Wildlife

“We Are People with Hopes. We Are People with Dreams.”

In one of my first blog posts, I introduced Ketelelo, a young San man who received a government scholarship to attend pre-university classes at Maru-a-Pula, the top senior secondary school in Botswana.

Ketelelo grew up in New Xade and was raised by his grandmother. His parents died soon after his birth, and growing up alone made him more cognizant of his surroundings.

“When I walk through New Xade,” he told me, “I see a lot of hopeless faces. People who have been stripped of their land, their dignity, and their identity.”

In a previous post, I addressed the restless search for identity that characterizes many youth in New Xade. For Ketelelo, that search manifests itself in a quest for knowledge. From an early age, he realized he wanted to avoid the cloud of confusion that hangs over his people post relocation. The past of hunting and gathering was not his future, he decided, and education was an opportunity to reinvent himself and his people.

“We are not primitive,” He told me with a glimmer in his eyes. “We are people with hopes. We are people with dreams. If opportunities can be unveiled in front of us, we can take them.”

During a brief visit to New Xade, Ketelelo grabbed a binder from the corner of his room. He started pulling pages from the file, which I quickly realized were academic honors. He must have earned more than a dozen certificates throughout his academic career, many of them in math and science. He couldn’t help but smile as he stacked them neatly in a large pile on his bed.

Ketelelo stacking his certificates

Ketelelo hopes that others in New Xade will tap into education as a source of renewed dignity. He wants to see members of his community use academics to improve their lives: to solve food and housing shortages; to secure leadership positions; to avoid pitfalls that challenge many people in displaced indigenous communities, including alcohol and drug abuse.

But for many youth in New Xade, education isn’t as obvious a path forward. Most parents didn’t attend school and are often disinterested in their children’s studies. One friend told me how she needed glasses to study, but her parents refused to buy them, so she was forced to drop out of school. To make matters worse, San youth must battle cultural stigma from their teachers and classmates. With little structural support, many drop out well before they graduate.

Nevertheless, Ketelelo remains adamant. He was the first San to graduate top of his class at senior secondary school, and he is confident that he won’t be the last.

Daniel Koehler, of New York City, is one of five grantees selected from among 864 applicants for a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, which is the first of its kind. He will film a documentary on the San living near the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, focusing on the loss and change of their culture.
  • Deborah F Lustig

    Ketelelo is an amazing young man, who has had lots of support in his journey. He says that one key to his success was the library in his community, started by Peace Corps Volunteer Ed Pettitt with books donated by the African Library Project. If others want to support children in similar communities, the African Library Project is looking for volunteers to collect 1,000 books and $500 to start a library in Botswana. http://www.africanlibraryproject.org/book-drives/start-a-book-drive

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