Monday, February 23, 2009

Week 4: Classes and Urban Homestays

Colleen Keeney, Christy Allen, and Nichole Rohlfsen

As we settle into our second week here in Windhoek, we have fallen into the routine of classes and internships, the schedule of life here at the CGE house. We’ve had our first full week of classes and have felt the reality of being college students once again. Hours of reading, papers to be written, and large projects at the end of the semester keep our minds active and help tie in experiences outside of classes. This week we have continued the Urban Homestay, leaving our host families in the mornings for classes and internships during the day and returning to our families in the afternoon and evenings.

All of Week 4 was spent living with Namibian families during our urban homestay in Windhoek. While living with our families, we had the opportunity to experience family dynamics as a part of Namibia. We ate meals, interacted, did chores, and attended church with our families. Our new families allowed us a new context to explore Namibian culture first hand. We had a variety of experiences, as the families came from different neighborhoods and various socioeconomic statuses. Common topics discussed during the homestay were religion, family structure, HIV/AIDS, politics, and education. Commuting from our homestay to class, we were filled with fresh information on how social issues are affecting Namibians today. The homestay enriched not only our academics but allowed us to bond with wonderful people and create a home away from home. When we all returned from the homestay on Sunday evening everyone was filled with stories. However, everyone was very happy to be back at the center and the growing bond between our group was evident at our welcome back braai (barbeque).

On Thursday, Professor Romanus Shivoro arranged for a former freedom fighter turned teacher and politician to address the class. This proved to be a great privilege for the class, as he was an important figure in Namibia’s quest for independence from South Africa. He relayed to us his remarkable story of being the first young black man to leave Namibia for the United States by ship, overcoming the apartheid government’s determination to stop him and then receiving an education at Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania. While there he continued to fight for his country’s freedom by petitioning to the UN until he was able to present his case to various international leaders. He eventually played a major role in the organization of SWAPO, the ruling political party, through overseas correspondence and even coined the national title of Namibia! All of this while studying medicine! It was not an easy journey, ultimately leading to the death of his brother by the Southwest Africa government’s hands, yet he continued the fight for independence and eventually returned to his country. His determination and bravery was inspiring and made us question what our position would be if we were eighteen years old and in that situation. Would we have the courage to take action against a violent government that forbade any political involvement from the majority blacks? Would we leave the cushy life of a college student in the United States to return to an oppressed country in the midst of turmoil?

Another speaker raised more questions as to our position as youth in today’s world. In development class on Friday, a speaker from UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, discussed the roles of various UN organizations, programs directed through UNFPA, and the greatest challenges of development that UNFPA is working to overcome in Namibia. The three main areas of UNFPA focus on productive health, gender, and population and statistics. Within these areas, the UNFPA works to create sustainable government policies and ensure their implementation, addresses multiple impacts of HIV/AIDS, ensures food security and environmental sustainability, and addresses other issues related to poverty and disparity.

Ms. Hailonga knew the experience of poverty first-hand, as she grew up an orphan in Katatura. However, Hailonga ascertained that the current rate of crime and rape is much higher, along with a loss of sense of community. Hailonga also concluded that today’s youth, especially in Katatura, are set up for failure. There are no activities for youth, which she believes leads to a lack of options outside of crime and hanging out in shebeens. For example, youth do not have spaces for recreational activities and sports, movie theaters or other entertainment venues, or youth programs to keep them off the streets.

After working for the Ministry of Health and then receiving her masters, Hailonga joined the UNFPA, one reason being to look for ways to empower youth. She formed a group called Young Achievers, a group of high-school and college-aged students from Katatura which meets every Saturday. The group is career-focused, giving students a chance to hear from professional guest speakers and concentrate on their intellectual, social and professional skills. Hailonga also maintains the group instills vision and teaches students to be responsible citizens. The group is funded by donors and the money raised is used to help students pay for their university education.

As we all come as students from different universities in the U.S., we realize the privilege by just being able to have the opportunity to study at a post-secondary level. This week has given us an even greater insight to our own cultural perspectives and experiences, as we become more immersed and exposed to the Namibian society through our homestays and other Namibian contacts.

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