Thursday, November 19, 2009

Week 12: Classes and Southern Namibia

Ken, Julia, Jasmine

This week was divided between attending classes and traveling to the southern part of Namibia. Political Science class convened on Tuesday. This session included presentations on land reform and education, especially regarding English language education in Namibia. There was a heated debate on whether English should be used as the language of instruction in schools. We also discussed the importance of preservation of culture and vernacular languages. It was difficult for our class to reach a consensus on the extent to which English should be used, because we believe it is important for students to become fluent in English in order to become (financially) successful in both Namibia and the world. Some of us (Julia) felt that the most central problem was the lack of functional literacy among teachers, regardless of when English is implemented in primary education.
Tuesday afternoon, the internship class went to hear a panel of United States citizens who currently work abroad. The panel presentations and discussions that followed were fascinating, because they provided students with information and perspectives on positive and negative aspects of life abroad. For example, panelists spoke of opportunities to become acquainted with new cultures, meet different people, and do fulfilling work in impoverished communities. Challenges faced by the panelists as they have worked abroad range from difficulty relating to friends and family at home to limited salaries and complications meeting basic needs, like quality healthcare. After hearing about some of the negative aspects of life abroad, Jasmine began to question her plans for an international career. Loneliness, going long periods without seeing family and friends, and a general disconnect from life at home are all difficult and constant parts of living abroad.

Wednesday, Religion class briefly discussed the role of minority religions, such as Judaism and Islam, in the history of Namibia and South Africa. We then traveled to the local Islamic Center. Instructor Paulus and the students were all able to ask questions of a local Islamic scholar. There was a strong focus on explaining the theological pillars of Islam, as well as dispelling misconceptions surrounding this religion. Some of us (Ken) were very interested in learning about the contributions of Islamic people in the liberation struggle against apartheid.
In Thursday’s history class, students very creatively presented on topics relating to the Civil Rights movement in the United States and the Liberation Struggle in Southern Africa. These presentations were followed by an activity prepared by instructor Romanus, which revealed the way students’ experiences and backgrounds represent differences in racial and socioeconomic privilege. Students were surprised to observe that the divisions present at the end of the exercise were not reflective of friendships within the CGE community.

After class on Thursday, we packed up and traveled south to a government-owned campsite at the Hardap Dam. Friday morning, after a brief tour of the dam, we traveled to Mariental municipality to hear from public relations officer, Catherine Boois, a former CGE intern. Ms. Boois explained the history and culture of the Nama people, as well as the history and political, economic, and environmental impact
the Hardap Dam has on the community of Mariental. We then traveled onward to Berseba, a rural town located at the foot of Brukkaros mountain. We met with Petrus Fleermuys, the chair of the Brukkaros Community Campsite Committee. We learned about the organization of a campsite near the mountain in order to attract tourists and earn profits that can be used to benefit the Berseba community. Mr
Fleermuys mentioned a proposed lodge, which would have employed fifty people. This
proposal was turned down, as the lodge would compete with
the community run campsite, which has one employee. Even though the current campsite is owned and run by community members, the potential creation of jobs and increase in tourism of a private lodge would bring greater financial benefits to Berseba. We spent the night at the campground and spent the next day with the local youth club. We planted trees in a nearby cemetery and played icebreaker games to get to know each other. This interaction and the conversations that followed were highlights for many students. We were able to learn a lot from the perspectives and experiences from our new friends, especially regarding education, politics, and HIV/AIDS.

For our final night of travel, we went to a privately owned campsite at the Gondwana Kalahari Anib Lodge. On Sunday morning, we heard one of the owners speak on the three pillars of the business of the Gondwana Lodge group: conservation, financial stability, and social responsibility. During this discussion, the presenter mentioned that he and the Gondwana group were denied permission to build a lodge in Berseba, because it would conflict with local interests. It seemed to many of us that this private company would have done good things for the community of Berseba, as the facilities at Gondwana were much nicer than those at the Brukkaros campsite.

Overall, students returned from the trip having gained a wide variety of perspectives regarding issues of private vs. public ownership of businesses, weighing the benefits of each as tools for development. We also had discussion on foreign aid and investment, government’s role in job creation, and conservation in northern and southern regions of Namibia.

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