“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
That is a question that many people meet in their first year of schooling. And the answers from the eager young’uns - milk still on their noses and still wet behind the ears – are what to be expected from untested, hopeful people who have not yet seen how horrible and beautiful the world can be.
They will answer the teacher in that Year One class: “I want to be a pilot!” says the son of the man who dreams of owning a scotch-drawing cart.
“I want to be a manager!” says the daughter of the woman who has seen her own mother and grandmother slave away as a casual labourer.
“I want to be a doctor,” says the nephew of the aunt who never had the luxury of being treated by a conventionally trained health professional who could tell her that the pain in her joints had an arthritic cause.
“I want to be an engineer!” exclaims the niece of the uncle whose back gave him sleepless nights after decades of hewing wood and drawing water for an underpaying landowner.
Children dream and reach out for what older and supposedly wiser minds believes is the impossible. It is their nature. It is the nature of untainted humanity to reach for the stars.
But before reaching for the stars, there is an educational process that is critical to the achievement of the dream.
And that sometimes painful, sometimes expensive as a the proverbial pound of flesh educational process leads that innocent, untried young’un to the point where he or she has to contend with the challenge of getting admitted into an institution of higher learning.
Getting admitted into an institution of higher learning, more particularly the ones often referred to as “ivy league”, is not a walk in the park.
In the case of a young’un in a certain bit of land located in southwest African, it means getting into the University of Namibia (UNAM), or the Namibia University of Science Technology (NUST), or any one of those vaunted institutions.
It is at this point that the reality starts dawning that being an academic scholar requires commitment and dedication that requires more gusto than simply being able to tell the Year One teacher that you want to be a doctor or an engineer.
That first step into in the UNAM lecture theatre is a giant leap from kindergarten. And daunting as it may be, or exhilarating as it feels, this is not the time to cower at the challenge or to relax and think that you have arrived.
And the challenge has just got that little bigger because of some infinitesimally small microbe called novel coronavirus that we now all know can be the difference between life and death.
So where is this story going? What does this have to do with that question you were asked in Year One and where you are now?
Well, for the varsity or college student who thought that the only hurdle they were facing after years of reaching the dream is to pass that final exam, the reality is that life has just thrown another curve ball in your path.
Academic studies have been disrupted by a totally unforeseen challenge called COVID-19.
There is great uncertainty because of this pandemic, and we don’t know what will happen tomorrow.
But there is one thing that is certain in these uncertain times: You have overcome the challenges that came before and you can overcome this one.
Let us take a lesson from a little anecdotal story that we can borrow from the beautiful game called soccer.
To be part of the squad for the foremost teams in the world – the Madrids, the Dortmunds, the Liverpools, take your pick – you must be committed and ready to go the extra mile. Sometimes you concede a goal in the last minute. Sometimes you score a goal in the last minute.
Either way, you strap on you boots and don your strip for the next match.
You don’t give up because you lost the last match. You don’t put your feet up and relax because you won the last match.
You always give your best because you know that every day is a step closer to your dream, a rung closer to reaching the stars.
So yes, you may have conceded a goal in the last minute when COVID-19 emerged from nowhere and seemingly threw everything into disarray.
But the dream still lives.
Those who have access to digital learning facilities and infrastructure should make full use of them.
For those who don’t, make the most of the friendships you have made in your years of schooling and connect with those who you can share knowledge and facilities with.
Do any extra bit of work, take any extra step, reach for any extra run you can reach and get that much closer to your goal.
COVID-19 is not the end. It is a challenge – a challenge that you can meet.
Play the ball, score the goal, reach for your stars.
Trofimus Sheefeni is an educationalist based in Windhoek, Namibia