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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 7, May/June 2006

Sharing our skills in Southern Africa

by Don Reader

The teachers’ union in Namibia in Southern Africa has been an international partner of the BCTF for some 15 years. Since Namibia gained its independence from South Africa, BCTF training associates have worked with the largest teacher union, the Namibian National Teachers’ Union (NANTU). Sheila Pither and I have spent many months in Namibia over the last 12 years working with NANTU to develop and deliver training workshops, including spending a month in March and April of this year.

As we know from our own experience, ongoing training is necessary as new people become union activists and the environment for union action changes. Namibia faces the additional problem of losing many of its members and activists to HIV/AIDS.

On our most recent trip, as the plane swept in for a landing at Windhoek, we noticed something decidedly different from previous trips. This desert land of high savannas was green, not the usual sand and scrub trees. The rainy season usually lasts from December to February. However, this year it had started in December and was still going strong when we left in mid-April. While the land was now green and the desert in bloom, the unpaved roads were at worst impassable and bone shattering at best. The standing water meant a relentless struggle against mosquitoes.

However, these conditions did not stop us doing what we had planned when NANTU asked us to come and do more training with their teachers. Namibia was scarred by the apartheid system imposed on society and schools by the old regime in South Africa. A lot of our training over the last 12 years has been in leadership, especially with the black teachers, who suffered much under the colonial government.

On this trip, Sheila and I had been asked to do a week-long training with NANTU’s negotiating team. The Namibians are quick learners and react positively to the experiential learning model, so it is great to work with them. We also traveled to the outlying regions to do workshops with teachers who are union leaders in their schools.

Both the Vancouver Elementary and Vancouver Secondary BCTF locals donated funds that we were to use to support needy schools or causes that could use a helping hand. We were pleased to find that a couple of the schools we have helped in past years are now functioning well. But, we found other schools where the situation was heartbreaking. One school, for example, has about 40 children crammed into small rooms built of sheet metal with very little furniture and no resources. After one of our workshops, one teacher asked how he could be concerned about ethics and grievances when his classroom was under a tree and he was worried about survival.

When I look back over my years of involvement in Namibia, I see great progress overall in the public education system, but there is still much to be done, especially in the rural schools. I have made many fine friends in Namibia and value my experience there very much. I hope the BCTF will continue to foster the personal and professional relationship it has developed over the years with our Namibian colleagues.

Don Reader is a retired teacher and BCTF training associate.



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