WorldTeach Namibia volunteer Elizabeth profiles one of her young learners:
Meet Taausuverue, another one of my sweet grade 5 girls with a completely unpronounceable first name. I know her simply as Taa.
My first week at school, Taa showed up at the library and stood quietly beside my desk, smiling shyly at me every so often. I asked her how she was and what she did over the holiday, but she just gave me soft, one-word answers and then just stand there silently, watching me as I worked. Every day, though, she would come to the library and stand by my desk. I continued to ask her questions and, eventually, her answers became longer and more detailed.
Now, Taa is a complete chatterbox. She still comes to stand by my desk, but now it is to regale me with long stories about her grandfather’s lost cow, her uncle’s neighbor’s sister’s wedding, or her grandmother’s delicious fat cakes (“they are so easy to make, Miss! Even I can make them!”).
Like many of my learners (and Namibians in general, really), Taa gets her pronouns mixed, switching the genders for “he” and “she.” Often, she will be telling me a story about what I think is her grandfather, only to switch to using “she” halfway through, leaving me very confused.
“Wait – Taa, we are talking about your Grandpa, right?”
“Yes, miss, who else would we be talking about?!”
Who, indeed? We are working on getting those pronouns straightened out.
Taa is one of those girls where you can just see the potential pouring out of her. She isn’t a perfect student – she excels at English but really struggles with Math – but she puts her heart into everything she does and wants so badly to succeed.
Despite her unfailing hard work (and often extremely good grades), Taa craves affirmation. She will often come show me the good score she just got on an exam, or a picture she drew in her free time, simply to hear me say “good job” before she runs off again. This need, I think, stems in large part from the fact that Taa lives in the hostel.
As I mentioned in previous posts, about 150 learners (give or take) live in the informal hostel here. They live too far away from school to walk back and forth every day, so they live at school the majority of the year and only see their parents or caretakers on holidays and once a month on “out weekends.” 3 hostel matrons – 2 women and 1 man – look after these kids after school hours, and I have to say they do a pretty amazing job. They have dinner time, bath time, laundry time, bed time all down to a science. The kids have a good schedule and plenty of time to play. They take care of the kids when they are sick, hurt, crying, fighting. I have deep respect for these people who take it upon themselves to care for so many kids.
The truth is, though, that no matter how amazing the hostel workers are, no one person can give each kid the kind of personalized support and affection that a family member or primary caregiver could. I can only imagine how hard, and how lonely, it must be sometimes for these kids not to have a parent or loved one to turn to for praise, comfort, affirmation, and support.
Taa is just one kid among 150 who wants someone else to be excited that she did well on a test, to admire the beauty of the picture she drew, to tell her she is doing well.
“Miss,” she asked me one day, “why do you like me?” “What?” I said. I was startled by the question. “What do you mean?” She looked up at me, embarrassed, and repeated the question. “Why do you like me?”
“Because you are kind!” I said. “You are smart! You always help me in the library. You tell great stories. You are a very special girl – you know that right, Taa?”
She just smiled shyly and went back to reading her book.
– Elizabeth Skurdahl, WorldTeach Namibia 2014
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