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Blue school in a desert

Written by Marnie Allen, Founding Head of Lüderitz Blue School

One January evening in 2022, after a dusty eight-hour drive from Windhoek, I arrived at the end of the road in Lüderitz – the distinctive Namibian town where the ocean meets the desert. My role here has been to work as part of a small team to establish and manage a not-for-profit school of international standard to run alongside the development of this unique town. A Blue School, one we envision to have a blue vision and focus on ocean education, embracing the unique environment of Lüderitz.


Two years after my arrival, I still remember my first days here and those feelings of anticipation, thrill, and nervous excitement that only new beginnings and challenges can bring. Our first weeks and months were spent in a forgotten classroom in the back of an old school building. The space had gone unused for many years and had received no mercy from the wild weather of Lüderitz. The ceiling was severely damaged, quite literally falling in, and salt crawled relentlessly up the walls, staining and eating away at the paintwork. Although this was a far cry from the brightly coloured Pinterest-worthy classrooms I, and our first three students were used to, we didn’t let the unusual surroundings put us off. We would sit in that room scattered with odd pieces of loaned furniture, crowded together on our four chairs around a squeaky table. There we began with our first lessons, and the Blue School story began.

To understand the reasons why we opened a school in Lüderitz, it is important to know the background of this small town. Namibia is often referred to as a ‘land of contrasts’ and this is certainly true of Lüderitz. This is the place where history meets the future, where nature meets technology, where the ocean meets the desert. Perched between the Atlantic Ocean and the ancient Namib desert, along one of the most inhospitable and dangerous coastlines in the world, Lüderitz is an exceptionally distinctive place. It is famous, or dare I say infamous, for its merciless wind that produces otherworldly noises as it forces itself through the nooks of every building. While this may be true, the streets are also clean and colourful, lined with buildings from the German colonial era casting an atmosphere of an out-of-place, sandy Bavarian village. The town is also very remote - accessible by only one road and located in the restricted Tsau//Khaeb National Park, in the area formerly known as the Sperrgebiet (forbidden zone) where diamonds are mined to this day.

Historically, Lüderitz has had a reputation for being a ‘boom and bust town’. At any one time, the town’s economy has typically been supported by one major industry, resulting in a deep lull on that industry’s departure. Despite this somewhat turbulent history, its residents, the ‘Buchters’, remain adaptable, resilient and innovative, and many believe that Lüderitz is entering a new era. With several blue and green projects of global significance either already starting or on the near horizon, there is a feeling of optimism spreading through the town.


With such significant development there has been a need for a high-quality school of international standard for families wishing to relocate their work, life, and leisure here. Before we opened our doors, many families chose either not to relocate to Lüderitz, or, if they did move here, their children would often be sent to boarding schools in places offering higher quality education. Lüderitz Blue School was opened, with the support of aquaculture company Kelp Blue, to aid the town in its development, offer world-class education, and act as a lighthouse for learning and opportunity in the south of Namibia.


Blue Schools – schools which engage their students and communities with marine-related topics to promote awareness, environmental stewardship, and a sense of responsibility to protect the ocean - are growing in numbers and popularity. Entities such as the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO have a strong focus on Ocean Literacy, as part of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). Blue Schools play a major role in delivering Ocean Education in both formal and informal education settings. It is believed by many that Blue Schools are the most realistic intervention to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water.


At Lüderitz Blue School, our blue vision and ocean education are embedded into our academics and extracurricular program, from the weekly Oceans Day club to the Benguela Robotics Lab – a coding and Robotics club with an ocean focus. Ocean life and love are key to our school ethos, and are very much incorporated into daily school life, with classes named after ocean animals, and school houses named after ancient ocean deities.


Opening a school with this vision in such a remote place has been thrilling and challenging, and many lessons have been learned along the way. As I look back, some seem trivial and light-hearted (such as missing the colour green) and some are more personal and profound, with various lessons on reflection, isolation, gratitude, and patience. At this exciting point in our journey, with two years of experience behind us and a strong vision for growth in the coming years, here are four lessons we have learned from opening a Blue School in a Desert.

Lesson 1: Challenges can fuel creativity and resourcefulness


The remote location of Lüderitz can be challenging for many reasons. In terms of setting up a school with a range of extracurricular clubs, it was not easy to come by specialised equipment and there was not much variety in what was available to our team.


For our academic curriculum provision, we were able to start with online content, and as we have grown, so have our resources and our library. When it came to our ocean-focussed extracurricular activities, setting up the Benguela Robotics Lab with limited resources was at first a daunting task. However, before we could source any technical equipment, the children were able to start their projects anyway, creating a range of robots from what was locally available. One of many memorable activities was building ‘brush-bots’ - mini robots made using googley eyes, a toothbrush head, and the repurposed insides of a toy helicopter.

Monitoring equipment and sensors are expensive to purchase, and to replace if they get damaged, so in the Benguela Lab we can teach children tinkering and robotics, harnessing attitudes in resourcefulness and problem-solving. They did not need specialised equipment to let their creativity flow, and we have seen a considerable jump in critical thinking among the students, which are skills they can carry into their future.


Lesson 2: Ocean Education is a holistic matter


At the Lüderitz Blue School, we incorporate ocean education throughout our curriculum, while also teaching Ocean Education and Culture as a standalone subject. This class is run differently from week to week. Some weeks the children learn about Marine Science, in others, about Ocean Arts. Some lessons are about Marine Cultural Heritage, some about Ocean History and some about Geography. These classes are complemented by a weekly Oceans Day, an experience-based weekly extracurricular activity, where the children visit different industry partners, meet ocean experts, and learn practical marine skills.


One student eloquently summarised our teaching aims, telling me, “the ocean is an inspiration and a passion, it’s important to learn about it because it makes up most of our planet”. Covering over 70% of our Earth’s surface, we believe the ocean deserves more attention in school curricula, and, as a new school, we are fortunate to be able to give it the ‘airtime’ we believe it deserves. Another one of our students explains, "learning about the ocean is important because it represents life in so many ways - choppy and stormy on the surface, but underneath it hides a forest of different species and forms of life”. Holistically teaching Ocean Education has been eye-opening, I have witnessed how different elements of the sea can appeal to different children. Some light up when learning about flora and fauna, some thrive when learning how to body-board in the cold Atlantic. Some children love the hands-on aspects like building rafts, and others thrive on teamwork through events like our annual Ocean Olympics. The ocean is broad and varied, and we have adapted our teaching to reflect its diverse and complex movements.


Lesson 3: Role models are important


Most people in Lüderitz never learned how to swim. Tragically, this results in drowning-related deaths every year. While we are working on a safe space to conduct swimming and sea safety lessons, we are still dedicated to showcasing the beauty and wonders of the ocean through other means. We want to teach our students that the ocean can be respected, understood, and admired, rather than feared.


Exposure to role models is one key to our school’s vision, allowing us to teach by example rather than by theory alone. Essentially, children cannot aspire to become like someone they have not met or learned about. While we foster a love and care for our surrounding environment, we also aim to show children the bigger picture: many small waves make up an expansive ocean, and the possibilities the ocean can offer are equally as vast.

Growing the school has also meant relying on the time and dedication of volunteers, both within the Lüderitz community and beyond. We have been fortunate enough to lean on the local community, including our contacts at Kelp Blue, to pass on their knowledge and enthusiasm of the marine world. The school also runs an ongoing ‘Ocean Lover Intern’ programme, where we welcome passionate interns from overseas to assist with our ocean activities. The children have met marine biologists, engineers, scientists, students, divers, marine-focussed factory staff, water sports stars, sailors, academics, and the list goes on. We are always excited to hear from dedicated, driven young people who are keen to share their skills and passions. The diverse array of ocean enthusiasts and local community members are role models for a future in a blue world.


Lesson 4: Positive mindsets win

Visualisation is a powerful tool for success. 24 months ago, we were on that squeaky table in that dilapidated classroom wondering how to start a school when the nearest bookshop is over 650km away. Despite various challenges, our vision and purpose have remained strong, and I have been fortunate to be surrounded by relentless optimists who only saw what that building could become, and the inspirational school it could turn into.


As time has passed, we have continued working hard together to build a beautiful school. As our enrolments and team are growing, the devotion to and knowledge of the ocean within our community is growing in unison with us.


As Founding Head of Lüderitz Blue School, in this unique and wonderful part of the world, I am optimistic that the children will reflect the passion and care that drove the foundation of their school. At a time when the future can feel like an uncertain and daunting place, we are proud to be educating the next generation of positive, responsible and caring leaders who will carry love and respect for the ocean in whatever path they take.



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