Learners and teachers at the Havana Project Secondary School in Windhoek braved unbearable heat and dust in summer, floods during rainy seasons, and terrible cold in winter in their military tents.
Education came first, comfort second.
Crammed into small dusty classrooms with only a thin layer of canvas to protect them from the elements, their eagerness to teach and to learn trumped all else.
New Era visited the school situated in the Havana informal settlement on the western outskirts of Windhoek. The Havana Project Secondary School was established in 2015 in response to a huge demand for school space in Windhoek.
For a few years, the learners were accommodated at the CJ Brandt Secondary School before moving to the Havana Primary School. In 2018, the school obtained a piece of land where they relocated to.
Having only started with 150 learners, the number expanded over the years, and now it is home to 685 learners and 28 staff members.
For four years, the school operated in military tents, a shipping container used as an office, and six temporary toilets.
“We had so many challenges operating in tents, and the lack of basic amenities and the conditions were not conducive to both our teachers and learners,” said principal, Simasiku Mweti.
Mweti said the academic performance of the school has also been low, which could be attributed to the less-than-ideal conditions.
“All seasons were unfavourable to us. When it got hot, learners could not cope or learn effectively and in winter, it became freezing cold that even when we closed the tents to keep learners warm, it became so dark that they could not see on the chalkboard. Rainy seasons were worse because the rain disrupted everything that we had to sometimes cancel lessons,” he said, adding that teaching and learning were often affected.
Mweti requested government to find other types of classrooms that could replace the tents.
“Having experienced these circumstances, I would say tents should not even be an option to be classrooms, even if it is temporary.”
He also recalls when they would find tents demolished and chalkboards destroyed by the wind or rain, and they had to resultantly cancel some periods to pitch tents again or relocate to dry spaces.
Speaking to New Era, grade 11 learner Julius David, who has been at the school since grade 8, said it was challenging to study or learn in a tent.
“Sometimes the weather was unpredictable, and the tent could fall on us. There was a time when we were being taught, and it started raining so hard. The tent fell on us, so we all had to run out,” he added.
Despite the vast challenges they had to endure, which also included a lack of teaching materials, Mweti said the learners are always eager to learn and the teachers are committed to their work.
“I know the condition was unstable, but they remained hopeful for the future,” he said candidly.
After seven years of being taught in tents, compromised sanitation and a lack of learning materials, learners at the Havana Project Secondary School finally saw their dreams realised.
Last year, the government built a modern school, which includes three blocks of classrooms, sports facilities comprising a football field, basketball court, tennis court, netball court, and an amphitheatre, a hall, administration block, library and laboratories.
The school cost N$87 million and contractors are in the final stages, with completion expected by September this year.
“We are so thankful to the government and also to the regional directorate for their support in making this dream come true. The school is almost complete and our learners have already moved into their newly build classrooms, although they are not entirely complete,” beamed Mweti.
He said learners are now studying in a comfortable environment that’s conducive to learning, and improving in their studies as a result.
“We now have everything we ever needed, and I am sure we will be able to improve the learners’ academic performances and also produce top athletes in the country because we also have the best sports field,” he enthused.
Belinda Garises, the deputy headgirl of the school, said the school sparks a renewed enthusiasm for learning among the learners.
“We are very excited and so proud to now be taught in a proper, beautiful school. We are looking forward to producing the best results by the end of the year,” she promised.