By Jana-Mari Smith – Main photograph: A group effort: From left Elfriede Gaeses, Moses Khumbu (WIMSA), Ambassador to Finland Anne Saloranta and Elsarien Katiti with the newly launched pamphlet.
Namibia’s rich cultural diversity is one of the hallmarks that defines the country and education plays a key role in achieving harmony and respect between different cultures.
Namibia’s San community however remains a marginalised cultural group and according to passionate San advocate and role model Elsarien Katiti, the time has come for the San community to “market ourselves”.
She said many San still face discrimination and judgement, and that this cultural intolerance stems from a lack of knowledge and understanding of the rich cultural identity that marks her community.
One of the many uphill battles faced by Namibia’s diverse San community, is inclusive education – a critical stepping stone for integration into mainstream society.
Katiti delivered her message at the launch this week of the Namibian San Council pamphlet on “Inclusive Education for San Children in Namibia” which is aimed at creating awareness on the importance of fast-tracking and prioritising full inclusive education for all Namibian children, and especially the children of the San community.
Katiti said that education is “one of the core values and pillars of development” and said this was especially relevant to the enlistment and integration of the San community into mainstream Namibia.
She noted that the drive to lobby and promote for inclusive education for all San children requires a critical look at the stumbling blocks that prevent equal educational rights for the San.
Katiti emphasised that cultural diversity is a Namibian character trait that “makes us special … It is what makes us different, but also what unites us”. But the groundwork for mutual tolerance between cultures starts at school – the platform where children usually meet members from society as a whole for the first time.
She noted that school is where youngsters first “learn about their peers and can be taught to respect cultural diversity” and that it is here where a country can first begin to “foster a culture of respect and belonging”.
She said school offers an ideal opportunity for San children to learn to “adapt and be mainstreamed into society” and this key lesson can only be achieved by fostering “a safe environment” where children feel unhampered by judgement.
Education should focus on “the right to play”, an essential teaching tool which can be applied to help mobilise a shift in some views within the San community that education is a critical opportunity instead of a temporary, unpleasant sojourn into a judgmental, unwelcoming society.
Katiti raised the issue of responsibility that lies within the individuals, the family unit and the larger communities to teach children about “self love and self worth”, so that children learn to feel passionate about promoting their own culture knowing that it is “okay to be different”. She added that teaching cultural identity and tolerance “needs to start at home … this makes it harder for society to condemn each other”.
The pamphlet launched yesterday was developed in cooperation between the Namibia San Council with the assistance of the Embassy of Finland and the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA).
The pamphlet illustrates that that there is “much unfinished business”when it comes to the educational goals of Namibia’s government – particularly when it comes to marginalised communities.
Achieving equal and fair educational rights for San children will have far-reaching benefits for everyone, Elfriede Gases from the Namibia San Council said. “If the educational outcomes for the San children are improved, it can lead significantly to the reduction of poverty and raising the quality of life – within the San communities in Namibia”.
Ambassador Anne Saloranta acknowledged the challenges faced by the San community in Namibia and said she endorses the “message that more has to be done”.
The Finnish embassy support of the San council pamphlet was undertaken as part of a project called “Access to inclusive Education”, and Saloranta said their support towards the promotion of education for indigenous children in Namibia and the Namibia San Council ultimately revolves around the goal of contributing towards “bridging the gap between policy and practice”.
She said that “education is something everyone should have equal rights and access to. Education is a powerful tool by which economically and socially marginalised adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and participate as citizens”.
Saloranta noted that “due to cultural and language barriers, the San children can face a higher risk of dropping out of school, which makes them more vulnerable to social exclusion later on”.
She placed emphasis on the fact that everyone carries responsibility to ensure equal access to education, including community members who have to “understand the importance of education so that the children have the needed support form the community to continue attending lessons”.