exam, Klaudia came to me in the library and asked me if she could borrow the Nelson Mandela children’s biography we have. I happily lent it to her, ecstatic that a learner was showing a personal interest in something outside of the classroom, and wanted to learn more simply out of curiosity and an interest in learning. (This does not happen here. At least not that I have witnessed). She returned the next day, telling me how much she loved the book, then asked if we were having “The Long Walk to Freedom”, Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, written while he was imprisoned on Robben Island. Unfortunately, I told her we did not, but I later e-mailed my parents who were in Cape Town at the time, and had them pick up a copy for her. Ever since then, Klaudia and I have become closer and closer, she even hung out with my family lots while they were here and I still had to be at school.

I knew Klaudia was living with her Aunt, but I never quite knew the circumstances. As it turns out, her mother did not want her, and moved to Windhoek, the capital with Klaudia’s younger sibling, leaving her with her Aunt in Eenhana. At her Aunt’s, she is a real live Cinderella. She is forced to do everything for her aunt and cousins; cooking, cleaning, and only then does she have time for her homework. Her Aunt beats her, calls her names, and sends her to school without food. (I’ve told Klaudia that she can always come to me if her Aunt does not give her food- I live right on school grounds, so it’s a simple solution). Most recently, her aunt has decided she does not want Klaudia living with her anymore, which leaves Klaudia with very few options. Her mother, who is unemployed, lives in a slum and cannot support her. Her grandmother lives in a small village far in the bush, and besides the 8 other younger children living with the grandmother than Klaudia would have to look after because she would be the oldest, the quality of education she would receive there in the village would be detrimental to someone as bright as Klaudia. The Peace Corps volunteer in town and I are currently working on what we see to be the best solution- to have her transfer to a school with hostels for upper primary. Normally, only senior secondary schools offer hostels for their learners, but in Windhoek there are hostel schools for upper primary learners, which would work out perfect as she could be close to her mother, whom she misses a lot. If we can arrange a transfer, the only issue left is money, and the peace corps volunteer and I are hoping we can somehow work out to split the cost for the rest of her schooling- school fees, hostel fees, books and uniforms.

It is purely circumstance that Klaudia was born here in Namibia into a difficult family situation; she could have just as easily been born in Canada, where she would have every opportunity to excel. Klaudia is an outstanding human being; creative, smart, and resilient, and I’m going to do my best to make sure she gets the opportunities she deserves. So when people ask me why I came to Namibia to teach, it’s for people like Klaudia. If I can continue to help her improve her English, nurture her love of reading, challenge her intellectually and have her think critically about the books she reads, and most importantly help change her current living situation, then this whole year has been worth it. Like I said, I came to Namibia with very realistic expectations; I didn’t expect to better the lives of a school full of learners `by teaching English and Art, so for now I’ll settle for just the one learner.


Interested in reaching even just one learner? Click here to find out more about WorldTeach in Namibia!

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