Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Week Three: The More I Learn, the More I Realize I Don't Know

By: Kumari Lewis and Margaret Prunty 

In our first full week in Namibia, we have enjoyed ourselves but are feeling the intensity of the semester as classes and internships begin. Although some days are busier than others for each and every one of us, we go to classes enthusiastically and enjoy our internships on days we are without class. Most students go to internships in the morning and return by lunchtime, however, I go after lunch and return just before dinner. It all depends on the organization that we work with. I work with Bernard Nordkamp Center (BNC), a center where children (grade 1-7) seek academic assistance after school. So far, I have worked with first and second graders, helping them with reading and on occasion, grammar. Students and I meet one-on-one and he/she reads to me. Education is not my college major and I have never taught anyone to read, which is more challenging than I anticipated. Some students have a strong start, making it through a fair amount of words without my help, whereas others need assistance with nearly every word. As an intern, I might also have the opportunity to work with other grade levels or provide math help. I have enjoyed teaching reading, but if the opportunity presents itself, I would enjoy working with another grade level or another subject.

I have only been at BNC for one week, and I understand how people are passionate about education. It’s endearing to work with children who are eager to learn and want to make improvements. From what my supervisor has told me, not all the BNC students are as interested as others, but for the most part, they are all there because they want to be. Working with children who want to learn is the best part of my internship, but leaves me in awe at the same time. I felt my mouth drop open when I learned that teachers sometimes hit the students with a branch or ruler and call them  “stupid” if they aren’t understanding. I couldn’t help but wonder how students could be enthusiastic about learning when they are punished for not understanding the material. Knowing this, BNC is truly a great place for students. They come after school, have a little bit of free time, eat, and learn. They are encouraged and taught with enthusiasm and respect, which is what they need. My supervisor, MaryBeth took over the organization and provides the students just that. She works hard to organize education for seven different grade levels and provide a safe, comforting, and encouraging educational environment. With Marybeth's hard work and dedication, the students seem to enjoy coming to BNC to learn and so do I. 

This past week we took a day off from class to travel just outside of central Windhoek to the Elisenheim Estate, a beautiful farm with guesthouses and animals on the edge of the mountains where we participated in a team building retreat. It is phenomenal how well we have come to know each other as a group in just a few short weeks, but as the activities revealed, there are still countless ways that we will continue to learn from each other. Every student and staff member here with CGE has a story to tell, and our retreat gave everyone an opportunity to share those stories and learn more about why and how each of us ended up here, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

CGE staff and students discussing topics surrounding
identity on our team building retreat . 
One of the first activities we did involved asking ourselves questions such as “this aspect of my life has had the most influence over my decisions…,”  “this aspect of my life is most new to me…,” “this is something about myself I would like to explore more…,” “this is what I am most proud of…,” and “this is what I would like to change most about myself…” We were given a set group of answers and had to choose from: gender, sexual orientation, political belief, spiritual belief, body image, family, and socioeconomic class. What I found most interesting was how I would have a gut reaction to certain questions, but I would also feel swayed by other people’s decisions. I was astounded that despite the fact that I feel extremely comfortable with this group of people, I still felt pressured as if there were certain ‘correct’ answers to these questions.

We broke off into discussion groups and spoke about how the fear of our answers being judged often made it difficult to give the answer we truly felt. And it is astounding how so many different students, professors, and staff can struggle with the same inner conflict despite being fantastically different ages and coming from greatly differing backgrounds.

The next activity that I found most impactful was one in which we formed groups and discussed how religion, race, socioeconomic class, and gender have personally influenced us. While it is one thing to say, yes being a woman has had a great influence on how I think and who I am today, it is quite different to elaborate and share with a group why I think so. Especially when that group is made up of people you met two weeks ago. If nothing else, these activities reinforced the importance of contemplation and the acknowledgement that many go through the same struggles regardless of gender, class, or race. We are one human race and while many of us look different and grow up with different values across the world, similarities can be found across all lines and boundaries.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Week Two: A Taste Of Southern Africa

By: Amy Delo & Celeste Erickson

The Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, South Africa
Leaving Johannesburg and our home stays, the CGE group headed north to the capitol of South Africa, Pretoria. Our first stop was the Voortrekker monument. This monument is dedicated to the Dutch colonizers who moved inland from the coast in the 19th century. The Dutch wanted to have their own area separate from the British, who also colonized this area.   In their quest to settle in their own area, the Voortrekkers (an Afrikaans word meaning roughly “first-movers”) inevitable came into conflict with, and displaced, many indigenous peoples. The monument is a complex which was created in the 1930's and 40's as a massive embodiment of Boer nationalism (Boer is an Afrikaans word for 'farmer'). Boer nationalism was fueled in response to the British winning the Anglo-Boer wars and taking control of what would become South Africa. 

A view of Pretoria from the top of the Voortrekker Monument
The monument includes a frieze with depictions of the journey undertaken by the Boers and their encounters with various tribes, as well as enormous statues of Boer national heroes, and a museum. This hyper-nationalism culminated in the creation of the apartheid policies.  The start of aparthied was around this same time that the Voortrekker monument was designed and constructed. It was uncomfortable being at a place designed to celebrate those who had caused so much pain to the black community in South Africa, especially just coming from our home stays in Soweto. The monument lies atop a hill in Pretoria, and looking down from the monument's observation balcony you could see all of Pretoria. Our guide pointed out the site we would finish the next day, the Freedom Park.
Students posing in front of
Freedom Park. 
The Freedom Park is a monument which was created in order to commemorate the liberation struggle of South Africa as well as other wars. This monument covers a sprawling landscape and includes a wall of names displaying those who lost their lives in the struggle for freedom, a museum, a spiritual area, and a winding path connecting them all in order to symbolize the journey to resolution. After the end of apartheid and installation of a new government the Freedom Park monument was commissioned in an open space, which happened to be overlooked by the Voortrekker monument. The blatant contradiction between these two monuments- one celebrating the perpetrators of apartheid, and one the victims- is troubling. It seems almost like a symbolic continuation of Afrikaner dominance in Southern Africa, them on the hill with access to everything and the rest of the population below. Being at Freedom Park was powerful and especially thought provoking while being in the shadow of the Voortrekker monument.

It was discussed whether or not to tear down the Voortrekker monument. It was left standing, and at first I wondered why they hadn't torn it down since it is a symbol of apartheid. However, it was decided that the monument represented an integral part of South Africa's history which is needed to explain the liberation struggle and the circumstances that modern South Africa finds itself in. In order for people who were not alive during apartheid to really understand what was fought for, they need to be able to see the extreme forms of propaganda and nationalism that allowed apartheid policies to exist and thrive. As someone who did not live in this area during apartheid, or in that time period, the giant representation of the power of the colonizers was helpful in understanding the struggle against apartheid. Instead, as a way to bridge the conflict between these monuments it was decided to link them by a road called Reconciliation. It brings hope that these two groups will one day be able to move forward with a shared history.
On Wednesday morning, we finally arrived in Windhoek! From the moment we set off from the airport on the drive to our house, I think we all had a “wow” moment. The landscape even just on this short drive was breath-taking between the vast desert and the mountains. We finally made it! We quickly settled into the CGE house and on Thursday morning, loaded into the van for a windshield tour of Windhoek.  It was interesting to see the contrasts between Windhoek West and Katutura. On first observation, we saw a quaint and well-developed side of Windhoek, but as we traveled further into Katutura, the discrepancy between incomes in such a small geographic area become apparent. Similar to Johannesburg, as Namibia and South Africa were under the same apartheid rule, the townships that blacks were forced to move to during apartheid were still extremely present. 

The change that we saw between leaving the city and entering a township was not subtle. While in Katutura, we walked around a little and got to visit a formal market place. Vendors were selling anything from dried worms, to every part of the cow imaginable. The sights and smells were slightly overwhelming, yet it was extremely exciting to see this part of Namibian culture. We drove through some more informal settlements and discussed how difficult it is for many people to move away from poverty, as schools are often too far away to attend, therefore making it hard to become educated and employed. This reality was sad, as we were able to see the dismal living situation so much of the population must survive in. From here, to see an even starker contrast, we drove up to the neighborhood where the President’s house is located and passed multi-million dollar properties- something that would only be financially available to a small fraction of the population. Also similar to South Africa, most of the more expensive property is primarily owned by whites, though this is slowly changing. It felt unfair to see the way that so many people were forced to live, and the luxury that other people could live in within the same city limits. 

The students at the Parliament Gardens in Windhoek
during their first community meeting. 

Following our driving tour, we had the opportunity to split into groups of three or four and explore Windhoek on foot, which was fun to get a different taste of the city. On Friday, we had to the opportunity to get an exclusive look at Katutura with members of Young Achievers (YA), an organization founded by a former CGE director. This organization strives to engage Namibian youth in activities that encourage them to further their education and help them discover their potential. Some of these members of YA started a tour group that led our group around. It was really fun to get a chance to learn more about the lives of local youth and see what they’re doing to break trends in Katutura. Different groups had the opportunity to visit a church, an orphanage, an art school, and an old folks home as well as explore the area more. We spent the weekend navigating Windhoek and catching up on sleep in preparation for many of starting local internships on Monday!

This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.centerforglobaleducation.org.

Week One: A Non-Communist, Post Apartheid, Manifesto.

By: Miranda Weinstein & Gaby Gretz 

We’ve had an amazing, busy, invigorating, educational, and eye-opening first week in Johannesburg. We did so much in only 168 hours (7 days). We have seen so many different things, ranging from an art exhibition on hair, speaking to a human rights advice center, driving around Soweto and seeing the hostels, going to different history museums, and much more. There were two events that stood out during our first week, and it is those that we thought we would share with you more so you could feel as though you were in Johannesburg yourself! The first is the politics of South Africa.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the non-discriminatory and equal democratic country of South Africa and the ending of the apartheid era. One motif that we kept seeing as we drove around Johannesburg was that while the segregation of the blacks and whites had ended, there is still a great amount of improvement in reintegrating the different ethnicities and cultures needed in order to make one cohesive country. In driving around the city, we have seen that the suburbs are still inhabited by the white community and the blacks still live in the townships. Another thing that stood out is the incredibly unequal distribution of wealth between the people. Since the end of the apartheid government, the income inequality has increased substantially. The people living in the townships are still being overlooked and their needs are not being addressed.

When we met with representatives of the different political parties, both representatives talked about the problem that South Africa is facing and how they plan on fixing it. We talked to Dale McKinley, a former member of the South African Communist Party, a representative of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) [1]. When talking with Dale, he kept stressing that South Africa has a long way to go before it can be considered the great country everyone wants it to be. He also kept stressing that even though the state of South Africa has the most socially progressive constitution in place, there is a serious flaw in the implementation of the constitution and the protection that it offers. Women still face inequality, as do homosexuals, even though the constitution states that all men and women should be created equally and that you should not be discriminated against based on your sexual orientation. This lack of implementation is seen in this economic inequality that many people face.

As Dale stated, even though the ANC has taken over the government, the inequality has gotten worse, land redistribution has not really occurred (only 15%), the intelligence and security forces are beginning to act like the old apartheid state. People are fed up with what the government is doing (or not doing), but they do not know where to turn. People either tend to vote for the ANC, or not vote. This is because they do not want to vote for the opposition party, the DA, because they are still perceived as the ‘white’ party.
The students after meeting with a representative
from the Democratic Alliance. 
During our meeting with the DA (which coincidentally happened right after our meeting with Dale), our representative kept stressing that the DA and the ANC have the same ideas on paper [2]. They both want the same thing for the country, but they tend to implement it differently. I think it was interesting to hear the different representatives talk and give their views on how the political situation is in South Africa, because without a balanced overview, we would have been very biased against the government. This being said, there is still a great deal of improvement that needs to happen in South Africa. There is a large amount of corruption in government, the income inequality is drastically rising, sanitation, health and education are often overlooked and the constitution is not followed. 

The other interesting aspect of our time in Johannesburg was our home stays in Soweto. Soweto stands for South West Township and is a suburb of Johannesburg made up of 34 townships. The home stay in Soweto was very relaxing. When Nikala and I (Gaby) arrived in front of their home on Friday evening, we received a warm welcome from our host family. As soon as we sat down in their living room, our host mother told us that we were part of the family and that we could come back to stay the next time we were in South Africa. She then offered us a blanket and some tea and biscuits. It did not take long for our host brother to cling on to us and invite us to play his video games.

I only noticed a few differences while staying with my host family. The one that was most striking was that our host mother was in the kitchen most of the time cooking, or doing other chores around the house. From what she told us it didn’t seem like she had much time to sit and relax during the weekend. Although our host family had big dining room table, they ate their meals in the living room in front of their large flat screen television. I noticed that when mealtime came around, our host father would be served his food on a tray, while everyone else had to dish up their own food. The first night for dinner, we were served pap, creamed spinach, gizzards, and chicken feet. Our host mother suggested that we go to the mall to buy some fried chicken from a restaurant equivalent to KFC, in case we didn’t like the chicken feet and gizzards. While we were waiting in line, I noticed how a lot of people were wearing their slippers. Our host mother told us that it’s common for people to go to the mall on Friday nights and order take out from fast food restaurants since they want to take a break from cooking.

On Saturday, we visited the Johannesburg Zoo, and on Sunday we visited a China Mall, following a soccer game at FNB stadium, which is were the opening of the 2010 FIFA World Cup was held. Later Sunday evening, we visited  parent’s house and her father spoke to us about what it was like growing up during apartheid. It was very intense listening to a personal experience and imagining what is like for him. It will be interesting hearing other people’s stories as well as we move forward this semester. 

This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.centerforglobaleducation.org.


[1] Dale McKinley, political activist and theorists; Conversation on 20 August 2014, Johannesburg, South Africa. 
[2] Representative from the Democratic Alliance; Conversation on 20 August 2014, Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Week 15: Challenging & Reflecting

By Desiree Swartz and Darcey Babikian

This week was full of bittersweet experiences as we embarked on our final week in Windhoek. There was plenty of time to fit in all of our last experiences, but we also made time for our integrative projects. These projects were a culmination of information on the topic of our choosing that incorporated religion, politics, development and history. The end of the integrative projects marked not only the end of Namibia, but the end of college for one, the end of junior year for most and the end of sophomore year for the rest. 

This study abroad experience through the Center for Global Education was centered on experiential learning and therefore there was much to reflect upon. The unique aspect of this trip was that learning occurred both in and out of the classroom. This gave us as students the opportunity for critical reflection, in depth evaluations of how we defined ourselves, and context within a global (Southern African) perspective. This meant a great deal of group reflections, which often came with improved awareness of the way in which actions create reactions. In reflection of the final week in Namibia we discussed several different issues we had noticed during our time both in Windhoek and while traveling around Namibia. Our integrative projects touched upon topics such as interracial dating, gender based violence, educational systems, dependency, colonization and apartheid. These very over-arching topics were a great avenue for exploring the ways we felt after spending four months in a different country. 

The first big thing that people talked about was the idea of privilege and how someone can address their privilege without undertaking guilt. We realized as a group that many of the speakers, museums, and locations that we visited were predominantly occupied by foreigners. Do you have to have privilege in order to learn about other countries’ histories or even your own? This was quite jarring because we realized that not everyone or even half of everyone in Namibia is fortunate enough to see as much of the country as we had. On our farms when talking with our host parents we realized that their Namibian context was a much smaller bubble then the one we had experienced although they are permanent residents of Namibia and we are only fleeting residents. 

Another large source of reflection was the economic disparities within Namibia. Although the wealth gap is so large within Namibia, we found it was fairly easy to ignore. Without the Center for Global Education it would be easily possible to only see what you “wanted” while in Namibia. This would include dining out at nice restaurants, exploring the sand dunes in Walvis Bay, and going out in Windhoek, to only name a few. Since we are part of an experiential program we were exposed to the resettlement communities throughout Namibia whenever we visited a new place. It was crazy how close the people living in complete luxury were to the people who are struggling to put food on the table. At times throughout the semester it would be easy to get caught up into our own activities and forget about the stark economic differences existing within our temporary home, Windhoek. When taking this into consideration it is quite interesting to think about how effortlessly it must be for those with wealth to retain wealth within Windhoek. It seems as if those who want to keep their wealth and let the gap continue to grow just turn the other cheek when it comes to the resettlement communities.

Our CGE Family
Much of the reflection that took place during our time in Southern Africa correlated with social issues within the United States as well. We realized as a group that sometimes social issues are difficult to see unless you remove yourself from the situation and reflect on your experiences. While being in Southern Africa and participating in a program called Nation Building, Globalization, and Decolonizing the Mind, it was easy to be consumed with talk about social issues. All of our classes focused and reflected on issues such as privilege, economics, and race and gender relations within Southern Africa. However, many of our classes also challenged us to reflect upon our lives back in the U.S. and how these issues may or may not still be present there. Having this opportunity to study abroad with the Center for Global Education really helped us to have a global perspective, challenge norms, and ask questions both about Southern Africa and about the U.S. 

While we need to realize that the opportunity to study in Southern Africa was in and of itself a privilege, it is still important to bring back the knowledge that we have gathered while here and break down the stereotypes and prejudices that family members or friends may have in regard to our experiences abroad. Collectively the group has taken the time to discuss the different ways in which studying abroad through CGE was both life changing for the best and the worst. While this program opened our eyes and caused us to be aware of the world around us, it has also forced us to be critical thinkers and to notice the “bad” within the world. This program was such a unique opportunity that will be impossible to fully portray to close family and friends, but in the end we will always be able to cherish these memories amongst the fifteen of us. Coming back we walk a fine line between using what we have learned to enhance our lives opposed to separating us from our pre-existing lives in the United States.

This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.centerforglobaleducation.org.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Week 14: The Beginning of the End

By Subah Jamus and Brianna Mirabile

This week was the beginning of the end of our journey. We spent most of our week wrapping up our academic courses and internships/volunteering. We began by giving presentations on topics we researched that related to our internship placements. It was great to see how everyone combined their practical experience and knowledge with greater issues that Namibia is currently facing. We also discussed how our privilege affects our understandings and perceptions of the world. The fact that we've been able to take part in this program and spend time in Namibia was a privilege that we had initially taken for granted. Over the course of this semester, we have taken a critical look at this privilege in order to better understand our role here. This has culminated in a better understanding of ourselves, our community, and of Namibia as a whole.

In order to properly end our internships we had the opportunity to celebrate with our supervisors and coworkers. We each took the time to tell the room about where we each interned and express our gratitude to our supervisors. Brianna spent the last three months interning at Friendly Haven shelter, the only shelter for women and children who were survivors of gender based violence in Namibia. Through this experience she was able to relate her research on and passion for the issue of gender based violence to the real lives of Namibian women. The presentations by our fellow students highlighted the importance of our participation in the internship. Through this experience, we were able to integrate ourselves into one facet of Namibian society and get a better, first-hand understanding of what we discussed in our courses.

Photos of Brianna and Subah as young children that were used in our history
project in order to illustrate who the policy of Bantu education affects.
In order to wrap up our history class, we (Subah and Brianna) worked together on a project where we examined our lives in the context of Bantu Education. Bantu Education was established in 1953 by the Apartheid government of South Africa, which at the time controlled Namibia. Bantu Education further segregated the education systems, served the interest of the white supremacy, and denied the majority of people access to the same opportunities and resources enjoyed by the minority white population. We put ourselves in the shoes of students of that time period and examined what it would have been like for both of us, considering our race and status. This put into perspective the privilege that we both experience today and made us think about how difficult it must have been to be subjected to such a ludicrous policy. We also realized the importance of reconciliation; although we weren't sure how it could be done- particularly since it's only been 24 years since Namibia gained independence.

A photo taken by Brianna at Friendly Haven shelter for her 
photojournalism and social change project for development.
In our last development class we found creative ways to present an issue in development. Brianna looked at how photojournalism can be used as a means for social change. Especially when trying to create awareness for the challenges facing caregivers of gender based violence survivors. In order to do this, she photographed the women of the shelter's hands because that is their greatest point of contact with the survivors. Whether it be through cooking, cleaning, or physical support, their hands are vital to the care they give.

Subah, Lillian, and Olivia did their creative project on food scarcity around the world. In our presentation we split the classroom into four different countries (United States, Brazil, Namibia, Bangladesh). Out of the four countries we chose, we did a classroom activity that represents how food secure each country is. The way we did this was by using pieces of candy, each country received a certain amount of candy and depending on certain factors the countries would either receive or give back candies. Everyone in the class expanded on different issues within development, and we learned how interconnected and multifaceted issues of development can be. In addition, it showed us the many ways in which you can go about creating social change.

With the official ending of our academic classes, we also began to reflect on our stay here in Windhoek as we begin our journey to Cape town on May 3rd. Being here in Namibia we learned about the intersectionality of religion, development, politics, and history. No issue in Namibian history can be looked at meaningfully if one of these topics is left out. This new understanding we have has changed our perceptions dramatically and when we return to the U.S we will continue to challenge our perceptions and understandings. Our knowledge has grown exponentially, and we will be taking these new lessons back home with us and they will surely last with us a lifetime.

This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.centerforglobaleducation.org.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Week 13: The Trials and Tribulations of Migration

By Olivia Cecchi & Maggie Fernandez

This last week was a routine week at the Center for Global Education including internships, classes, and weekend fun. As our time in Windhoek quickly starts to wind down, we continue to find ourselves learning new things about Namibia. For example, this week we learned about the varying migration has on an individual, like housing difficulties, legal limitations, and identity. 

The Shack Dweller's Federation which we
visited during Politics class.
On Tuesday we went with our politics class to the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia, located in Katutura. There we met with Selma Namwandi, who informed us about the mission of the Shack Dwellers Federation, which included helping families or individuals moving into the informal settlement gain legal access to land  [1]. Selma said that as more people moved to Windhoek from more rural areas in Namibia, it has become more difficult to acquire land. As people move into the informal settlement outside of Windhoek, they approach and become a member of the Shack Dweller’s Federation in order to get land rights from the municipality. The organization then applies for a large plot of land on behalf of several individuals, unfortunately this application can take up to two years to be processed. However, once the federation is granted the land, they divide it up and give plots to each individual. Each individual then pays a fee to the government, and additionally a fee towards the Federation, which helps other members that need loans. The contracts then last for eight years, before residents must move to a more permanent settlement. 

It was interesting to learn about the process of applying for land whilst in the informal settlements. Even though these small houses often made up of tin sheets do not fit our expectation of “legal” housing, which we often perceive as permanent structures with wood floors and plumbing and electricity, many of them in fact are legal settlements. Furthermore, it was interesting to see how true representations of people moving to urban centers in order to pursue better economic means are. 

This trip to the Shack Dwellers Federation and the discussion of immigration flowed nicely to our conversations in development class this week. Our guest speaker, Cisco Agostinho, came to Namibia as a child with his family as refuges [2]. They fled conflict in their home country of Angola, and lived in a refugee camp in northern Namibia for many years. Cisco attended primary school within the camp, and attended high school in Windhoek. He returned to the school in the refugee camp to teach in 2009. He spoke to us about how even though other people would consider him a foreigner in Namibia, his previous status as a refugee negated this label. However, when given the opportunity to become a Namibian citizen, he said that he would prefer to keep his Angolan citizenship, and simply apply for permanent residence within Namibia. 

Both these interactions taught us to make the best of our situations and try to get the most out of life. The shack dwellers are trying to improve their housing situations by creating an organization that will benefit them. They decided that they did not want to live illegally and wanted to find a way to approach the municipality in a more professional manner. By uniting nine different informal settlements in the Khomas region, the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia was able to receive hundreds of land plots and donations from corporations and local groups. 

On an individual level, Cisco, as an Angolan refugee, decided to take advantage of his education within Namibia, and even return back to the camp after he became a teacher. Although his family was fleeing extreme violence in their home country, and the refugee camps did not provide much comfort, Cisco was able to rise above these hardships and find a place where he felt comfortable within Namibian society. 

On our Easter hike at the Daan Viljoen Game Reserve
Throughout this week we learned about the movement of people around Namibia. These interactions helped us to view immigration as a development issue seeing as there are so many other factors that come into play when people move, including land rights, identity, and access to services to name a few. As we celebrated Easter this past Sunday in Namibia as foreigners, these lessons about the spread of people and knowledge hit us directly. A few of us spent our day going to church, and others went on a hike. Although for some of us this was our traditional way of spending our Easter, many of us celebrated in a completely different way than we would have at home. As foreigners, we needed to navigate our own expectations of the holiday, like not being able to be with our families or own communities as well as what was typical here in Namibia. Easter is a national holiday and many people spend the weekend with their families, and go to church. However we did learn that Easter egg hunts are just as popular here as they are back home! It helped us to understand how people in different types of situations where they are not home may feel. 

Although some of us may have felt a little homesick, we chose to come to Namibia, and made the best of our Easter. However, in other cases people are forced to leave their home because of particular circumstances, like civil war. We can now better recognize how holidays or days of importance may affect them. Choosing to migrate to a new area, but it is often possible to find the good in any situation. 

This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.centerforglobaleducation.org.


[1] Selma Namwandi, Member of the Shack Dwellers Federation, spoke to our Politics class on 15 April, 2014.

[2] Cisco Agostinho, Former Angolan refugee and current teacher in Windhoek, spoke to our Development class on 17 April, 2014.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Week 12: Reconnecting in Windhoek

By Matt Erbes and Hannah Corbin

This week we reunited as a group after spending a week on spring break. While it was difficult to come back to the formal class schedule after three weeks of traveling, listening to speakers, and seeing other parts of Southern Africa, it was still good to come back together and reconnect as a group. Reconnection and rebuilding were actually two concurrent themes of the week in our classes and activities. 

On Wednesday, the religion class visited the Dutch Reformed Church of Windhoek (DRC) near downtown. We got the chance to listen to Rev. Thijs van der Merwe, a pastor of the church [1]. He spoke to us about the Dutch Reformed Church’s theology during apartheid and how the church has attempted to reconnect with the people of Southern Africa since the fall of the apartheid regime. Reverend van der Merwe explained the justifications behind the DRC’s support of the apartheid regime through specific interpretations of the Bible which are now considered to be incorrect and unjust. It was interesting to hear the other side of the story regarding the theological implications of apartheid from someone raised and educated in the Dutch Reformed tradition. Rev. van der Merwe described how although the DRC has formally apologized for its actions during apartheid, it is still making efforts to integrate itself back into the religious community, which largely rejected its past theological viewpoints. It was easy to see how Rev. van der Merwe and other DRC members would want to be reconnected back into the rest of the community after being regarded as an illegitimate and pro-authoritarian institution which supported the injustice of apartheid by the rest of the South African religious community. One of the biggest challenges facing the DRC today is how to recognize its past and still be able to reconnect with people in the community without fear of stigma. 

Thursday afternoon, the students and staff of CGE loaded up into the buses and drove to the beautiful Nubuamis Hills Bed and Breakfast outside the city for a reconnection retreat. The purpose of this was for everyone to come together and reinforce the idea that part of our education here is intercultural experiences, and in order to be able to connect with people fully, one needs to step outside of their own cultural comfort zone and meet others halfway. The activities we did as a group ranged from jumping in different directions according to Romanus’ commands and acting out the roles of the different tribes of a fictional island, but all could be related back to being able to connect with people outside of one’s own cultural group. The retreat was helpful as a reminder that although we have been in Southern Africa for three months now, we are still foreigners who sometimes need to be reminded that cultural norms are different here from those in the U.S., and it also was an opportunity to reflect on what we had accomplished so far this semester individually and what challenges we have faced or continue to face. 

CGE students and staff with Dr. Robinson after her talk on 
political prisoners and preserving the memory of apartheid liberators. 
Though we focused on our intercultural relationships as a group, we were able to get several other American experiences this week through our speakers. In history this week, we were lucky enough to catch Dr. Deborah Robinson during her short time in Namibia. Dr. Robinson created the South African Political Prisoner Documentation Project in the United States during the apartheid regime in South Africa and Namibia [2].

According to her, the goal of the project was to “raise people’s consciousness about the system of apartheid and the continued racial and socio-economic oppression of people in southern Africa, educate the public about the plight of political prisoners, and be a catalyst for people to develop a personal attachment or bond with a particular political prisoner and his/her family.” The program made brass bracelets each with a name of a political prisoner printed on them and then distributed the bracelets with a twenty-six page informational booklet. Since the program's inception Dr. Robinson has developed relationships with the families of some of the prisoners, hoping to fill in gaps and create a more complete story of the plight of political prisoners. Her main concern was that their stories would become irrelevant for the generations that follow.

CGE students observing an exhibit at the new 
Namibian Independence Museum
While visiting Southern Africa, Dr. Robinson has held a few workshops with the youth hoping to gain a younger perspective on the role the history has played in the countries development. She felt the youth she worked with were very disconnected from the impacts and realities of apartheid. When she asked what we were taught about Southern Africa in school and we mentioned that our education on the matter pre-college was non-existent she was somewhat horrified. The gap and exclusion in the education system is concerning for two reasons. The first is that inadequate teaching of history eliminates the context of current social problems and the second is that it disconnects generations from one another. Dr. Robinson stressed the need to do something with the material she collected and was looking to young people to compile it in creative ways that would hopefully reach a broader audience and get youth active in preserving the stories of activists and fighters. Fortunately, shortly after Dr. Robinson’s talk we headed to the new Namibian Independence Museum whose sole focus is to trace Namibia’s history through colonization and apartheid and document the realities and people of each era. When we got there, a bus of young students was just leaving, which was a hopeful sight. 

This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.centerforglobaleducation.org.


[1] Reverend Thijs van der Merwe pastor at Dutch Reform Church Windhoek; conversation on April 9, 2014 in Windhoek Namibia

[2] Dr. Deborah Robinson political activist and researcher; Conversation on April 10, 2014, Windhoek Namibia