Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Week 5: Classes and Field Trips

Caitlin Wilson, Hannah Miner, and Matthew Moldan

Political Science focused on the education of Namibia. Our speaker, a teacher and principal within Namibia, elaborated on her experiences with the Namibian education system and the changes that have come about due to its apartheid history. The different educational systems that have been employed pre- and post-independence include the Bantu, Cambridge, and the Child-Centered approaches. Similarly, the American education system and society follows a type of Child-Centered approach. In Southern Africa, the role of children in the household adheres to the more traditional seen but not heard value system. For some students this has been a hard concept to grasp especially after being raised in a child friendly and focused household. Nevertheless, children are inevitably an important aspect of Namibia and families alike and with the changes occurring in the education system now, we will most likely see their role in the family transition to something more similar to what we are accustomed to in the U.S.

The next day each student began the day with either their internship or Religion class. Religion focused on the relationship between African traditional religions and Christianity—the most common religious affiliation of Namibians today. The speaker, a retired Lutheran pastor, addressed the class on the concept of ubuntu – “I am because you are, you are because I am.” This ancient philosophy was employed in African tribes to foster the concept of community and permeates all aspects of life. Therefore, religion is extremely important to those Namibians that have converted to Christianity.

History class concentrated on the liberation struggle of Namibia. After a brief discussion regarding the independence struggle, the class embarked for Hero’s Acre, a national monument honoring the heroes and heroines from Namibia’s bloody and difficult liberation struggle. This tribute, located just outside the city limits of Windhoek, consisted of an assortment of real and symbolic graves with a statue and tomb at the summit honoring all those unknown soldiers who lost their lives in the struggle. The stunning site itself was built using local natural resources at a cost of N$80 million. When this cost is compared to American prices it is appropriate for such a large site. However, in Namibia an expense of N$80 million is absolutely astounding. It is a shock that the Namibian government found it appropriate to spend so much on a historical site while citizens in the nearby informal settlements do not have basic services such as water, sewage systems, electricity, proper housing, and access to healthcare. In addition to the astounding cost of construction, the government must continually reinvest resources thanks to the destruction of property by the baboons.

After returning from Hero’s Acre our class reconvened to hear Pauline Dempers, a past prisoner of SWAPO (South West African People’s Organization) and current activist with Breaking the Wall of Silence. She spoke about her history as a SWAPO member where she received training in Angola to be part of SWAPO’s military wing, which was formed to fight the Apartheid government system. However, after being falsely accused of treason by the suspicious SWAPO fearful of apartheid government spies, she spent her remaining three years within their “dungeons.” Since her release she has worked with Breaking the Wall of Silence, which advocates for those imprisoned and improperly treated by SWAPO during the liberation movement. She has also worked towards revealing the popular political group’s troubled history, to the surprise of many SWAPO-loyal Namibians. Due to the violent history of SWAPO it is a wonder that it remains the most popular and powerful political party in Namibia.

Late that evening, the entire group attended a public lecture by Joseph Diescho, an esteemed professor from University of South Africa. Dr. Diescho is well known for openly opposing the existing political parties in both Namibia and South Africa. This criticism comes as a surprise in Africa as outward government disapproval is not tolerated due to people’s staunch loyalty to political parties. This concept is abstract to us because U.S. citizens can openly criticize government and many see this as an important principle of democracy. His main critique of the parties, including the ruling Namibian political party, SWAPO, is that they lack ideology and instead of focusing on changing policy, work towards placing their party members in government offices in order to provide them with an income. This is one example of how often times, especially in Namibia, it is not what you know, but who you know. This in turn brings to light how powerful the rich are here and weak the poor. The division of political power further intensifies the divide between the rich and poor of Namibia. As a result it is easy to see how politicians can easily forget about the people they once set out to serve. He continued to argue that all political parties in Namibia have the same goal, to oust all others in order to control government spending. Government officials are capable of doing this because voters elect parties, as opposed to individuals, which results in strong party patriotism within the government and little concern for citizens. There seems to be a common consensus among the group of students in attendance that he spoke too much about America and our system of political parties, which is vastly different from the Namibian system. Though his points were well researched, they were also selective and focused only on the positive aspects of the American system. We’ve encounter this opinion, that Namibia should look to the United States as a model, throughout our time in Namibia and this perspective often overlooks the fact that America has a history of slavery and segregation, has been a country for a longer period of time and has a different electoral system.

In Development class we visited the BIG Coalition. The Basic Income Grant (BIG) is a proposed welfare program in which the government would distribute a stipend of N$100 each month to every Namibian resident under the age of 60, at which point people qualify for the pension grant. We heard a lot about the pilot program that is testing the impacts of this proposal on a small community 100 km west of Windhoek. So far this program has been successful in addressing a wide range of social issues but is nonetheless controversial. The students seemed to have mixed feeling in regards to this program. There is a mindset criminalizing people living in poverty which influences the creation of welfare programs throughout the world. The poor are often misconstrued as lazy, dirty, drunk, and incapable of caring for themselves. The representatives from BIG emphasized the ability of people living in poverty to make sensible decisions when given the opportunity and have helped us view the situation differently. One important aspect to keep in mind when reviewing this proposal is Namibia’s history which has led to many Namibians’ current situation today. Because of the Apartheid, some citizens have never received even basic education and as a result have few resources to rely on when job searching. Therefore, this N$100 is intended to jump start businesses, job searching, and healthier lifestyles. Instead of viewing BIG as a safety net it is more appropriate to categorize the relationship between those receiving the grant as that of a person falling into a trampoline. The grant is designed to not only catch people when they encounter hardships while also propelling them upwards. It was a thought provoking presentation at the very least.

The majority of Saturday was spent participating in an “international” charity fashion show. The purpose of the show was to raise funds to help a designer, Taura, establish a center in one of the northern regions of Namibia. Her program, Nurturing Grounds Centre, is dedicated to supporting orphans, elderly people, and individuals living with HIV and TB. It seems as though everyone was involved, either applying make-up, modeling in the show, selling jewelry and tickets, or acting as a master of ceremonies. Taura asked the group to be involved based on our nationality in order to set an atmosphere and target a particular audience. On Namibian standards tickets were high priced which excluded many people who would have enjoyed the entertainment as much as anyone who was able to pay.

1 comment:

erica said...

BRAVO! It warms the heart to hear of fundraisers like the fashion show. All the people involved working together to lend a hand!

We work with an organization thats been instrumental in helping developing countries. We currently sponsor 10 thousand children in 6 different developing countries and we're on track to sponsor 1 MILLI0N more by 2013! We've also built 2 hospitals, 15 schools and 4 biogas digesters.

Have a look at our website if you get a chance

We're building the Largest Humanitarian Army in the WORLD...and we could always use a few more soldiers!

Kenny & Erica Jones