In 1994, government announced plans to ensure that no child in Botswana is forced to walk more than five kilometres to get to school.
However, 25 years later and for many learners from Boro farms outside Maun, getting to and from school remains a daunting task.
Children from this small settlement – some as young as six – are forced to endure a daily 36km round trip on foot to pursue an education. Their lengthy, energy-sapping route takes them through thick, wildlife-infested bush.
“We live in fear. We are only relieved when you see your child walk back home from school. This is a wildlife area, elephants, rhinos and sometimes lions roam in this forest! But what can we do, the children have to go to school,” demands 29-year-old Keitshephile Kagiso, whose seven-year-old daughter conquers the bush every day to get to her Standard 1 class in Maun’s Matapana Primary School.
Another mother, Kgangetsho Sedisa, 40, shared the same concern over her three boys, aged 14, 10 and 6, who all study at Matapana as well.
Despite his age, her eldest son, 14-year-old Anthony, is still doing Standard 2.
“Besides that I was too poor to pay the P45 development fee, I delayed taking him to school partly because of the long distance. I had to wait until he was a bit older. His younger brother (Mothusi, 10) is in Standard 4. This is because he was staying with my relatives in Maun,” Sedisa explains.
She however has registered her youngest son, 6-year-old Abraham for Standard one and she has to watch him limp back from school every day due to painfully tired feet.
“He cries everyday along the way because he will be tired. He gets hungry and thirsty as well. Sometimes I carry him on my back and Mothusi carries all the three school bags,” pipes in Anthony.
Sometimes elephants block their way and learners have to skip school if the wildlife rangers are not around to help.
One such incident, according to the area councillor, Kenson Kgaga of Boro/Senonnori ward, occurred a week back.
“The children were rescued by wildlife rangers who managed to drive the elephants away. You should remember that six weeks ago a tourist was killed by elephants in the same area. The children are not safe at all!”
Out of desperation, the youngsters often jump into any vehicle that happens to pass by.
At one point the council considered providing donkey carts as an alternative mode of transport, but Kgaga said the idea was trashed because of safety reasons.
But what then is the solution?
Councillor Kgaga suggests that a satellite school can be put up, or free transport be provided for the children by the council.
“Two-teacher classrooms can be provided both in Boro 1 and 2. Canvas or straws can be used to do that,” he added.
It is a idea Council Chairperson, Duncan Enga is quick to back.
“There are many children in this District who are facing the same predicament. They are exposed to danger. Lions roam this area, buffaloes, elephants and the like. We tried addressing that by building satellite schools in these areas, some of which have been donated. But for the ministry to place a teacher there, first we have to ensure that such a teacher has accommodation, clean drinking water and ablution, plus electricity,” Enga explained.
“It is disheartening to see young children walking in the bush under unfavourable weather conditions, just for education. They get up early, arrive late in class and are too tired to concentrate. Then an MP comes to the council and tells you that they are not a priority but a road is!” exclaimed Enga, muttering darkly.