Saturday, April 26, 2014

Week 13: The Trials and Tribulations of Migration

By Olivia Cecchi & Maggie Fernandez

This last week was a routine week at the Center for Global Education including internships, classes, and weekend fun. As our time in Windhoek quickly starts to wind down, we continue to find ourselves learning new things about Namibia. For example, this week we learned about the varying migration has on an individual, like housing difficulties, legal limitations, and identity. 

The Shack Dweller's Federation which we
visited during Politics class.
On Tuesday we went with our politics class to the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia, located in Katutura. There we met with Selma Namwandi, who informed us about the mission of the Shack Dwellers Federation, which included helping families or individuals moving into the informal settlement gain legal access to land  [1]. Selma said that as more people moved to Windhoek from more rural areas in Namibia, it has become more difficult to acquire land. As people move into the informal settlement outside of Windhoek, they approach and become a member of the Shack Dweller’s Federation in order to get land rights from the municipality. The organization then applies for a large plot of land on behalf of several individuals, unfortunately this application can take up to two years to be processed. However, once the federation is granted the land, they divide it up and give plots to each individual. Each individual then pays a fee to the government, and additionally a fee towards the Federation, which helps other members that need loans. The contracts then last for eight years, before residents must move to a more permanent settlement. 

It was interesting to learn about the process of applying for land whilst in the informal settlements. Even though these small houses often made up of tin sheets do not fit our expectation of “legal” housing, which we often perceive as permanent structures with wood floors and plumbing and electricity, many of them in fact are legal settlements. Furthermore, it was interesting to see how true representations of people moving to urban centers in order to pursue better economic means are. 

This trip to the Shack Dwellers Federation and the discussion of immigration flowed nicely to our conversations in development class this week. Our guest speaker, Cisco Agostinho, came to Namibia as a child with his family as refuges [2]. They fled conflict in their home country of Angola, and lived in a refugee camp in northern Namibia for many years. Cisco attended primary school within the camp, and attended high school in Windhoek. He returned to the school in the refugee camp to teach in 2009. He spoke to us about how even though other people would consider him a foreigner in Namibia, his previous status as a refugee negated this label. However, when given the opportunity to become a Namibian citizen, he said that he would prefer to keep his Angolan citizenship, and simply apply for permanent residence within Namibia. 

Both these interactions taught us to make the best of our situations and try to get the most out of life. The shack dwellers are trying to improve their housing situations by creating an organization that will benefit them. They decided that they did not want to live illegally and wanted to find a way to approach the municipality in a more professional manner. By uniting nine different informal settlements in the Khomas region, the Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia was able to receive hundreds of land plots and donations from corporations and local groups. 

On an individual level, Cisco, as an Angolan refugee, decided to take advantage of his education within Namibia, and even return back to the camp after he became a teacher. Although his family was fleeing extreme violence in their home country, and the refugee camps did not provide much comfort, Cisco was able to rise above these hardships and find a place where he felt comfortable within Namibian society. 

On our Easter hike at the Daan Viljoen Game Reserve
Throughout this week we learned about the movement of people around Namibia. These interactions helped us to view immigration as a development issue seeing as there are so many other factors that come into play when people move, including land rights, identity, and access to services to name a few. As we celebrated Easter this past Sunday in Namibia as foreigners, these lessons about the spread of people and knowledge hit us directly. A few of us spent our day going to church, and others went on a hike. Although for some of us this was our traditional way of spending our Easter, many of us celebrated in a completely different way than we would have at home. As foreigners, we needed to navigate our own expectations of the holiday, like not being able to be with our families or own communities as well as what was typical here in Namibia. Easter is a national holiday and many people spend the weekend with their families, and go to church. However we did learn that Easter egg hunts are just as popular here as they are back home! It helped us to understand how people in different types of situations where they are not home may feel. 

Although some of us may have felt a little homesick, we chose to come to Namibia, and made the best of our Easter. However, in other cases people are forced to leave their home because of particular circumstances, like civil war. We can now better recognize how holidays or days of importance may affect them. Choosing to migrate to a new area, but it is often possible to find the good in any situation. 

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


[1] Selma Namwandi, Member of the Shack Dwellers Federation, spoke to our Politics class on 15 April, 2014.

[2] Cisco Agostinho, Former Angolan refugee and current teacher in Windhoek, spoke to our Development class on 17 April, 2014.


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