Friday, February 21, 2014

Week 4: Strategic Questioning, Urban Homestays, and Decolonizing the Mind

By Maggie Fernandez and Subah Jamus

“Until you liberate your mind, you are still a slave”-Pandu Hailonga [1]

This week was our urban homestay in Windhoek; we were each assigned to different families all throughout the city, of various economic and cultural backgrounds. We were picked up by our host families after our internships on Monday, and only went back to the Center for Global Education (CGE) house for classes. We would eat breakfast with our host families, get dropped off for class and internships, and get picked back up for dinner and evening activities. 

Many students went to a soccer game with their families
at Independence Stadium, photo by Kelsey Renner 
Most of us were apprehensive about going to a family alone without knowing what our families were going to be like and how we would be treated. Luckily, we were pleasantly surprised! We had amazing times and felt like part of the family immediately. Many of us got to enjoy a soccer game, Black Africa, a Namibian team, versus the Kaiser Chiefs, a South African team. There was dancing, singing, and a sense of community through the love of soccer. 

Throughout the course of our homestays, we developed our ability to ask strategic questions about the Windhoek community and the social issues they deem important. Strategic questioning focuses on asking questions that result in complex answers that make a difference and challenge the status quo. It also involves developing your listening skills to relate to the person you are conversing with, while opening your mind to new opinions and perspectives. 

For example, HIV/AIDS is very prominent in Namibia and has affected one in three people, either directly or through a family member or friend [2]. As one of our assignments, we were asked to start a conversation about this topic with our host families or other Namibians who have experienced this epidemic firsthand. We were not asked to focus on the answers they gave, but their willingness to talk about it and the way they approach the issue. Some people in our group had no difficulty having conversations with their host families or others, but some were very reluctant to discuss HIV/AIDS openly. The setbacks some of us faced allowed us to develop our strategic questioning skills further and realize that this is a sensitive issue that many do not want to talk about. This exercise may have been easier to do in the United States, due to the separation many Americans have with the issue of HIV/AIDS. 

In our Politics of Development in Southern Africa class this week, we had a guest speaker, Pandu Hailonga [1]. She was the founding director of CGE and a professor there, and the founder of Young Achievers. Young Achievers, is an empowerment project for youths of all ages to continue their education, develop a vision for their future lives, and ways to take steps in order to achieve that vision. Mrs. Hailonga currently works for The Global Fund, which is a nonprofit working to fight the spread of HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria [1]. 

Maggie wearing a traditional Herero dress
provided by her host family
Mrs. Hailonga discussed many thought-provoking topics that made us question what we have previously been taught about development and how to successfully change a community. One of the quotes that stuck out to us was, “Unless you liberate your mind, you are still a slave.” This related to us on many levels; firstly due to the United States’ history of slavery and the oppression that many faced. While slavery itself no longer exists in the US, the only way to truly abolish it is to change your mentality and liberate your mind out of a system of oppression. 

In Southern Africa, the system of apartheid, education in particular, led people of color to believe they were inferior to whites. Despite apartheid ending twenty-three years ago, there are still traces of inequality today. Education during apartheid was different depending on the color of your skin, lighter being better [3]. “Coloureds” was a term given to people who are a mix of black and white, and they were seen as closer to white people, which gave them more opportunities in life. For example, during our homestays, many of us heard negative things about either “coloureds” or “blacks,” based on the differences apartheid created between skin tones. Negative stereotypes still exist about each of these groups and while they should set these supposed racial differences aside and unite as Namibians, many are still stuck in the past, seeing differences instead of similarities, which is what the apartheid system did. 

Mrs. Hailonga offered a solution to decolonize people’s minds; her answer is through critical questioning and the importance of analyzing what one is told is true or how a situation is. Namibia Vision 2030 is a list of goals that Namibia is trying to accomplish by the year 2030. However, according to Mrs. Hailonga, this vision is “a complete joke.” It is a nice slogan, but it does not explain how these goals are going to be achieved. She feels that not all of Namibia is committed and willing to spend their time working on this vision, which shows a lack of critical thinking in this country. The skills needed to go forth with this vision can only be attained by changing the education system and how children are taught to think. The ability to think critically and strategically starts at a young age and needs to be developed over time. Without this emphasis on critical analysis, development will not be as successful or effective. 

This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at


[1] Hailonga, Pandu. Founding director of the Center for Global Education in Windhoek, Namibia spoke to us in our Politics of Development class in Windhoek, Namibia on 14 February, 2014.

[2] Amushila, Sarah. Homestay coordinator for Center for Global Education gave us a driver tour of Windhoek Namibia upon arrival on 12 February, 2014.

[3] Mataboye, Molefi. Political activist and guest speaker in Johannesburg, South Africa on 20 January, 2014.

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