Friday, November 16, 2012

Week 13: Oh the Possibilities of a thoughtful Journey

Post by Buay Tut

After an eye-opening, relaxing and educational trip to the south, the 13th week of classes eliciting topics ranging from religion and H.I.V. &A.I.D.s to political party structures in the United States and Namibia.

Religion students participating in an HIV/AIDS role play
In religion Evan Binder and Katylen Stremer lead the class on a discussion about the role which the church should play in facilitating and advocating awareness about H.I.V. and A.I.D.s.  Instead of the usual question and answer forum, we were each assigned a role as different members within a community. Each student then responded to a series of questions concerning the issue of H.I.V.  A.I.D.s within religious communities with the values and beliefs of whatever character they happen to be playing in mind. I really enjoyed this creative and unique way of facilitating discussion.

 With the last excursion out of the way and the ever approaching final integrative projects forthcoming, it has really started to sink in this week that our time in Namibia is slowly coming to an end.  This realization came in no greater sense than in our final wrap up session for our internship course on Tuesday. During this session we took the time to reflect and look back on our journey within the context of the internship course and experience. We revisited the initial fears we had and compared them to our current state of being and feeling about the internship experience. We focused on what we felt we gained in terms of knowledge, skills, and attitude, we then applied these three aspects to what we felt we contributed to the host organization.

 Having come off an exceptional summer internship at my local county attorney’s office this past summer, coupled with my being of African origin, I felt I was ready for and could handle anything Namibia threw at me. I thought since NamRights was also a public service entity it would possess the same dynamic’s between its employees as I had found at the county attorney’s office. I pictured everyone having their own set of objectives and workload to accomplish each day. In my mind I pictured having my own little desk, with my own work load specifically assigned for me to accomplish each day.

Buay and his coworkers at NamRights
I can only describe the environment and culture which I found at NamRights as laid back and relaxed. Often when there is not a press release, or pending documents to compile into electronic form, conversation and discourse consume our entire day. Another difference is the high level of freedom I have been given. Due to the lack of an outlined project and apart from my assigned duties of editing and revising press releases, I have the academic freedom to research and respond to any news articles or issues throughout Namibia or the globe as I desire.  I’ve learned to be much more flexible and not so constrained and dictated by schedules, but instead to just go with the flow. I feel I have also provided my host organization with a different perspective upon which to view and analyze issues.  I have learned much more then I could ever reciprocate, during my time with NamRights.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Week 12: An Excursion to the South

Post by Leah Rosenstiel
It really began to feel like the end of the semester 
as we headed to the South for our final excursion before we leave Namibia. Although we have not even come close to seeing all of the parts of Namibia, we have now gotten a taste of the South, Windhoek, the Kunene region, the north and the coast.

The trip was an extension of our Development class and we looked at eco-tourism and community-based resource management. From what I have gathered, community-based resource management is government promotion of the creation of community-owned conservancies and campsites. The idea being that to attract tourists, the community must preserve their natural resources. Additionally jobs will be created within the community.

On our first night, we stayed outside of Keetmanshoop at a beautiful community-owned campsite situated on the Fish River next to a natural hot spring. However, we learned from Bernardus, the owner, that the campsite rarely gets visitors. Both he and a representative from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism we spoke with seemed to think that one of the major problems for campsites in the South is a lack of marketing. From what I have seen at both our first campsite and the second community-owned campsite we stayed at outside of Berseba, I do agree with this. At the first campsite, there was only a small sign at the turnoff advertising it. Bernardus said that in order to have a large road sign, they would have to register with the Namibian Tourism Board, which costs a fee that the campsite does not have the money to pay.

But, even beyond the marketing issue, I think there are larger hurdles for community-owned ventures in the South. The campsite outside of Keetmanshoop, although scenic, may not have the natural resources to be a big draw for tourists. Unlike the more successful conservancies in the Kunene region that we have read about, they do not have Big Five animals (lions, elephants, buffalos, rhinos and leopards). Furthermore, private companies run many of the lodges and campsites on these conservancies. In addition to having more startup capital, private companies also have the benefit of employees specifically trained in hospitality and tourism.

We got to see firsthand some of the benefits of the private sector at our last campsite, Gondwana’s Kalahari Anib Lodge. Gondwana has begun to repopulate the area with animals, which is a draw for visitors. The lodge also has a pool, running water and other amenities. A representative from Gondwana talked to us in depth about Gondwana’s large focus on the environment. As much as I like the idea of conservancies, I think, because of their greater resources and ability to hire employees trained in conservation, private lodges might be more equipped to conserve the natural resources. However, one of the large benefits I see to the conservancy model is that it allows the community to continue to have control of the land and farm as well as preserve the natural resources.

From what I have learned and seen so far, I think that for the less successful community campgrounds in the South, a possible solution is to have a partnership with a private company. Another option might be that the government needs to find a different program to incentivize preserving natural resources for some communities. What I have gathered from this is that community-based tourism cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution for all the different communities in Namibia.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Week 11: Home Sweet Home

Post by Veronica Herren

After 3 exciting but exhausting weeks of traveling, we finally arrived back in Windhoeklast Friday night. On the last leg of our journey, approaching the comforting sight of the city lights at sunset, I realized that Windhoek has become home. We took the weekend to relax, get resituated into the house and reconnect with our friends here and in the U.S.On Monday we jumped back into our schedule with internships and classes.

The unofficial theme of this week seemed to focus on SWAPO, the ruling political party in Namibia. At the beginning of the semester, SWAPO seemed to be the hero of the independence movement. The past few weeks have painted a different picture of the ruling party. In religion class, we discussed the injustices SWAPO committed against many Namibians who were accused of being spies during the independence movement. There were many disappearances, torture and imprisonment that were connected with SWAPO in the seventies. 

Phil Ya Nangologh, founder of the organization NAMRIGHTS, spoke to us about his personal experiences with SWAPO and his opinion on the church’s role in Namibia. He used to be a soldier for SWAPO, and his brother, along with many other Namibians, disappeared during the fight for independence and has still not been found. He was presumed to be killed by members of the SWAPO party. Namibian society is still deeply affected by these disappearances and deaths that were never publicly acknowledged, and though around 90% of Namibians are Christians, the church has been largely silent on the issue. There are organizations like Breaking the Wall of Silence that are pushing for public reconciliation for those thousands of Namibians who still don’t know what happened to their family members. Because of the large Christian community here, there is a widely held belief that the church has a responsibility to stand up for these people whose rights have been violated, just as they did during apartheid. This is understandable; the church is supposed to be independent of the government, and I do believe it has a responsibility to protect the rights of the people. However, the church and SWAPO have been closely linked since independence, and it has been suggested that the church is neglecting its duty to stand up for human rights.

In politics, we were lucky enough to observe a session of the National Assembly. The overwhelming majority of the National Assembly is members of the SWAPO party, with only a few representatives from other parties. There has been a two-year long court case in which the opposition parties of the 2009 election accused SWAPO of manipulating the votes during the election process. On Thursday the court ruled in favor of SWAPO, which was not a shock, seeing as SWAPO has been the most powerful force in Namibia since independence. I think it is encouraging that the opposing parties can challenge SWAPO in a meaningful way, even if the decision was not in their favor. During the National Assembly’s meeting there was a lot of support shown for the outcome and for SWAPO, but there were also members of the opposition parties present who were vocal about their disagreement with the court’s verdict, and who aren’t convinced that SWAPO is innocent.

It has been interesting to note how my opinion of SWAPO has changed over the last couple of months. When we arrived in Namibia, the ruling party was presented as one of the great forces during the fight for independence, one that was instrumental in ending the apartheid regime. After living here for 2 ½ months, I’ve become more convinced that although SWAPO did play an important part in Namibia’s independence, it has quite a few flaws. With the human rights violations during the independence movement, current corruption suspicions, and lack of public acknowledgement for the wrongs committed, the ruling party in Namibia is not what it seemed to be on the surface.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Week 9: Flying High

Post by James Repp

After a great but somewhat isolated five days on a farm on the outskirts of Khorixas, I think everyone (myself included) was looking forward to the relative freedom that came with being on the coast. While we had plenty on our CGE agenda, we still got the chance to eat at some great restaurants, climb a massive sand dune, and have a day all to ourselves. I spent mine kayaking at Walvis Bay (with a great showing of seals and a few dolphins), skydiving on the outskirts of Swakopmund and enjoying a large meal of sushi and other seafood at a restaurant over the ocean. It was a wonderful day of adventure, trying new things, and enjoying the best of what coastal Namibia had to offer. However, in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but thinking that these great privileges remain out of reach for a large portion of Namibians, and that while I was soaring through the clouds there are many just trying to get on their feet.

Swakopmund is no Windhoek in terms of scale, with an estimated sixty thousand people compared to the over two hundred thousand of the capital, but having lived in the still very segregated Windhoek for about a month and a half now, it was fascinating to see the same scars of Apartheid in what first appeared to be a charming coastal paradise. We were staying about two blocks from the ocean, in walking distance of the city center and all the great shops, cafés and restaurants nestled within. However, on our first full day we got to have a tour of the former township of Mondesa and the DRC (Democratic Resettlement Community), and got a much fuller account of what it meant to live on the coast of Namibia.

It was an incredible experience, but most Namibians don’t get the chance to fly so high.
Mondesa very much resembled Katutura and the DRC the informal settlements of Windhoek, and the parallels did not stop there. In our politics and development courses, the issues of a stubborn high unemployment and land distribution, both legacies of the apartheid government’s rule, still dominate most Namibians’ lives. While we’ve read and heard that the government is working hard to solve the unemployment problem with programs like TIPEEG (an employment program implemented by the government that created around 10,000 jobs), and striving to become an “industrialized nation” by 2030, the situation has not much improved for those on the outskirts of town. If anything, the problems continue to mount as more and more move from the rural north to the coast looking for work.

Unfortunately, that work is very hard to come by, especially for those who live kilometers from the city center. The two large industries in Swakopmund are the tourism and mining industries. Tourism comes in the form of all the activities around the city (skydiving, kayaking, cruises etc.) and the mining happens at Rossing Uranium Mine, but even combined, these two don’t offer nearly enough employment opportunities to support the growing population. Walvis Bay has a strong fishing industry and is home to one of the largest ports in southern Africa, but the problem there is the same.

Fortunately, the story does not end there. I saw incredible signs of hope during our stay, and believe that the Namibian people have the skills and the will to overcome the heavily stacked table set before them. We heard an A Cappella group made up of local young men who have turned their passion of singing into an employment option. We saw toddlers learning their ABCs and behaving amazingly at Lucky’s Kindergarten, where only one woman looks over fifty kids. We walked through the Walvis Bay Community Shelter and saw abandoned children getting a second chance for a home because of the hard work of the staff there. These signs are good, and if Namibia can capitalize on its status as an attractive tourist destination, as well as the government get their act together, I believe that one day the wonders of this great country can become accessible to its people and not just its visitors.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Week 8: Decolonizing the Mind

Post by Samantha Frisk

“Decolonizing the Mind.”  When I received the program manual with this phrase on the front I thought I had an idea of what this meant, but after my rural homestay I have truly been pushed to do this.

It was hard to acknowledge that before my rural homestay I had equated rural with poverty.   I had taken a look at all the material things I have and judged households against this standard.  By creating this category of “have”, my mind consequently narrowed in on what others did not have.  So, admittedly, driving past farms, tin shacks, and mud huts there was a sympathetic wrenching in my stomach and though at one point I considered volunteering in such communities, I worried about my limitations or the negative effects of my “aid”.  My first step toward reconciling these thoughts was to learn about “impoverished” communities.

My week on the Indhoek farm in Khorixas abolished all my previous conceptions and reasoning for wanting to learn from this rural community.  From the first moment I stepped out of the CGE van, I began to look at this community for everything that they have, not for what they do not.  Those things that I might have thought were lacking before had now dissipated and I began to admire the things they had.  I even wondered if the absence of physical possessions that I saw was the reason for their strong sense of community, lively nature, and conservation of resources.

My host family lives in a small, two-room, cow dung hut that sits on a farm with several other families.  The farm has no electricity, no sewage, and a water trough that the people and animals share.  I imagine that for my host family there is a shortage of food, when me and my box of food aren’t staying with them so there is a physical reality of problems that my family is facing. However, I didn’t worry about them because of the support the received from their neighbors.  Throughout the week, I never ate a meal with only my host family.  I found myself at the neighbor’s house or children from the community at our home sharing what we had.  Many of the families on our farm, who were better off and had houses in the city, had goat and kudu meat that they contributed, while my mother would cook and share her fatcakes.  It seemed that whatever you had, you shared.  This unspoken expectation was incredible to me because even the families with little would divide up their food for the number of children that wandered over to their house.

The fluidity of the community was another aspect I came to appreciate.  Not only did I find myself with neighbors for dinner, but at every time of the day I was at a different house with different people.  At night we gathered together for conversation, games, singing and dancing.  It is amazing what fun you can have when you don’t have a television to rely on. My favorite memory is everyone singing a song in Damara entitled, “!Gâi tsedi Iguidi” meaning “Good Days Only.”  Everyone got up and danced around, clapping and singing loud and I felt like everyone was really connected in this moment.

When I stepped back and looked at their unity and strength as a community and love for their way of life, I realized that the industrialization that the Namibian government talks about or the international aid that countries offer could be detrimental to this.  Before people go in and begin giving what they think these people need, one should consult with the community first and think deeply about how it will change them.  More importantly, before pinpointing every “need,” take a step back and take in all there is to gain from places different from our own.  I truly believe a better service to society would be appreciating communities like the one I stayed in and absorbing the lessons they can teach us.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Week 7: From the Land of the Free to the Land of the Brave

Post by Katelyn Stermer

This week there seemed to be an unexpected, reoccurring theme at the CGE house: America. We visited the USAID offices for development class and attended a reception at the Ambassador’s home as well as the Living Rhythms benefit concert put on by the US Embassy at the American Cultural Center. I am also personally writing a grant proposal for the US Embassy Self-Help program during my internship at AIDS Care Trust (ACT). At this time (the half way point) during the semester I’m feeling slightly home sick so having these opportunities to be around other American citizens while still experiencing and learning about Namibia culture was a blessing.

Leon Mobley drumming with some university students
Our first experience at USAID (United States Agency for International Development) encouraged us to critically think about the role the United States is playing in the development of foreign countries, especially Namibia. Currently, USAID in Namibia is using most of its funding to sponsor HIV/AIDS programs in partnership with PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. My internship organization, ACT, is actually receiving a small portion of their funding from USAID and affiliates. A major criticism of the United States’ contribution to global development is that we don’t dedicate enough of our fiscal budget; in fact, less than 1% of our GDP goes to funding development projects in foreign countries. Compared to the percentage of what other countries contribute annually to foreign development, the American statistic has been presented in an extremely negative light during class readings. However, the Director of USAID Namibia framed the situation in an entirely different way than I had thought of previously; although the United States gives less than 1% of our budget, dollar-per-dollar it is a considerably higher figure than many other countries who give more like 5-10% of their annual budget to foreign aid. Although the amount is arguably still a problem, it shows where we stand in the larger scheme of things a little better.

After being at the USAID offices in the morning, we headed to the home of the US Ambassador in Namibia, Mrs. Wanda Nesbitt. The primary focus of the gathering was to be able to get assistance for overseas voting procedures. However, I think I can safely speak for the group when I say that the best part of the reception was to be able to speak to the Peace Corps volunteers. Once again our conversations with the volunteers had me thinking about discussions on foreign aid and raised several question in my head—does aid always have to come in the form of money? How much more valuable would it be to have people on the ground making connections with locals? Would more be accomplished with these partnerships? I found a few answers to these questions the following night at the American Cultural Center’s benefit concert ‘Living Rhythms’.

We happened upon a performance sponsored by the American Cultural Center benefitting a series the US Embassy was putting on called ‘Living Rhythms’. They brought guest performer Leon Mobley, an amazing drummer and art envoy, to travel around Windhoek and teach drumming to schools and music programs all over Namibia. To me this was a great example of ‘people aid’, sending human beings to interact with one another to promote development and encourage relationships. Sure, in most cases nothing can be accomplished without funding, but nothing can truly be sustained or done without volunteers and people willing to cultivate each other. I saw this in the Peace Corps volunteers at the Ambassador’s home and I saw it reflected in Mr. Mobley as well. 

A short clip from Leon Mobley's 'Living Rhythms' Africa Tour

Week 6: Volunteering at an Orphanage, Challenging Old Perceptions

The main building where offices and the clinic are housed
Post by Evan Binder

Over the past few weeks, I, along with two other students here, have begun volunteering at a local orphanage. Now, prior to going, I admittedly held many preconceived stereotypes about what I expected an African orphanage to consist of. I expected there to be many forlorn children without proper resources for developing as people. I rationally knew that I was projecting my limited knowledge, if it could be called such, onto the experience I was expecting to have, yet for some reason I couldn't get that picture out of my head. However, once I got there, I soon realized how wrong my ill-conceived perceptions had been. The facilities, while they would not be mistaken for a five-star hotel anytime soon, are very nice and appear to be more than suitable for a happy upbringing.

The orphanage maintains a nice garden
where they get some of their food
What I was most surprised by and most pleased to see was the children’s attitudes. They are some of the happiest children that I have ever met. They just have so much liveliness and vitality to just play and be. And this appears to extend to all ages, not just the lower kids who are less aware of what they don’t have. Another aspect that I found interesting was all the children’s attitudes toward each other. They all watch out for each other so well, and embrace such a communal life, where the older children love to take care of the babies and they are reminding each other to take their antiretroviral drugs (if they are HIV positive, which about 35% of the children are). I can’t say for sure what their motivations are for being so protective and caring for each other, but I can say that they seem to cherish and thrive in this way of life. While they may not have the traditional, western-styled concept of family consisting of two parents and biological siblings, such does not mean that they lack a familial environment, as they are each other’s family.

The picnic tables where children like to relax and play games
Another aspect of our volunteering has been tutoring high schoolers for their Grade 10 Exams. Here in Namibia, all students must pass a comprehensive set of exams on about 10 different subjects in order to move on to grade 11. The students that we have been tutoring seem to be very motivated to do well. However, it appears that the nation’s education system is not set up to allow them to succeed. All students must pay for school fees in order to attend school, with the cost of school fees dependent on the quality of the school. Additionally, students must pay for their textbooks, notebooks, and uniforms. There are many study aids that the students can purchase. However, the orphanage understandably has limited funds, making them unable to purchase books outside of the basic textbook for each subject. Without the study aids, students are just expected to study their textbook. Since the orphanage has opened, not one student has passed the grade 10 exams. It is discouraging to see how hard work and motivation to succeed can only get you so far, as it seems to not be enough to pass the rigid national exams.

The resource room/library where preschool classes are sometimes held