So what does it take to run a small NGO in Africa for over 13 years? Patience. Lots of patience.
This is the DRC (democratic resettlement community not THE DRC) School Project in Swakopmund, Namibia. The DRC is an informal settlement area which pretty much means people build their homes out of whatever they can. There is no power and water is collected through various water points on a pre-paid basis.
Namibia has one of the largest income inequalites in the world. The population of the DRC are amongs the poorest in Namibia. Many families are unemployed and have just arrived to the coastal town in search of work. Because of this there is often a lot of movement, population wise, in this area. Families come and go in search of work. Children are at times unsupervised as parents go to town centre in search of work or to work.
We started the centre back in 2004 after working on the film Flight of the Phoenix. We had been trying to get the centre of the ground since 2002 but had struggled with getting the funds together to actually build the centre. We had no money and very few sponsors but we somehow believed that if we could get the centre up we could make it work.
While working on the film we approached the producers to ask if they could donate part of the set to our small organisation. Fortunately for us they said yes and as soon as the film was finished shooting we moved the three “containers”, that would become our classrooms, out to the DRC. We spent months modifying and decorating the new centre before opening in June 2004.
We found someone to sponsor the salaries of our two staff members and so we began with registrations. The main objective of the project has always been to provide a safe place for the children not attending public schools. We had seen that most schools were full very quickly and many children were left out on the street with nowhere to go. So we quickly implemented a school bridging programme designed to get the kids off the street and back in to a learning environment. We then worked with both the parents and the local schools to try to get them a spot in school the following year.
We also found that many older children had never attended school. This then became a major hurdle for them. As this meant that many times a twelve-year-old would need to enroll in grade one for instance. Since our classes were quite small we would then work closely with these kids in order to get them up to the highest possible level. They would then be evaluated by the school and placed in a grade according to their ability.
In 2006 we were very fortunate to have Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt visit the centre. During this time Angelina Jolie was in Namibia waiting to give birth to her daughter Shiloh. Angelina and Brad visited the centre one day, impromptu, and Angelina returned later after contacting us, in order to film a short interview on education for NBC. I was also pregnant at the time and how our first children about two weeks apart at the local private hospital. She was also kind enough to donate to the project after she returned to the US. This obviously gave the project a large boost publicity wise.
Every day is a challenge at the DRC. We have kids that are hungry under dressed, ill. Everything is constantly in need of repair, from the centre itself to tables, chairs, computers. We struggle to get funding year in and year out. If there is one thing we have learned is how to stretch a dollar. The centre provides all learning materials for the children, we are the only place in the DRC with running water, toilets and electricity.
As much as this is all full of challenges, many more than we ever imagined and often more than we can cope with, we have now been there for over 13 years. We have seen our first group of six and seven-year old kids graduate from high school.
It has been a privilege to be part of it all.
This will be part of many more posts on the DRC. Will keep you updated.
a broad life©