My second week at Amitofo in Namibia starts with an award ceremony. The second trimester just finished, so it is a good moment. In each class 3 prizes will be distributed: for the best performance, for the best development and for the best behaviour. There are 3 classes, which means 9 prizes will be given. The pupils are not aware of anything this Monday morning. But it is clearly extraordinary that the director, Min Chen, is in the courtyard, talking there with Paul Frederik Damaseb, the school principal. The children are asked to come together in front of the stage which is located in the middle of the courtyard. Paul enters the stage and asks the children at the beginning to sing some songs. They are absolutely enthusiastic in following his request. Afterwards, Paul increases the tension of the children by starting to give little hints that a secret is waiting for them this morning. At the end he lets the cat out of the bag and all children start to beam. Some literally start jumping from one foot to the other, hoping that their name as well will be mentioned. The prizes are distributed. Not every hope is satisfied. But after a short moment of disappointment you can see the change in the children`s faces and that they start to share the delight of the happy ones. The director holds a little speech. The celebratory moment is over.
The Namibian school system disposes of the grades 1 – 12. For some years now the visit of school is free of charge. But because of the difficult financial situation it is currently considered to reinstall school fees. Visiting school is compulsory.
The Yuan Jue Private School, which is financed by Amitofo Care Centre, offers currently three classes: one pre-primary grade 0 with 23 children and two grade 1 classes with totally 31 children. The next school year will start in January 2018 and by then the first grade 2 class shall be offered. It is the explicit target of Min Chen to offer the complete Namibian curriculum in the school. All grades (０ – 12) shall be offered within the next years, thus offering the children the possibility of a continuous education in a safe environment with stable structures and known friends. An education which even exceeds the curriculum of public schools as the children benefit from an almost daily martial-arts- and Chinese-training as well as from an ethics- and meditation classes given by a Shifu (= respectful way to address a teacher). These lessons are not about religion but about the sharing of values and the learning of meditation as an art to achieve a balanced and focussed mind.
To offer all grades means a large extension of the school. It is planned to offer 500 places for pupils at the Yuan Jue Private School. Teachers as well as all the other staff – e.g. kitchen assistants or cleaning staff – needs to be increased accordingly. In consequence Amitofo Care Centre and Yuan Jue Private School will become increasing importance as employers of the region.
But for the time being these are still plans. Currently, there are fifty four 6-8 years old children, who have to be provided. So caregivers take care of them when they are not in school. Caregivers are young women originating from the different Namibian tribes. Each caregiver is looking after 8 children, doing homework with them, comforting them and sleeping directly next door to them. This measure shall make sure that it remains normal for the children to talk in their native language and to sing their own songs. It is not the target of Amitofo to disconnect the children, it is the target to teach them diversity. And their native culture is of course part of it.
Today`s interview is with school principal Paul Frederik Damaseb. He is 63 years old and is Namibian talking Damara.
Q: Paul, since when do you work for Yuan Jue Private School?
A: I have started to work here around June 2016.
Q: What is your educational background?
A: I was teacher for 37 years, also in the function of a principal. And for some years I was the mayor of Okahandja.
Q: The children are coming from difficult environments: What are the consequences?
A: First of all it is sad to see that not all children have similar chances. Some children are coming from a really poor environment and it is good to see that Amitofo brings at least some of them back into the system. Sometimes they show deficits in cooperation or in adjusting to the new environment. In these cases, it is of course helpful to have a long experience. It will support you in finding ways of solution. Sometimes we do extra classes in the afternoon to help the children to adjust, sometimes we ask other schools for help. Here, in Okahandja, there is a good exchange within the schools. Teachers from other schools are willing to come and support us in case of emergency.
Q: The curriculum is extended compared to the curriculum of Namibian public schools and offers for example classes in meditation: Do you see any effect on the children?
A: Yes, indeed. You can notice that the children become more focussed and that they calm down. The Kung-Fu-lessons provide them with a good physical fitness.
Q: Does it make a difference for you to work for a Buddhist organization?
A: No, not at all. For me it is a question of values and of the target. We all are working for the best of children and to reach this goal it does not make a difference if you work for a Buddhist or a Christian or whatever organization.