WINDHOEK, 20 JUNE – When dance the troupe from Ombetja Yehinga Organisation (OYO) portrayed the hardships of teenage pregnancy during a performance in the capital last night, the audience was awash with teary-eyed faces responding to the emotional depths and the reality of what is on the ground.
In 2017 alone across 13 regions in Namibia, some 13 200 school pupils left school, and out of those, 1 952 were pregnant. The San community, one of the most marginalised groups in Southern Africa, are also included in that figure.
Relating to the causes and effects of teenage pregnancies among the San community, Ambassador of Finland Pirkko-Liisa Kyostila, said that teenage pregnancy was one of MANY catalysts that have constantly blighted the future for San youth.
“The San children and youth seem to face a host of obstacles on their way to a better future. In particular, access to education for San children is difficult. However, there are a lot of cultural aspects that cannot be easily tackled. For instance, cultural bullying, teenage pregnancies and even child marriage are some of the deeper-rooted problems that are resulting in high drop-out rates among the San children,” she said.
The morally distasteful – yet in some parts traditional – practice of child marriage is rife in Southern Africa, which led to the establishment of the SADC Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting Children Already in Marriage, in 2016.
Kyostila said that the role of communities and families should not be disregarded, and she illustrated the need for community empowerment that would trickle down to the youth as well as learners.
“OYO is working in cooperation with local schools and teachers to empower the communities and more importantly, the learners themselves, to tackle social problems. In the end, these (social problems) are the issues that lead to children dropping out of school,” she added.
One statistic she pointed out was that of the 67% of the San that are enrolled in school, only 1% complete secondary school.
The Embassy of Finland has been supporting OYO implement the “San Matter” project.
Founder and Director of OYO, Philippe Talavera said the first phase of the San Matter Project began toward the end of 2016 up to the end of 2017, heralding the beginning of the current second phase.
He said the aim was to engage teachers from different schools and implement different programs that could assist in eliminating socio-cultural bullying; a factor synonymous with the increase in the number of drop outs.
“There is a lot of cultural bullying that we have heard of by both learners and teachers. And this leads the children to drop out because they don’t feel secure, appreciated, or simply that they don’t fit in,” he said.
Talavera said in certain instances, a lot of pressure is placed on San girls, because the moment they reached puberty and began menstruating, they were expected to get married by their parents or community.
“We cannot change the family or community pressure, so we encourage them (the youth) to come up with productive solutions. Last year alone we worked with 28 girls who had dropped out in the Otjozundjupa region, and as we speak, 27 are now re-enrolled; a 96% success rate,” he said to applause.
This year, the Project has decided to set higher targets, working with some 120 girls and hopefully increase the impact in various communities.
Members of the OYO dance troupe performing at the Goethe Institute in Windhoek last night
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture, Sanet Steenkamp reacting to the performance of the dance troupe, said “This is an illustration of what goes on in life. We all know someone in our family, in our classroom, in our community that has gone through such an ordeal at a young and vulnerable age. Here we are 28 years later, after research and various governments changing, yet the stories and the depth of the pain remain the same.”
“We must leave no child behind in Africa’s development. We are aware of the plight of the San community. Poverty levels can be traced back to decades of neglection, hence there need to be concerted efforts to change the livelihood of the San,” she said.
According to Ambassador Kyostila, the Project has engaged youth and children through dance, drama and discussions, where children participate and share issues they have faced in their lives and communities.
“The participatory method has been very successful. OYO is working with 10 schools and has already reached more than 9 000 learners! The OYO Project works especially toward Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4: ensuring inclusive education for all. In today’s changing world, we have to come together to think about how to make sure that everyone is given the opportunity to move on. No one is to be left behind. it is our responsibility as adults and community members to safeguard the rights to education of each child.”
A 2017 United Nations report indicated more than 46,000 Namibia teenagers fell pregnant in 2013, which loosely calculated to about 127 girls impregnated every day. A 2016 United Nations report indicated that since 2011, there were 5 400 child marriages in Namibia.