Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Team Building, Family Building and Class Building!

By: Melissa Crowley-Buck, Latrease Davenport, and Michelle Munger

!Gai tses! (Good Day!) Week three in Namibia was full of emotion, learning and unique experiences, caused by the retreat, start of internships, classes and home stays.

In an effort to try and create a team with the students and staff members, we ventured outside of the city to a beautiful camp for a day long retreat. We began the day by playing team building exercises, which included a trust walk, egg relay race and the communication web (which is shown in the picture). These brought us together because at one time each individual was vulnerable and had to trust other members of the group. It was a really fun way to bond. Every person presented a roadmap to the group, explaining the reasons behind their values, religion and experiences with race, prejudices and class. This activity was very helpful in preventing any misconceived notions that could have potentially created problems within the group. There were many tears shed and comforting hugs. Many people shared a lot more emotion than expected, proving how close we have already become. It was clear that we all had a lot in common, but had come from different backgrounds to make us into who are today. As the sun set on the mountains, the fantastic day drew to a close with great a braai (African equivalent of a BBQ), made even better with the deeper connections made. The landscape was amazing as well as the food; nothing compared to the lasting relationships that were formed.

For those who don’t have our schedules memorized from front to back: First of all shame on you! What could be more important? Secondly, we began our internships and volunteer work. Now the range of the work we find ourselves in proves to be all over the spectrum. Internships include working with low-income housing, women, the environment, refugees, HIV/AIDS, child development, and Namibia’s political system. However I cannot attest to the “first week on the job” experiences for everyone. So I (Melissa) thought that I would talk about my first week because I have a sneaking suspicion that we are all feeling degrees of the same thing: Panic. As with all new circumstances we find ourselves hanging in the wind a little bit. Just trying to get our bearings and tasks set and all the while hoping we are not doing more harm than good. For example, I am working at a soup kitchen/daycare center for kids in Okahandja Park, which is one of the informal settlements on the outskirts of Windhoek. For me, the biggest question I have been wrestling with is, “How do I take it all in?” The conditions in the settlement are awful. Most of the kids that come to us are street children who will not get any other food all day. I don’t really know how to deal with the injustice of it. The advice I always seem to get is to just “separate yourself.” “It’s two different worlds,” or, “You can’t feel it all,” are also common comments. But I’m not sure about that. It seems as if there are only two ways to deal with it: To feel nothing or to feel everything.

But which is the right approach? Surely there is no shame in needing to separate yourself from what would otherwise weigh on your mind all day. Even the strongest of people would go mad right? But to feel it all, is, if nothing else, simply bearing witness to the tragedy of the plight of others. Even if it hurts you and sits on your shoulders maybe you are bearing a little of it all with them. Maybe by doing so, I can enjoy the happiness and liveliness of the children a little more. I wonder if it’s just a balance of those two approaches. It’s something that could apply all over, do we allow ourselves to become too jaded by the sad things we hear, or do we allow ourselves to feel it, even if it’s just for a little bit? It seems like a disservice to those we are all working with to not sit with these troubles as much as we can. I guess we’ll see as time goes on.

Time for the academic, semi-conventional studying part of this adventure; classes started this week. Thursday was the start of Racism and Resistance in Southern Africa and the United States Struggles against Colonialisms, Apartheid and Segregation, and the investigation into “Why study history?” and “What parts of history are purposefully not investigated?” What facts or information do the books leave out or what happens when the quotations end? How does that change what we think? Next class was on Friday, the Development Process in Southern Africa. Every student is coming from a different major with different interests. It has been really interesting to see how this affects classroom discussions; we are learning a lot from one another. For example, a few students have strong economic backgrounds, where some others have a difficult time telling the different between Adam Smith and John Keynes. Everyone can offer some insight from pervious classes. The questions about development are very difficult to truly understand and define. Is there anything you can say without expressing a value statement? The most difficult question we have been tackling is what poverty is, and what makes some countries poor? There are never any easy answers, and can be very frustrating to try and fathom. To try and help adjust to the culture we also have language class. The first one was Damara/Nama, which involves a lot of clicking sounds; which proved to be very difficult for many of us. We did not get discouraged though, as we learned greetings and introductions. !Gaise ha re! (Stay Well!)

To end a busy and already exciting week, we began our home stays on Friday. Being away from the house and our peers was a bit frightening at first but after being embraced by my (Latrease) family those preconceived notions soon vanished. Conversations have sparked many interesting topics, liked life before Independence, cultural differences and problems like HIV/AIDS. Though I may have to wash the dishes or clear the table, I appreciate being treated like part of the family. I love to eat so I’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen along with my host-mom, who loves to cook creating a perfect match! The food has been fantastic and I anxiously await trying goat-head! I also got the chance to attend church on Sunday! The service was in three languages, and although I could only understand a small percentage of what was being said, I took what I could from it.

My host family speaks English, Afrikaans and Nama. The only time my family speaks English is when they are talking to me. At times it can be annoying but I have definitely gotten used to it. I asked why they did that, and she simply stated that it is easier to get the point across in their native tongue. During my stay, I have been trying to disprove some of the stereotypes of black women in America that many people in Namibia hold.. Stereotypes are generalizations that are often not true and lead way to misconceptions and prejudices. Why should I try to disprove a stereotype? Is it my responsibility? Am I losing my individuality in another country trying to prove that we are all individuals?

Needless to say it has been a packed week. But thanks to the bonds we have formed we have already set the foundations to take advantage of our time here.

Photo Captions:
1. Brittany being lifted by the "web of support" (made from yarn!) during the team building day.
2. Melissa with children from her internship.
3. Students walking to class.
4. Latrease and her homestay Mom in the kitchen.
5. Sunset just outside of Windhoek.


greenleaf39 said...

Thank you all for the wonderful articles and great pictures. Gives us back at "home" a much better idea of what you're all up to. Very nicely written articles--again, thanks

Anastácio Soberbo said...

Hello, I like this blog.
Sorry not write more, but my English is not good.
A hug from Portugal

Jehan said...

Looks like you had a very successful team building event. Team building activities are important to enhance employee working skills as well as their relationship skills. It's also a good break from all the stress in work.

We had a great experience with Ripe Stuff. They were able to help us with our communication skills as well as conflict resolution .

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