Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Week Four: Getting Acquainted with Windhoek

By: Amanda Knipple

We had the weekend to get settled into our new home in Windhoek, but after that we were constantly out and about to get a feel for the city. I could feel the excitement of the group when we talked of all the potential that Namibia had to offer. For some of us, the new landscape brought the realization that we still had so much to learn and as far as we had come, our journey was nowhere close to being completed.

Now in Namibia, I finally started my internship at Friendly Haven Shelter for abused women and children.  Friendly Haven is one of the oldest and best functioning shelters in Namibia, as well as a model often used by similar organizations. I’m grateful for the opportunity to meet all the amazing people behind the operation. Working with issues of gender-based violence can be very taxing, but they’re there day in and day out, constantly pushing for change in the community while educating and empowering the women staying at the shelter.  My role at the shelter will mostly be within the realm of raising awareness of gender-based violence and the existence of the shelter itself. I’m excited to try to take on this role because gender-based violence is so prevalent in Namibia and throughout the world. While reading up on Friendly Haven’s work, I came across a statistic from the Legal Assistance Centre that claims that 1 in 5 women in Namibia is in an abusive relationship. One shelter is nowhere near enough to combat such widespread violence. Raising awareness and educating the community can be such powerful forms of outreach in order to inspire more people to take action.  Gender based violence is so normalized that some people might not recognize the signs until they are explained. If more people can be equipped with the knowledge of gender-based violence and how to recognize the signs, perhaps we can move towards a more equal and peaceful society.

A guided tour of Windhoek was one of the first things we did as a group in Namibia. The intention was to get a broader view of the cultural and economic realities of the place we shall call home for the next three months. The group was driven around the city with a local guide. We saw all kinds of things, from shopping malls and busy streets to the informal settlements that house a large portion of Windhoek’s population. We weren’t mainly concerned with tourist attractions, but rather with the lesser known areas that have been shaped by the country’s history and the organizations that are working to create positive change.

Embroidered vest from
Penduka Village
One of the places we visited was called Penduka Village, which aims to provide jobs for women and teach them skills so they can provide for themselves. Projects included sewing, embroidery, and jewelry making. Lots of their products are made from recycled goods in order to make the operation more sustainable. I was very touched by the organization and all its efforts to help women; it reminded me of the fair trade cooperatives that I’m so fond of. Empowering women, giving them the confidence and tools to make a living can be one of the most important things you can do for a society.  Their organization is combating a variety of important issues in Namibia and the world today: unemployment, lack of skills, a large amount of waste, and a poor local economy.  The women of this village are able to support themselves and their community in a sustainable way that deserves much more recognition. We learned that unemployment is rampant in Namibia, and that it doesn’t affect solely women. In an attempt to find work, many jobless men line the streets in the hopes of being hired for a day job or some kind of manual labor. At first this seemed ridiculous and confusing to me, but what’s even more ridiculous and confusing is that the Namibian government has legitimized it.  You can now become a registered MSR (man on the side of the road) to try and be linked to work opportunities.

At this point in my journey through Southern Africa, I probably should not have been surprised by the poverty that I’ve encountered.  But yet again I was struck by the conditions that part of the population are accustomed and subjected to. I don’t yet fully understand the system, so it is possible that my criticism may be unfounded, but it seems to me that more should be done than just allowing people to sit on the side of the road all day hoping that something comes your way. And of course, when we made our way out to the informal settlements, we were again faced with vast fields of small, tin shacks much like in Alexandra and in the Cape Flats (mentioned in previous blog entries). I just remember standing from a distance, overlooking hundreds of shacks tucked neatly between the sandy hills. 

Overlooking the informal settlements
Learning about Apartheid for these past few weeks has rendered me very conscious of how privilege has been abused in history. I think it’s very important to be aware of what privileges you do have in your life so you can check how you use them. The intersectionality of privilege cannot be ignored. There is no way to talk about privilege and oppression without looking at all of the ways that they affect people’s lives. Being on this trip has exemplified this idea. One of my favorite things about the CGEE so far is that dialogue is constantly flowing and there’s a lot of opportunity for contact with ideas that differ from your own. It has helped me a lot to see things through the framework of other people’s thoughts. In one of the many relevant and enriching discussions our group has had, I was introduced to ideas about class and privilege that I hadn’t considered before and I felt grateful for the opportunity to listen to this new perspective. I learned that “class” isn’t just a measure of someone’s wealth. Too often, I considered my socioeconomic privilege to be a product of my family’s income, but there are more that goes into it. Class can also be determined by experiences. Education, travel, exposure to culture, etc. can be a huge part of where you see your place in the world. Not everything is as cut and dry as we’re led to believe. The glaring inequality is everywhere. Standing on that hill above the shacks in the informal settlement in Katutura, I had a hard time reconciling my place in all of this. I realized that I am deeply privileged in the simple fact that I can be here, thousands of miles from home, learning about all of this injustice.  I don’t know where we go from here, or how these inequalities can be rectified, but acknowledging their existence is an essential first step.

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