Monday, October 1, 2012

Week 6: Volunteering at an Orphanage, Challenging Old Perceptions

The main building where offices and the clinic are housed
Post by Evan Binder

Over the past few weeks, I, along with two other students here, have begun volunteering at a local orphanage. Now, prior to going, I admittedly held many preconceived stereotypes about what I expected an African orphanage to consist of. I expected there to be many forlorn children without proper resources for developing as people. I rationally knew that I was projecting my limited knowledge, if it could be called such, onto the experience I was expecting to have, yet for some reason I couldn't get that picture out of my head. However, once I got there, I soon realized how wrong my ill-conceived perceptions had been. The facilities, while they would not be mistaken for a five-star hotel anytime soon, are very nice and appear to be more than suitable for a happy upbringing.

The orphanage maintains a nice garden
where they get some of their food
What I was most surprised by and most pleased to see was the children’s attitudes. They are some of the happiest children that I have ever met. They just have so much liveliness and vitality to just play and be. And this appears to extend to all ages, not just the lower kids who are less aware of what they don’t have. Another aspect that I found interesting was all the children’s attitudes toward each other. They all watch out for each other so well, and embrace such a communal life, where the older children love to take care of the babies and they are reminding each other to take their antiretroviral drugs (if they are HIV positive, which about 35% of the children are). I can’t say for sure what their motivations are for being so protective and caring for each other, but I can say that they seem to cherish and thrive in this way of life. While they may not have the traditional, western-styled concept of family consisting of two parents and biological siblings, such does not mean that they lack a familial environment, as they are each other’s family.

The picnic tables where children like to relax and play games
Another aspect of our volunteering has been tutoring high schoolers for their Grade 10 Exams. Here in Namibia, all students must pass a comprehensive set of exams on about 10 different subjects in order to move on to grade 11. The students that we have been tutoring seem to be very motivated to do well. However, it appears that the nation’s education system is not set up to allow them to succeed. All students must pay for school fees in order to attend school, with the cost of school fees dependent on the quality of the school. Additionally, students must pay for their textbooks, notebooks, and uniforms. There are many study aids that the students can purchase. However, the orphanage understandably has limited funds, making them unable to purchase books outside of the basic textbook for each subject. Without the study aids, students are just expected to study their textbook. Since the orphanage has opened, not one student has passed the grade 10 exams. It is discouraging to see how hard work and motivation to succeed can only get you so far, as it seems to not be enough to pass the rigid national exams.

The resource room/library where preschool classes are sometimes held

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