Antonio, Martin and Lindsey
On Tuesday we were able to gain a more in-depth understanding of our housemates and CGE staff. As a group, we took a trip to Elisenheim, located in a country-setting with a beautiful panoramic view of the Namibian landscape.
Before arriving at Elisenheim, each student and staff member was asked to make a personal roadmap that tracked the roles of race, religion, sexuality and class in his or her life. This exercise was aimed at giving all of us the opportunity to become more familiar with each other. We learned that although we came from very diverse places and backgrounds, the similarities and struggles we shared pushed us all toward a common belief in humanity and our roles in the world. Making the roadmaps wasn’t as hard as deciding what to talk about and how to present such personal information. It was harder for the first participants to open up, but as the day went on people slowly began to reveal more and more about their past. Personally, we each felt a little overwhelmed though we all handled it differently. At the end though it honestly reaffirmed our comfort within the group and has allowed us to open up even more in a less formal setting since. As the day progressed, we participated in a number of group activities.
One of the most memorable of these was the creation of a “web of support.” By tossing yarn from person to person around our group circle, we were able to symbolize the connection between each person and the collective strength of the group. Other activities included a blind-folded egg race to foster teamwork and trust between us. For many of us, the highlight of the day was an unplanned hike to the top of the nearby mountain. Not only were the views breathtaking, but through relying on one another’s support, we were able to complete the climb and further strengthen our ties to each other. The group picture we took when we reached the top will serve as a memory of the day’s successes.
This week was also the first week of internships and volunteering. The students involved in internships were placed in a wide variety of fields. From working to formulate a basic income grant as part of a social welfare program, to creating a model for water-usage in the City of Windhoek, students are participating in organizations that are important vehicles for social change in Namibia. However, the interns are beginning to realize that a lot of tedious and strenuous day-to-day work is required before the greater goal can be realized.
Though Antonio and Lindsey have not yet started their volunteering I (martin) began my internship at the organization for the Basic Income Grant (BIG). So far it is an amazing experience. I was immediately involved in all aspects of the organization, and have learned a lot about the economic issues of Namibia while also learning about the politics of the situation as well.
The ease of getting an internship through our CGE program is starkly contrasted with the chronic unemployment and social structure in Namibia. Every day as we travel to the program house, to our internships, or to the mall, the level of unemployment becomes both more apparent and more surreal. The unemployment rate in the country is over 50%, but this statistic only accounts for people who were actively seeking employment. Each morning men crowd together on street corners searching for a job for that day. Often, when we head home in the late afternoon, they are still sitting and waiting. To us this is discouraging because there aren’t opportunities or institutions in place yet to help reverse this trend.
Mid-week we finally began taking classes. Vacation over. In our first class, we discussed the role and meaning of history as a discipline as well as the importance of history in studying current situations and developments. After this discussion, we received an introduction to Namibian and Colonial history. Pre-colonialism, Namibia was inhabited by a number of native tribes: Ovambos, Kavangos, Caprivians, Hereros, Damaras, Namas, and the San people. As a result of the “Scramble for Africa” at the Berlin Conference in 1884, Namibia was declared a German colony. The German colonial administration entered into agreements with local tribal chiefs and negotiated transfers of land to Germany. After Germany’s defeat in WWI, Namibia became a British protectorate and was subsequently turned over to South Africa. Under South African rule, the Namibian government was simply an agent of the South African government. The first shot in the Namibian liberation movement was fired on August 26, 1966 and 24 years later, on March 21, 1990, Namibia gained its independence. Studying and living in a country with such a recent liberation struggle is incredible. Being able to talk to Namibians that participated in the liberation movement has been invaluable.
Learning about Namibia’s history of racial and tribal segregation has helped us better understand the country’s current situation. The legacy of apartheid is still strong today. By being placed with host families from various races and ethnicities, we have noticed the lasting prevalence of racial tensions. It is discouraging to us to be here trying to learn how to help and also learning how unsuccessful everyone has been thus far in eliminating the remnants of apartheid. It has even made us second guess our role here and our ability to don anything of worth at all.
The social experience of speaking to Namibians was enhanced greatly as we began our urban homestay in Windhoek. We are all placed in diverse families and consequently, we are all having very unique experiences. Some of our families have been more open about discussing Namibian politics, religion and cultural practices; others are more reserved. However, regardless of our host families’ willingness to engage in conversation, we are all learning very valuable lessons. Many of us have come to the seemingly obvious, but still insightful realization that people are people, no matter where you are. There is only one race and that is the human race. Personally, Antonio had a very in-depth conversation with his host mom on the history of African Americans. I (Antonio) was initially astonished by their level of ignorance when it came to African American history; I explained how African Americans were taken from Africa and sent to the Americas during the slave trade. Through numerous conversations, I illustrated how the issues African Americans faced were very similar to the struggles of Africans.