When loneliness knows you by name

Sunday February 17 2019

 

By Jamilah Khaji

Parents who have had their children in boarding school know how it feels the first time you send your child there.

There is this sort of strange and mixed feelings that you get. It feels so empty when you are used to having someone in the house who will always tease you, make you mad or sad and all of a sudden they are not around and you don’t know what they are doing in a new place.

Mary Kweka, 45, a resident of Dar es Salaam shares that it was not easy for her when her children went to boarding school for the first time.

“I was very used to being welcomed home after work by the voices of my children. We would do homework together, after which they would tell me about their day at school and everything they had done the whole day,” she says.

And all of a sudden, her first born was supposed to go to Form One at a boarding school. Her second born too, who had entered class seven was required to be a boarder at her school.

Only Mary, her husband and their house help were left at home. Mary says that the house felt empty and boring without the children. She no longer wanted to come home after work as it seemed there was nothing to come home for.

“I was worried because it was their first time in boarding school. At least my son was older and could do things on his own. He could protect himself if neededbut I felt my daughter was too young to be away on her own,” says Mary.

What worried Mary more was the fact that her daughter is very selective when it comes to food, friends... She wasn’t sure her daughter was going to cope with the new life without her parents. Was she going to be alright? Was she going to make new friends? What would happen if children bullied her? Mary wondered.

“My daughter was only 11 and it felt so bad letting her go to boarding school. We could only visit them on visiting days and not just any day you felt like visiting,” she says.

The good thing however, is that Mary could talk to her daughter on the school matron’s phone. She got heart broken every time she spoke to her daughter for she would always want to know when her mother would be visiting .

Irene Makanja shares a similar story. Her son was 10 years old when he went to boarding school. Irene says it was hard for her because her son was very young. He had to go to boarding school in order to get enough time to study with his colleagues.

Like Mary, Irene worried whether her son would be okay away from home. She had no idea the kind of life he was going to live. She was worried about the food, hygiene, the type of friends he was going to make and the new behaviours he might adopt.

“I felt so lonely in the beginning. On one hand I thought boarding school was good for him and on the other, I wondered whether I had done the right thing letting him go at that age,” says the mother of three.

Children need to be independent

While it took Irene a very long time to cope, her son, on the contrary, was excited to be in boarding school. This even reflected in his performance the following term, which improved amazingly. Irene relaxed a bit because she realised her son was comfortable at school and that he had good company.

Irene says what worries parents is the uncertainty whether their children would cope given that they had always been under the constant watch of their parents. It’s the new life, new people and unfamiliar surroundings that worry parents the most, she says.

While parents like Irene and Mary feel uncomfortable when their children go to boarding school, there are parent to whom it is not a big deal.

Anderson Andrew for example. The father of two wonders why parents have to worry. After all, sending a child to boarding school is a parent’s choice, he reasons.

“There is no need to worry because you have the choice whether to take them to boarding school or not. Getting worried is a sign that you are not confident that your child is old enough to face challenges on their own.”

He advises parents to take children to boarding school only when they think they (parents) are ready emotionally to let their children start a life without them. He personally took his children to boarding school when they entered form one because at that age, he believes they are mature enough to be on their own.

“Parents should accept the fact that children need to be independent and stand on their own feet at some point.”

Life away from home

Rahim Shabani, a Form Six student at Minaki high school says being in boarding school has given him the opportunity to socialise with students from different backgrounds.

“Mingling and sharing ideas with others is such a good experience. But waking up early and doing things on your own makes it a bit challenging. It was very difficult for me to cope with the timetable in the beginning, the food and the environment but with time, I got used to it and now I find it interesting. I love being in boarding school,” says Rahim.

When he joined the school last year, Rahim thought it was going to be tough for him. At least, he had people his age with whom he could share ideas unlike at home where his siblings are much younger.

Rahim has established a good relationship with both teachers and fellow students. His performance in class has improved a lot since he spends most of his time studying or doing group discussions.

For Jasmin Robert, a form one student at Edmund Rice Secondary School, boarding school has given her the family she never had. Being an only child made her feel lonely. She regards fellow students as her brothers and sisters.

“Being a businesswomam, my mother spends most of her time travelling and when she is at home, we rarely get enough time to catch up. Since I joined boarding school, I have made many friends who I consider as family,” says Jasmin.

Boarding school has also taught her to be more organised than ever before. She also can do many things on her own.

“Being in boarding school has helped me experience life outside home. It has helped me be independent. I also have enough time to concentrate on studies. At times I miss my mother but I have to study,” she says.

Baraka Bihuru, a teacher at Sengerema High School in Mwanza says new students get a lot of challenges when they come to boarding school for the first time. The teacher says this is caused by the fact that at school, students are supposed to do everything by themselves. This becomes a challenge to those who never used to help with housechores back home.

Dosi Said, a psychologist says stress is inevitable for parents who take their children to boarding school for the first time. The psychologists offers advice on how to cope. He says being positive about it is one way parents can cope.

“A parent should be positive about their children being away from them. It is said that you are the product of what you think and wish for, so you should always be positive,” says Dosi.

The expert argues that parents need to understand that their children will one day grow up and start their own life away from home. Understanding this will help parents cope easily.

Another way of controlling stress is by talking to a teacher who is in the same school so as to get feedback of how your child is doing. A parent can also pay a visit if the school allows that or talk to their child on phone to find out how they are doing, Dosi adds.

“Relaxation treatment is another coping mechanism. This can be achieved through exercise, meditation, listening to music and praying,” says the psychologist.

To avoid the stress, parents should only send their children to boarding school when they are old enough. The ideal time is when they join secondary school.

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