Friday, April 15, 2011

The South: Camping& Community

Authors: Lee, Becca, Katie Mattmiller
Week 12: 4-10 April 2011

Last week for Development class, we all traveled to Southern Namibia to learn more about community-based natural resource management. In Southern Namibia, resource management is primarily reflected through community-run campsites. We stayed at a few of these, and it was really interesting to hear from the owners of various campsites about how they started and, more significantly, about the role we played in

(Above: Hoachanas, Southern Namibia)

providing them with an income they may not otherwise have gotten. The first campsite we stayed at was Hoachanas, a relatively new campsite situated in a sparsely populated rural area. Because it was off-season for tourism, we were the first large group they have ever hosted. We then stayed in Berseba, at the base of Brukkaros Mountain. Although this site had no running water, they receive groups of visitors on a more regular basis. The last night we camped at Gondwana Kalahari Arib Lodge, a privately owned lodge that attracts tourists on a regular basis.

The first two campsites were located in areas with little tourist appeal, so it was interesting to consider the impact of our visit in the South altogether. It seemed as though we were almost providing them with false hope about the potential for future profits from their campsite. While the campsites seemed like a positive thing for the community in theory, in reality their location seems to hinder them from being a sustainable solution apart from the intermittent contributions of our program and visits from other smaller groups.

On the other hand, the last place we stayed was far more developed. Unlike the previous campsites that were very minimalistic, the lodge even had a pool and a bar. The fact that this location catered more to tourists—offering its customers activities such as game drives—seemed to be one of the many reasons it was more successful. While the community-owned campsites were managed on a public basis, the lodge was a privately-owned business that received contributions from shareholders. For this very reason, along with access to natural resources, they were able to more directly cater to the interests of tourists. Then again, this also raised the concern that the only way to protect natural resources is to stamp them with economic value. While this enterprise was certainly successful despite our contributions, it still seemed as though they were perpetuating the idea that resources are only valuable if you can make money off of them.

This uncertainty about our role in the South was reinforced further by our visit to a school in Berseba. We spent the morning helping other students paint part of the school building, and while our efforts may have been admirable, many of us left there wondering what we had really accomplished. Although it was simply a small community project, it seemed to reflect broader concerns about developmental actions that only provide temporary solutions. As with the campsites, we were worried about coming in as foreigners and providing temporary assistance that may only fall apart a year after we leave. Some of the people we worked with also expressed interest in visiting the United States, further causing us to question whether we were setting unrealistic expectations about the future relationship between our community and theirs. All things considered, it was a wonderful opportunity us to interact with students close to our age while working towards a common goal.

(Above: painting the school)

In the process of learning about community-based natural resource management, we found that it wasn’t as straightforward as it seemed. The communities are constantly facing problems of funding, resources, and visitor attraction.

(Left: Berseba Mountain)

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