Monday, May 21, 2018

Fish out of Water

By Alexis T.
This week’s discussions have really worked to decolonize my mind and open my eyes to a new perspective. The week started with a thought provoking conversation on race. After a presentation by a University of Namibia professor, we gained an understanding of how racism has been woven into society despite the constitution that guarantees rights to all. He provided examples such as the price of private schools being unaffordable for Blacks, expensive gated communities that reserve the right of entry to certain persons, and admissions exams in Afrikaans, a language spoken predominantly by Whites. During our discussion after the presentation, the white students in the classroom came to the realization that because of the color of their skin, and the privileges that come with it, they had been blind to these forms of discrimination. Jamila pointed out that for the first time in our lives, as whites, we were fish out water, a reality that was everyday for her and Gail, the two American people of color in the classroom. This was a reference to Pastor Allen Story’s talk on the way that race is perceived. As white Americans, we are like fish in water, we are blind to the substance surrounding us because the water is our state of normalcy. For any person of color in America, they are constantly taken out of the water. They are told they must be from somewhere else, are reduced to stereotypes associated with their race, and judged for their accents or foreign languages all because their skin is darker than the majority. It was not until I came to Southern Africa that I began to experience these things. For the first time in my life my existence was questioned. Where was I from? What kind of accent is that? I have had my hair pulled and I have been stared at like an animal in a zoo on multiple occasions. For the first time in my life, I am a fish out of water. However, although I am a fish out of water, my experience does not compare to those of color. Although I am questioned and looked at funny, I am not discriminated for my skin color. For these reasons I can only try to understand the suffering and struggles of people of color, and not assume that I know how they feel and that I have, in fact, been in their shoes.
Photo of University of Namibia where the lecture by a UNam Professor took place.

The memorial of Captain Cornelius Fredricks located on Shark Island
        The reality is that people of color have been discriminated against since the start of colonization and not much has changed. The ways in which discrimination is perpetrated is just done cleverly and around the law. Further, despite our knowledge of this discrimination, not much is done to amend for the tragedies of the past or bring an end to the subtler forms of racism. Shark Island in Luderitz, one of the largest concentration camps in Namibia, for example, has been reduced to a campsite. People pay to live on an island that forced members of the Herero and Nama community to build a railroad and homes in just three years with minimal food and water in harsh, windy conditions. An average of 112 people died per day, and the only acknowledgement is of the hero Captain Cornelius Fredericks. Nowhere on the island is acknowledgement of how many people died, what the community went through, the experimentations that occurred in the hospital, or even the mention of any names other than Fredricks. Instead, there is a memorial for German soldiers who perpetrated the violence, complete with names. Very few people understand the history of Shark Island and it is believed that the name is derived from the shape of the island. Oral tradition, however, states that those who died during the genocide were fed to the sharks since the ground is mostly rock and it would be impossible to give hundreds of people a proper burial. It is insulting that former concentration camp has been written out of history and that is has been reduced to a campsite, rather than becoming a sacred space that acknowledges the discrimination the Hereros and Namas faced.

The area in which the Herero and Nama were forced to live
on Shark Islant without proper shelter in the harsh, windy conditions
Another example from this week in which the plight of people of color was erased from history is that of Kolmanskuppe, the ghost town. During our tour of this former mining town, we were shown all of the entertainment facilities for the Germans in town. The tour guide boasted about how every  individual was given a block of ice and gallons of water free of charge. We saw the large homes of the principal, doctor, and entertainment coordinator, one of which had a marble bathtub. It was not until prompted that the guide acknowledged that hundreds of Namibian workers did not have access to these entertainment facilities, and that the food and water they were consuming was deducted from their pay check. We were not allowed to see the living conditions of those workers whose homes resided in the restricted area of the town. Despite the knowledge, little is done to acknowledge the suffering of people of color or right it. If you are not doing anything, you are contributing to the problem. As individuals we must do better to bring the injustices of the past to light and right the wrongs of the present.
Abandoned homes in the mining town of Kolmanskuppe.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Life on the Farm

By: Camryn C.
Since the time I found out I would be studying in Southern Africa there was this anticipation in the schedule ahead for our rural homestay. This year the homestay took place on a farm in Khorixas, Namibia. The Center for Global Education and Experience (CGEE), does a phenomenal job in preparing us ahead of time for our stay, answering any questions or concerns we may have. This adventure that I embarked on was seriously a once in a lifetime opportunity. I got the chance to live in a rural setting for a whole week.
I am plucking and cooking a chicken for Easter.
During this week I got to prepare meals, enjoy fellowship with other neighbors on the farm, learn a new language, and truly ask deep questions about their lifestyle. As a Social Work and Political Science major it was so interesting to me to realize that due to the education here and where they  are located they don’t have a clear idea of politics in the United States let alone Namibia. Many of these families have lived on the farm for generations, and their lifestyle is really all they know. As a Social Work major I did find it quite interesting in the realm of adoption that they actually don’t believe in legally adopting someone else’s child in to their own family. However, there household often consists of much extended family due to where certain jobs are located. For instance, in my home my mom’s friend has 5 kids between the ages of 1 and 17 who she hasn’t seen in months because they live with her husband in the city for the purpose of school and work; but she did have some of her neighbors children live with her full time.
A living space at the Damara Living Museum.

I found it very interesting that although the gender roles at the farm are very traditional the father gets full custody of the kids during a married couples split. They believe since the children are under the males last name custody should go to him. On the other hand, if the two were not married the mother had to keep the children as the children were only seen as hers by the public. Education was also something that was discussed often in my house.

Completing 12th grade was rare but often the highest level of education from any one I had met. My mom attending stopped school in 10th grade but not by choice she was bitten by a deadly snake when she was 14, and was hospitalized and in a wheelchair for 4 straight years. She told me at that age it was very hard to go back and most people didn’t think a young girl had to focus so much on education when there were so many other roles she played. Such as, at age 10 most women were taught how to cook and clean and take care of their younger siblings. As well as taking care of the home, that was a big thing many women took pride in. It was much more than a home to the women, a lot of the times they had done work to the house or re-built it themselves.

I was very impressed with the encouragement my family gave me to learn. On the days that CGEE picked us up to learn outside the farm my mom always asked me questions about what I learned and related it back to the own personal knowledge she knew. For example, after coming back from the Damara Living Museum my mom talked to me about the indigenous people of Namibia, one being the San people. The San people have been touched on throughout my history class, my mom referred to them as the Bushmen. It was neat to see it all illustrated first hand; the hut and lifestyle of hunting and gathering that they lived in. Then to hear it from my mom first hand. She could even remember when there name got changed after Namibian independence from Bushmen to San, “rope making” people.
Me and my mom's friend on Easter.
The rural homestay took place the week of Easter Sunday, which was so cool to see their traditions lived out. I got to experience what my family wore, attend gatherings they held with other community farms, and their church services. It was truly so beautiful to see them worship in their own language, although some parts of the community may speak a different language they all come together to celebrate as one. I loved being included in the cooking preparation and conversations before the Easter celebration. They were truly so patient with me as I attempted to learn their language and practice holding conversations.

The rural homestay was unlike anything I could have imagined in the best way possible. This experiential learning not only stretched me as a person but helped me to expand my horizon outside the classroom. Additionally, there is so much I have learned to value and new perspectives I will take with me throughout life.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Leopards, Lions and Cheetahs, Oh My!

By Jimmy D.
On Sunday March 4th we had just returned from our homestay in Katutrua, which means “The place where people do not live”. To me it was quite the opposite. My family was welcoming and helpful in teaching me their culture. We had just attended Church and returned back to the house for our last meal before they had to drop me back at CGEE. My family did not want to drop me off, and I didn’t want to go either. After spending a week in their home we had built a good relationship that I hope to expand on during my time here by visiting them often and joining them for dinner.  After being gone for a week it was strange being back at CGEE, but then transition went well, it was nice to all be eating dinner as a group again and talking about our experiences in our homestay, considering we all had vastly different conversations and interactions it was very interesting to compare and contrast our week away from each other.
           On Monday we started our regular schedule again which consists of breakfast, class, internship, and then returning for dinner. During class on Monday we talked about Small Medium Enterprises (SME’s) and their potential, especially in Africa, at increasing the economy and lifting people out of poverty. Our speaker, Forrest Branch went into great detail on how this is possible. But it’s important for investors to notice the potential of SME’s. A barrier to SME’s is funding, which can be difficult to obtain in Namibia. Most banks will not give a loan without collateral that may be hard to obtain due to varying circumstances. A majority of SME’s will use their own savings to start a business; the next group relies on friends and family for the funding to start their business. This causes challenges on many fronts. One issue I see is expansion, for example if your business is doing well, but you still haven’t made back your initial investment, it is hard to invest more money in increasing your stock or staff, even if your business is doing well, the capital isn’t there to expand. There are a few ways to support SME’s. First is to go to the business and support them by using their services or buying their products. The second option is to invest small amounts of money much like a microloan, where you and the business operator can establish a timeline and action plan, and once the return is made the investor will get their initial investment back with a small percentage of return. The power of microloans comes from many people investing small amounts of money at once so this will overall make up a medium to large loan, but the risks are small because the individual will only lose their small investment, rather than a bank or large investor having to take the full impact of losing a large investment.
N/a'ankuse Lodge and Wilderness Sanctuary main entrance
           The most notable part of my week was visiting N/a’ankuse Lodge & Wildlife Sanctuary. During our Environmental Connections class we had the pleasure of traveling out to N/a’ankuse to go on a feeding tour to see lions, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs, baboons and caracal. It is sad to see animals in cages instead of being able to roam the wild but there are reasons for the work N/a’ankuse does. All of the animals there are either orphaned and would not be able to survive alone in the wild, injured by traps and the damage cannot be fixed to the point where they can be released, or conflict animals, which are animals that attack livestock and pose problems for farmers. If they are not removed they would either be shot or have the potential to injure or kill humans. N/a’ankuse also provides the animals with much more space than a typical zoo in the USA would, each enclosure has about 5 hectors of land. Lastly we talked to a researcher who works at N/a’ankuse, he explained some of the research projects taking place and how interns have been coming up with some innovative ideas to combat wildlife conflict such as using lion scat to deter other animals from approaching livestock. He also talked about how hard it is to keep count of the animals in the wild to produce reliable numbers about how many are left. As of now there are only around 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild, but in 1900 it was believed that there was 100,000 cheetahs in the wild, so in 100 years the cheetah population has plummeted due to a lack of conversation efforts and this issue is only starting to be addressed. This is why the work N/a’ankuse does is so important because they not only protect animals that are endangered, they also do research to better animal populations and increase conversation.
Lion at N/a'ankuse

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Home Away from Home

By: Camryn C.

Almost two months in and I feel although I have had a world wind of experiences already. I quickly realized this learning experience would not be one about adjusting but rather enjoying. Traveling all through South Africa to get to our final destination of Namibia where we would continue learning for the next three months.  A big part of our learning is being hands on, truly living as if Namibia was our home for good. As students we get the pleasure to live with a Namibian family for a week and experience with them their day to day life. I personally would like to believe that no other family could compare to mine. They were truly absolutely outstanding. I had three sisters, two older and one my age, two lovely nieces seven and nine years old, and of course an amazing mom and dad. During this week I continued classes and internship as scheduled during the day, until my host mom or dad picked me up at the CGEE house after work. The correlation of what was taking place in my classes and at home were unreal! I felt as if I would learn one thing in class and before I knew it was a topic at the dinner table.

Photo taken at local museum, exhibiting the San people's homes
In our history class we are studying the different ethnic backgrounds and population that make up Namibia. This week we attended a local museum studying the different populations, such as the San people and Oshiwambo. We learned about what made them who they are today and why they currently live the way they do.  This was super interesting especially because my family had come from a mixed ethnic background. My dad’s family are Oshiwambo and my mom’s family are Herero, besides language differences the greetings were also very different. As my mom felt it normal to step into a room and greet everyone as a whole, my dad only saw fit to greet everyone separately and personally. Albertina our history professor and CGEE staff member also comes from a background of Oshiwambo, and throughout the week as we do our check-in she will ask us all individually how we are feeling and what is going on, which lines up with her heritage of greeting as well.  Finding those connections between what I was learning and where my family came from really helped us to have good conversations and bond over the week.
I often spent a lot of time with my host mom and host sister who was my age, we were practically two peas in a pod. If we weren’t preparing dinner together then we were often listening to music together or I was getting taught Afrikaans which was a blast to learn.  It was really interesting to me to chat with my sister about our generational issues and what that looked like here in Namibia and also in the U.S. I quickly found that our generation didn’t care as much about where you came from or to which tribe you belonged, but more about similar interests. My sister and the majority of her friends can speak Afrikaans but prefer to speak English. They do not feel racial discrimination is as noticeable because in their minds things such as the Apartheid did not affect them directly. I take we had two women speakers come in from the University of Namibia who touched on this topic more, explaining that my generation has no problem living in harmony together, it is their parents who have difficulty accepting who their children are friends with. Some issues Namibia faces today in regards to division are present due to who has the political power, and since that still remains an older generation it is hard for any political turnover.

My host mom and I enjoying some great conversations at dinner together.
My mom could also recognize the generational gap, especially because of how her and her sisters grew up were separated not only by ethnic background but by race as well.  As we have traveled and learned more about Apartheid the three groups as classified were white, black, and colored. Today colored is a very offensive term and their were test done to see which category you would fall into, in the view of others being considered colored wasn’t as bad as being called black. So my aunt at only twelve years old had to go to Cape Town to a boarding school to pursue her education. Overall not only did I take away so much educationally, but I truly made lifelong connections with my family. Whether it was through conversations, watching African Soap Opera’s or the endless laughs at the dinner table, I wouldn’t want to change a thing.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Final Firsts

By: R. Gail
It was a full week of getting into the rhythm of things. We finally started classes, had our first day of internships, got to explore Windhoek further than walking distance. We also had our first and only birthday celebration while we are together.
This week we set the tone for the rest of the semester with "community day;" we dove straight in talking about religion, sexual orientation, race, class, etc. What I loved about the community day was that the students didn’t just reflect on all these issues, but also the staff did too, who are mostly Namibian. Personally, I found it very informative to talk to the staff and see their views on these issues and how they compare to the Americans. It was a great platform to reflect and reaffirm my thoughts and beliefs on some of the subjects we touched on during the day. We played games to get to know each other a little better and got to teach the game Ninja to the rest of the staff. I was getting a bit worried when d (the housekeeper) was jumping around and almost falling on her pregnant belly! Thankfully, she did not.
The whole CGEE gang trying to figure out how the game of Ninja works.

Tuesday we went on a “Katutura Quest” with some young people that are from Katutura, a township that was created to forcibly moved Black people there during the Apartheid. Katutura has so much to offer from the amazing food of Kapana to the elder community we got to meet with during out “Katutura Quest.” For the quest we were split into two groups; one group went to an art center and my group went to the only old folk's home in the city. We talked to the man that ran the center and he told us that residents must be able to take care of themselves, have a low income, and be overall in a healthy condition; meaning that the residents were able to care for themselves and did not need constant medical attention. Usually, when I visit retirement centers or old folk homes I get quite sad, but at this one everyone, for the most part, was all smiles. We sat in on a bible study in what I assumed was the Afrikaans language. Since I could not understand the language the bible study was in, I observed the room and something dawned upon me: I was sitting in a room with Black and White people who grew up during the apartheid era. To think that they grew up separated by law, and now live together only a few years after the end of apartheid was amazing. We later found ourselves eating the most deliciously prepared meat: kapana, a cow that is very freshly cut and prepared with the richest spices and luscious fat on a grill. We ended the day by preparing for the first day of our internships (unfortunately I was MIA for this)!
Wednesday we all started our internships bright and early! My internship is with the Namibian Women’s Health Network which is a community-based organization that empowers people who are affected by HIV and AIDS in Namibia. This organization also seeks to provide educations, skills, and information to women who are living with HIV and AIDS in Namibia. What is currently happening now is we teach reading and writing in English and food preparation to women outside of the city of Windhoek. Most of what I have been doing is lesson plans to teach basic English literacy. The idea of this current program is to give the women the tools they need to be able to find a job or even create a small business of their own. I hope to teach as much as I can and learn more about and from these women throughout the time that I am with them.

(Jimmy & Alexis) Our first day of our politics class!
We couldn't be more excited!
Thursday we finally had our first day of classes! In our politics class and political development class, we had speakers come in and talk to us about what Pan Africanism is and how it was mostly for people who were outside of Africa to reconnect with their roots, but is now a uniting idea among all Africans. We also had someone come in a talk to us about the relationship Namibia has with China and North Korea. The two countries have great political relationships with Namibia because after the liberation struggle Namibia needed some help and reached out to other countries but only really received help from China and North Korea. Especially with the Chinese, the relationship was abused. The Chinese would build factories in Namibia to acquire cheap labor from the Namibian population. The Namibian government allowed the Chinese to overwork their workers, left them sick for the rest of their lives, and let them break the laws of the worker's rights of the Namibians. Namibia’s government overlooked these conditions because they were in great need for jobs at the time. I am already learning so much of Namibia’s history and how that has shaped Namibia today.
To wrap up this busy week we headed to the theaters to watch Black Panther, which lived up to the hype. We went out to dinner and got pizza with a very rude waiter, it was great. It was also Hal’s 21st birthday! We all bought him an inflatable shark for the pool (he has yet to take it into the pool though…). After he showered we pushed him into the pool in all his dry clothes. We went on a hike in search for a lion, thankfully we did not find one considering we were still in a city. Now that we are settling into our new home I am excited to see what these next few months will bring us here in Windhoek, Namibia.
I was just helping Hal jump into 21!
Till next time!

Monday, March 12, 2018

From the Mother City to our Home City

By Hal W.

      We began this week in Cape Town, South Africa, and ended it in Windhoek, Namibia. We have set up shop here in Windhoek, where we will be staying for the next three months. I have the luxury of writing this with the comfort of A/C, something we all missed while we traveled around the Cape.

     We began this week by visiting the Slave Lodge Museum in downtown Cape Town. The tour began by meeting Lucy Campbell and her assistant Khadijah outside of the Castle of Good Hope. The fort was built by the Dutch East India Company between 1666 and 1679, it is the oldest standing colonial building in the whole country. It originally was used as a replenishment stations for British Ships sailing around the horn of Africa. Today it is a museum and historical site for tourists and memorialization of Cape Town’s brutal history.
      Lucy Campbell shared the history of the fort and how it impacted the native people of South Africa. She explained how colonization integrated new and often detrimental impacts onto the preexisting culture that existed here. From there we walked up Spin Street to the Slave Lodge Museum, making a brief stop at the Slave Tree memorial. This inconspicuous raised octagon is the site that slaves were sold during the economic and population boom of Cape Town. It feels overly modest, a plinth easily passed by without noticing its significance. The town was built by the men and women who were sold under that tree, and today it can be overpassed without a moment's thought. This place is worth stopping by to acknowledge on a historic remembrance of Cape Town, often forgotten.
     The Slave Lodge bustled with school trips and tourists gawking at the blinking lights of the eye-catching exhibits. We sat on the concrete floor as Campbell presented stories and trinkets traded during the Transcontinental slave trade. Ships stopped by Cape Town bringing tobacco and alcohol to suppress the health of the native tribes, for the sole intention of exploiting them for their land’s resources. The Slave Lodge was the physical space that the slaves were kept in decrepit conditions, with morality thrown out the barred windows.
     In the early 1800’s the building was modified to be used as government offices including the upper house of Parliament and the Cape Supreme Court. In the 1960’s it was again transformed into a museum of remembrance. “From human wrongs to human rights, exhibitions on the lower level of this museum explore the long history of slavery in South Africa”.
The original Parliament Hall. (Used during the Apartheid Regime)
     After lunch on Long Street we walked to the current Parliament facility for a discussion of the on-going political turmoil happening in South Africa. We were met by Andricus Pieter van der Westhuizen, a current member of the Democratic Alliance (DA) party in Parliament. He is currently appointed as the Shadow Deputy Minister of Labour, but his background is in education. We discussed how volatile the politics of South Africa have been since the turn of the country in the early 1990’s. We lucked upon a interesting time in South Africa’s politics. Jacob Zuma, the current president of South Africa, is being asked by his own party the African National Congress (ANC) to step down from his position. He has over 100 charges of corruption and is overwhelmingly disapproved of by the majority of the South African population. He is charged with using public funds for supposed “security” improvements for his estate including a pool and housing for his security team. Our meeting and tour of Parliament proved interesting and eye-opening.
      Tuesday morning we ate breakfast at St. Paul’s Guesthouse, our accommodation for our time in Cape Town, then went to the District Six Museum. This small, one building museum pays homage to the thousands of mixed race South Africans who were forcibly removed from their homes in the early 1900’s. District Six was a neighborhood of diversity and culture for laborers and merchants for decades before white colonists decided to bulldoze the area and force the residents into the surrounding areas known as the Cape Flats. The white government deemed District Six to be a destructive slum that bred vices like gambling and prostitution. They also declared under apartheid regime that mixed race communities were against the law. In 2003 the area began a reconstruction process. But of course true to the bureaucratic form it was executed with inadequate resources and labor. Today many of the homes lost remain rubble.

District Six museum complete with a floor map
      After a pensive tour of the District Six museum we de-stressed by going to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. The five square kilometer complex featured a tree canopy boardwalk and sculpture garden. It was a relaxing break from the onslaught of information about the destructive history of this town. My personal favorite was the fragrance garden, buzzing with exotic insects that were double the size of the critters we have back home.
     We ended our outing with a empowering discussion at the Sex Workers and Advocacy Task Force (SWEAT). The goal of SWEAT is to decriminalize sex work in South Africa. They participate in rallies and demonstrations to bring media coverage and educate people about Sex Workers rights. They also offer resources to Sex Workers like medical aid and helpful connections. The discussion was positive and light-hearted, despite the rather blunt topic. The people that work there are fighting a noble battle.

Camryn and Lamont getting down
The next day we were given a tour of Langa and Gugulethu by Mrs. Laura. These two townships are primarily black and have had a troubled past. We stopped at the Dompas Museum in Langa for a tour of the history of passbooks in the apartheid regime. The Dompas or Passbooks were issued to all black laborers who traveled into Cape Town for work. Dompas translates to “dumb pass”, these books were used to restrict black movement throughout the city and give the police another reason to throw innocent people in jail. If someone was caught without their passbook or if it was out of order they were put in jail for a month. The museum resides in the same building that black people were kept against their will for not having this aforementioned “Dumb pass”. Afterwards we walked through Langa to a restaurant where we ate authentic South African food, served family style, and were serenaded by talented group of musicians. They even let us try their instruments!
A young Jimmy among the Pines
After lunch we went to the Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCCA) that lies on the waterfront of Cape Town. The exhibits depicted historic mediums brought into a contemporary light. Animal pelts, weapons, and traditional african garb decorated the six story building. It is a place worth visiting for art enthusiasts to anyone willing to experience history through modern and artistic means.

For dinner we went to an African cafe aptly named “The African Cafe”. The food was again served family style and we enjoyed the music of the staff dancing, singing, and drumming through the restaurant. Truly a sight to behold on your trip through Cape Town.
The next morning we woke up early to pile into the van to ship off to the airport. We made our way through customs and security and onto the plane. After a quick two hour plane ride we touched down in our home for the next three months. The drive to Windhoek offered a few sights to show us what was to come. I watched out my window as the desert brush zipped by us, the occasional baboon or boar poking out along the side of the road. We were all quite tired from the travels of the day so after a quick orientation session we all called it an early night.
Today we began to make ourselves acquainted with our new home with a walking tour of Windhoek. Our fearless R.A. Jamila showed us around town, we saw the local mall, club, ice cream shop, and cafe. Windhoek is a big town and a small city. The taxis are cheap and the streets are (mostly) safe. We were warned by Paul From the U.S. Embassy about the petty muggings and opportunity crime that stems from the lack of employment. The overall message though was that if you keep your wits about you this city is a fun and safe place to stay.
The next day we were all feeling much more at home in our air conditioned manor complete with pool and wifi. We continued our orientation with a driving tour of Windhoek and Katatura, the biggest township of Windhoek. Our guide Martin was friendly and showed us the ins and outs of Windhoek. We visited the Kapana market in Katatura where we had the traditional grilled meat dish for the first time. You pay the price you want to pay and they grill the meat right in front of you on a wood burning stove, we returned back as soon as we could.
So much awkward in just one photo. (Visiting a local Namibian dam)
     Windhoek has graciously welcomed us into their city. The people are friendly and the air is dry. It has only been free from the apartheid regime for less than thirty years so the town quiets down at night. The stars are beautiful.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Blown Away by the Community Spirit in the Windy City

By Alexis T.
Red Location Lodge, a former beer house that was transformed into
a bed and breakfast by Mama Africa and several other women.
The focuses of this week’s adventures were women’s empowerment, Black empowerment, and the idea of Ubuntu. Mama Africa told us her story about Red Location Lodge, a lodge in Port Elizabeth, South Africa former beer house that was transformed into a bed and breakfast by 15 women in 2008. These women worked their whole lives to destroy the beer house that distracted black children from their education. Instead of doing homework the children would carry liquor for individuals at the beer house. Mama Africa was one of the women who fought for equality for Blacks during apartheid to ensure that children would be able to get an education. She continued this mission by renovating the beer house into a bed and breakfast in which women could work to afford their children’s education.
The Ubuntu Centre, a center that provides educational, health, and
psychosocial resources for the local community
The Red Location Project was meant to better the community, both for the education of the children and to bring revenue through tourism. There are many organizations in South Africa that work through and with the community to improve the livelihoods of its inhabitants. The Ubuntu Centre is another community-based project that aims to educate children from “cradle to career” through the Ubuntu Pathways program, and provide health and psychosocial resources to the local community. The Red Location Project and Ubuntu Centre both employ the ubuntu ideals of altruism and sharing by being open to all individuals in the community. The Ubuntu Centre determines the needs of the community by working within and networking with the community. This inside-out approach ensures that the primary needs to the society are being attended to. The primary needs of the community are education, health, and psychosocial help. The Ubuntu Centre focuses on being open to all types of individuals, all desired career paths from music to science to technology, and giving back to the community through its sustainable design and educational programs.

The Ubuntu Centre, a center that provides educational, health, and
psychosocial resources for the local community

In another town called Victoria Mxhenge, the South African Homeless People’s Federation strives to improve the livelihoods of those in the community by providing free, stable housing. The organization went to great lengths to educate individuals on building techniques that allowed them to construct their own houses. Most of the houses were built by women and have been standing for 20 years despite developers claiming they would fall in 5 years. The program has provided housing for 136 families and the vocational education has provided the largely unemployed population with a skill set that makes them more employable. This organization speaks to the ideals of ubuntu and sharing by working within and providing the community with homes, skills, and stability resources. The organization continues to address the housing issue and has moved onto addressing unemployment, education, and the health of its citizens. The organization educates through a feminist lens that promotes women’s empowerment. Most of the individuals building houses with the organization were women and the organization promotes the importance of the women’s role in the house. This is extremely important in the town which has many single mothers. The skills taught to women are traditionally masculine skills, proving that women can do both the jobs traditionally associated with men and women. There is a similar feminist movement in the U.S. in which women take on the traditional masculine role of breadwinner or join masculine occupations such as engineering, proving that a woman can do anything a man does. The program also funds children’s education through bursaries that prepare students both for the university track and career path through vocational training. There are also programs to help children with homework and problems going on at home. The organization provides a safe space for the children where they can stay away from the influence of drugs and alcohol that can be found on the streets and focus on their schooling and wellbeing.
Members of the Victoria Mxhenge community and South African Homeless
People's Federation outside the Federation's center.
Community is an important concept in the South African culture which differs greatly from the culture of rugged individualism in the United States. Individuals learn to lean on each other for support as they did by building homes for each other, sharing resources and skill sets, and providing programs that uplift and provide opportunities for one another. In the United States, on the other hand, it is common to be closed off from the community and be self-sufficient. The organizations mentioned above were started by individuals who lived and grew up in the communities their projects are based in. This ensures that the needs of the individuals are met by having an inside view of what the community needs rather than an outsider’s assumption of the true problems. For the Red Location Project, it was destroying a beer house that promoted alcoholism and kept children away from school. This community has seen many improvements including paved roads, an increase in formal housing structures, and an influx of tourism which has provided jobs for more individuals. For the Ubuntu Centre it was ensuring that the community has access to health care, psychosocial care, and education. These three things can prepare children to enter the workforce instead of increasing the unemployment rate and provide physical and mental health stability for those living in undesirable conditions who cannot afford medical care. For the South African Homeless People’s Federation, it was teaching the largely unemployed community with a skill set of home building that allowed them to create their community from the ground up. This project not only educated but provided stability through their free housing program. The organization has also begun to provide educational and support programs for children to ensure that their needs are met in a safe environment away from the streets. At the heart of each of these projects is giving back to the community through the sharing of resources and knowledge, a quality that is not often exemplified in the individualistic United States.
The importance of community in South African culture creates a welcoming environment. It also shows how caring individuals are towards one another. This was shocking coming from the U.S. where the focus is more on growing individually rather than community building. The South African culture focuses on sharing and giving back to the community rather than self gain which is synonymous with American culture. I feel that this creates a more trusting community where each person knows that they can rely on another. It also creates a more sympathetic and caring community where one can be sure that those in their community are looking out for them.