In the heart of the Okavango sub district, just after Sepopa, lies a small settlement known as Kajaja. Until recently, not much was known about this settlement with scattered homesteads, squeezed in between Sepopa and Nxamasere, just in the environs of Shakawe. The houses, mostly huts, are made of neatly hand knitted reed obtained from the ever flowing Okavango River. Residents there are mostly Hambukushu, even though there are Bakgalagadi here and there. The two tribes are said to have originated from Sepopa, some 15 kilometres away, but later moved to Kajaja, where they used to plough their fields.
On my recent visit to the settlement, I made a brief stopover at the local primary school, and it was there that I made a discovery that I can comfortably say is one of a kind. The school, I am told, is a tripartite arrangement between the Ministry of Education and Skills Development (MOESD), the North West District Council (NWDC) and combined efforts of the people of Kajaja. Initially I had gone there to cover the handing over of a health post by President Ian Khama, but the exceptionality of the school is what caught my eye. Kajaja primary, which started operating in 2014, is a success story of a school built without a budget, a school with a difference built by parents with their bare hands so as to shape a better future for their children. It has a student population of 70.
It is built from reed, which on its own automatically makes it unique. Reed buildings or classrooms as it is the case here, are unheard of in Botswana, but it appears more of them will be seen in the Okavango particularly, because of the vastness of the area, which makes it vulnerable, considering the limited or non-availability of resources. The Director of the North West Regional Education Office, Acronews Maseko, is determined to take the region to greater heights by bringing education closer to where it is needed, funds permitting or not.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Maseko gives an account of how the school was built. He says those were tough times. Because parents were not comfortable with their children having to walk long distances to and from school, Maseko says they ended up building reed structures at some place in between the settlements where their children stayed in groups, regardless of age and gender so as to be nearer. But that did not solve the problem, because there was no parental care. The younger ones were left in the care of their older siblings and they would either flee or trek back to their parents in areas infested with dangerous wild animals.
The Kajaja School, the director tells me, is built on the premises which used to house the Out of School Education and Training (OSET), former Non-Formal education. He says the premises had an abandoned structure, which the regional office has since put up. The NWDC assisted with renovations, roofing and the installation of a ceiling. There is also a porta cabin office for the school head, a reed kitchen with a stamping shed, houses made of prefabricated structure for the four teachers at the school, whilst the Drosky lodge in Shakawe donated recreation equipment for children to play. As for the two classes and kitchen, Maseko said the council made foundations only while parents donated the reed. The roofing and windows were contributed by the regional education office. All in all, he says they spent less than P100 000.
Although the school runs classes from standard one to standard four only, Maseko says they have designated a new plot for a new larger school, a two classroom block to be precise. He says the intention is that as the current school expands.
“As you may see, this is not a struggling school. It is in-fact a school that is far above the rest. We deliberately deployed the best crop of teachers here so that this school may produce better men and women. I also commend parents in this village, because their voluntary contribution has assisted us a lot. They fetched the reed and never demanded any payment because they knew they were doing this for the betterment of the education of their own children.
As if that were not enough, Maseko said they also have numerous satellite schools in Shaikarawe (a settlement for Remote Area Dwellers), Eretsha, Mokgacha, all of which are also settlements in the Okavango sub district. My mind pauses a little as I try to picture and make sense of what a satellite school might look like. But Maseko explains in too technical terms that I can only imagine if such things exist and why. He is however quick to point out that the region found it appropriate to establish such schools, which are managed by larger schools within their locality, after there had been numerous complaints that children spend more travelling than learning, thus also exposing them to danger and other social ills.
For example, Shaikarawe satellite school is managed by Mohembo primary school, Eretsha is managed by Beetsha primary while Mokgacha is managed by Seronga Primary school. According to Maseko the three schools have standard one classes only as well as one teacher each, and they follow a schedule just like any other teachers in normal schools. Only Shaikarawe has an extra pre-school class, and older children from there attend at Nxauxau, a RADS boarding primary school. As children grow a little older after they would have completed standard one, it’s then that they may be absorbed into normal primary schools for continuation. He further explains that these are low budget schools, which rely on building materials from the NWDC, the regional education office and kind individuals.
“They are subsets of main schools. They are very small, and so they are managed by larger schools nearer to them. This is so because we want children to also have tutelage of their parents as they are still very young. These types of schools have brought excitement not only to the pupils, but to their parents as well”, he says.
I personally saw this as a welcome development, and one can only wish that other districts may come to benchmark, so that the lack of funds to establish schools where government fails can never be a barrier.