Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Southern Adventures in the Kalahari Sands

Week 12: November 3-9
Lauren Blake, Cameron Ingram, and John Linstrom

This week served as an eventful component of our experiential learning. Starting with an exciting election followed by a memorable trip to the south, we had a tiring but very rewarding experience.

Anticipating American elections this week had us all anxious to see if there would be any change in how we were treated in Namibia. Impossible expectations were placed on Barack Obama to embody black empowerment and political advancement. It is amazing to see first hand how important our elections are in a global context when other nations’ elections hardly break news.

Election night inevitably came after weeks of waiting for its arrival with many of us going to the American Cultural Center to watch the state results pour in. This event was followed by a slumber party in our common room full of red bull guzzling, pajama snuggling Americans parked in front of the television. At four o’clock a.m. people became glued to the TV as final results came in with the eventual announcement of our first black president, Barack Obama. With chills going up our spines we all took a moment to realize that we had just witnessed history, and gained an immediate sense of pride in our nation. Going to our internships that next morning Kirsten Hubbard, one of our fellow students, was actually stopped while wearing an Obama pin and given an appreciative hug and a kiss by a stranger on the street. Bombardment in the form of questions and celebratory cheers regarding these results have given us all hope for a brighter national future to go home to. We didn’t have long to celebrate as our trip to the South was planned for later on that same week.

During our trip to the South we went to the small town of Berseba. Before we left the class was broken up into four groups and given the assignment of coming up with new ways for the Teen HIV/AIDS group in Berseba to teach students and the community about HIV/AIDS. I (Cameron) found this quite daunting: what could I teach these students that they didn’t already know? My fellow group members shared this concern and decided it would be best to start a dialogue about HIV/AIDS. This way the students would be able to present to us what they knew or wanted to know, and we wouldn’t have to make assumptions.

I was excited by how much these young students knew about the topic, and how open they were about discussing the more sensitive subjects of the disease. This is something that always surprises me back in the states, since I didn’t really learn about HIV/AIDS until high school health class. I can’t even imagine myself sitting down with a group of 13 year olds back home and expecting them to be well versed on the transmission of HIV/AIDS. I also find myself questioning, if these students are so knowledgeable and claim that the community is also aware of how to prevent HIV, why is the prevalence rate so high? This is something I have been grappling with this entire semester. There are many factors that seem to contribute to the high rate in Namibia, such as poverty, lack of employment opportunities, poor education, and gender roles. Fortunately, Namibia has a large amount of NGOs whose main focus is helping those who are HIV+, like my internship, the Young Women’s Christian Association. HIV/AIDS was not the only aspect of our trip to the South, we also were exposed to the contrast of community, governmental, and privately owned tourist sites by staying at a different one each night.

A major focus of the trip to the South was on community-based sustainable tourism, often regarded as a panacea for employment in developing Namibia. We quickly learned, however, how much more complicated these situations often are. We stayed at a community-based campsite one night and had the opportunity to speak with a community leader who helped manage the operation. He was very positive about his hopes for growth and improvement at the site, the location of a prominent mountain formation which was the unusual result of magmatic pressure which never erupted into a volcano. He proudly spoke about the way that the campsite would create jobs for the citizens of his village, who suffer from a high unemployment rate. When asked about typical tourist traffic through the area, he responded that it varied greatly and was not yet very consistent. When asked about current employment, we learned that the number of paid employees at the site was originally three, and now is down to one. They hope for an increase to five in the eventual future.

The village is not that small. This project will not make more than a negligible difference in unemployment in the area.

This was a frustrating experience for myself (John), and was reminiscent of my experiences volunteering at A. I. Steenkamp Primary School in Katutura. At Steenkamp I have observed the same kind of meager initiatives which look great on paper, and are hailed as great by the decision-makers with the power, but are recognized as failures by people working “on the ground.”

Yet there is little that a visiting American student can, or has a right to, do about such situations. In the meeting with the community leader, we smiled and took appropriate notes, and later left to spend the night at an otherwise completely vacant campsite. We slept in the shadow of a huge, impenetrable issue.

1 comment:

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