Monday, October 1, 2012

Week 7: From the Land of the Free to the Land of the Brave

Post by Katelyn Stermer

This week there seemed to be an unexpected, reoccurring theme at the CGE house: America. We visited the USAID offices for development class and attended a reception at the Ambassador’s home as well as the Living Rhythms benefit concert put on by the US Embassy at the American Cultural Center. I am also personally writing a grant proposal for the US Embassy Self-Help program during my internship at AIDS Care Trust (ACT). At this time (the half way point) during the semester I’m feeling slightly home sick so having these opportunities to be around other American citizens while still experiencing and learning about Namibia culture was a blessing.

Leon Mobley drumming with some university students
Our first experience at USAID (United States Agency for International Development) encouraged us to critically think about the role the United States is playing in the development of foreign countries, especially Namibia. Currently, USAID in Namibia is using most of its funding to sponsor HIV/AIDS programs in partnership with PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. My internship organization, ACT, is actually receiving a small portion of their funding from USAID and affiliates. A major criticism of the United States’ contribution to global development is that we don’t dedicate enough of our fiscal budget; in fact, less than 1% of our GDP goes to funding development projects in foreign countries. Compared to the percentage of what other countries contribute annually to foreign development, the American statistic has been presented in an extremely negative light during class readings. However, the Director of USAID Namibia framed the situation in an entirely different way than I had thought of previously; although the United States gives less than 1% of our budget, dollar-per-dollar it is a considerably higher figure than many other countries who give more like 5-10% of their annual budget to foreign aid. Although the amount is arguably still a problem, it shows where we stand in the larger scheme of things a little better.

After being at the USAID offices in the morning, we headed to the home of the US Ambassador in Namibia, Mrs. Wanda Nesbitt. The primary focus of the gathering was to be able to get assistance for overseas voting procedures. However, I think I can safely speak for the group when I say that the best part of the reception was to be able to speak to the Peace Corps volunteers. Once again our conversations with the volunteers had me thinking about discussions on foreign aid and raised several question in my head—does aid always have to come in the form of money? How much more valuable would it be to have people on the ground making connections with locals? Would more be accomplished with these partnerships? I found a few answers to these questions the following night at the American Cultural Center’s benefit concert ‘Living Rhythms’.

We happened upon a performance sponsored by the American Cultural Center benefitting a series the US Embassy was putting on called ‘Living Rhythms’. They brought guest performer Leon Mobley, an amazing drummer and art envoy, to travel around Windhoek and teach drumming to schools and music programs all over Namibia. To me this was a great example of ‘people aid’, sending human beings to interact with one another to promote development and encourage relationships. Sure, in most cases nothing can be accomplished without funding, but nothing can truly be sustained or done without volunteers and people willing to cultivate each other. I saw this in the Peace Corps volunteers at the Ambassador’s home and I saw it reflected in Mr. Mobley as well. 

A short clip from Leon Mobley's 'Living Rhythms' Africa Tour

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