Foreign students suffer as COVID-19 bites

By Tracy Tafirenyika

ABOUT 1 200 international students studying at Namibia’s universities are facing hardships such as food shortages, lack of data for e-learning, accommodation constraints, visa applications and inability to return home; problems induced by the national lockdown since the outbreak of Covid-19 in March.

Speaking to Confidente this week, students from various nationalities as well as student representative bodies at National University of Science and Technology (NUST), University of Namibia (Unam) and International University of Management (IUM) expressed deep concern on how Covid-19 had adversely affected them.

A Unam student from South Africa expressed her bitterness about the whole situation. “Unam may have provided for students on campus but there are multitudes of international students living off campus who are struggling to survive, without family close enough to assist, these conditions are now brewing grounds for illicit endeavours such as prostitution, drug trafficking and theft.

“Looking for jobs is already made difficult by the application parameters which only cater for Namibian citizens, so one can only imagine how easily a student may be exploited if afforded the opportunity.

“I really wish l could go home because this suffering is too much to handle, paying accommodation and doing online classes is very difficult indeed, “she said.

The stranded students highlighted the main reason why they are still stuck in Namibia was due to lack of financial means to travel amidst tough regulations and quarantine measures.

“Imagine going home during this time. Some of us need to pass through two border points and at each you get quarantined for 14 days. It will take 28 days before reaching home and that will require a lot of money for one to survive during that period and yet our parents are already suffering back home.

“Besides that our study permits are still pending and others haven’t applied, due to the fact that Home Affairs closed everything at stage one of the lockdown when there was still a week for the applications to be submitted,” said an aggrieved student who opted to remain anonymous.

A Nust student from Zimbabwe said she was surviving through help she was receiving from her church and also by cleaning houses.

“My parents back home do not have money to support me because they got retrenched. I have to make sure l fight for my survival.

“The university is not helping me and my fellow international students. We have taken our concerns to the management and they did not do anything. They do not care how we are coping or surviving during this situation.

“Some of my friends have become live-in maids, so they can get accommodation and food from their host families,” she elaborated.

Wayne Muwaningwa Unam SRC member said: “The University of Namibia has provided food hampers for students who remained in the Emona hostels as a means of relief and aid in this unprecedented time. This was conducted by the housing committee in collaboration with the Office of the Dean of Students to cater for the 88 students (mostly international) who could not find accommodation elsewhere. The university is currently conducting remedial face-to-face classes for students who were unable to access the e-learning platforms so that they are not left behind in this trying academic year.

“There is a window to resubmit assignments and ensure that no student is negatively affected by the transition to e-learning.

“The transition to e-learning was not smooth, as lecturers still had to work their way around using the platform and ensuring that all necessary resources and academic material are available for use. Some students missed tests, due to lack of internet connectivity, or the lack of technological devices through which to access e-learning.

Wilfred Kongolo, a student leader at Nust and representing DRC said another challenge was regarding online learning adding that the university system had been experiencing technical glitches.

Nust SRC member for external affairs, Patrick David said, “l have taken up all the challenges concerning with the Nust international students to management and l am still waiting for a response. We should also understand that we are in a situation where nobody can control anything but we have been looking for solutions to make sure that everything is resolved. The SRC board is trying its best to notify the students on the progress so far.”

SRC president of IUM, Lloyd Sikeba, shared the same sentiment saying that, the university had ensured that a few international students are accommodated at the facility and get the necessary assistance.