Edition 35 - August 2009

Learning through play

by Kristina Kempis

Hafeni Tsuseb calls the cellphone number of Sippora Kamati, to talk to her about the schedule for the following day. Sippora is the proprietor of one of about 20 kindergartens in Otjiwarongo and Hafeni is one of two employees from the Clay House Project who runs the so called educational trailer.
Sippora´s kindergarten, in the informal settlement of Orwetoveni where the poorest citizens live, was built by the Clay House Project. But Sippora is already busily making new sun dried clay bricks for another classroom, as she wants to extend her kindergarten with a second teacher to include more children.

In this informal area most of the people do not have proper sanitation and normally their “toilet” is the bush or a corner behind their tin shack. However, at Sippora´s kindergarten the children encounter three Otji-Toilets, the dry toilet invented and built by the Clay House Project. For most of these children it is the first time in their life that they use a real toilet, so hygiene education is an important part of Sipporas tasks.

The educational trailer contains  different toys and materials for the smallest of the small to play with, as well as lessons for many different topics. Tomorrow´s topic is “hygiene”. Sippora has already introduced “Soapie”, a comic figure who looks like a piece of soap, to her kindergarten group. Hafeni packs some stories in his big box, soaps in different shapes and fragrances, some toilet paper and a big poster with pictures of when to wash hands. He plans to let the little tykes colour some pictures with “Soapie” on it and afterwards show the children how to wash their hands, one by one. The task is to wash away the bad germs from their hands.
Hafeni uses only the English language when teaching. In Otjiwarongo there are more than five ethnic languages and at home most children learn only their mother tongue and come to the kindergarten without any English language skills. But English is a must in Namibia as it is the official language since independence almost 20 years ago. As the children come from different backgrounds and speak different languages, exposure to English is important for their futures. That is where Hafeni and his collegue Alexia come in. Together with the kindergarten teachers they introduce new topics in English.

Like almost every morning, this morning the Clay House Project also welcomes small visitors at its premises. A preschool wading pool and one supervisor await a kindergarten group with some 25 children. These children normally do not have the possibility to play freely with water and thus one morning can have fun splashing about in the water. Before they enter the water they take a shower, something which most have never experienced before. So, besides the fun they even get a wash at the CHP. Today a group from Beverly Mambas Kindergarten “Blessings” comes to play. The “Blessings” kindergarten is in an area without a water connection for each house and the people get their water from public water taps and the children from that kindergarten are not used to available running water, but at the CHP they are allowed to use the water for fun.

Beside these activities, the CHP is busy building a sports hall in the poor location so that the kindergarten children can have the possibility to improve their motor skills as well as watch children´s movies (in English!) in a small cinema.

One day later, Hafeni is back from his hygiene lesson at Sipporas kindergarten. This afternoon is one of two monthly workshops to which every teacher from the kindergartens in Otjiwarongo are invited. This afternoon about two thirds of them are sitting in the seminar centre of the CHP. Today´s topic is “Recycling”. Each teacher brings a plastic bag full of rubbish to use as playing material. The afternoon is full of laughter and creativity. At the end of the day the table is full of toilet paper roll dolls, cardboard windmills, bottle penholders. Everybody is looking forward to the next workshop in two weeks, a theoretical workshop about teaching methods.
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Peter Dunckley
South African, English, Afrikaans
Housing delivery services, project proposals, budgeting