Tuesday, 26 July 2011


I’ve just had my second day at work and am at home relaxing with a glass of South African wine.  

This weekend involved lots of socialising with other volunteers and we also went to a church service. Namibia is 90% Christian, and has the highest percentage of Christians in Africa. Faith runs through every part of the social fabric of the country: Friendly Haven, where I will be working, for example, was set up by a faith-based organisation. Other volunteers had said that church services here were really quite amazing, and invited us to go to a service at a church in the south of Windhoek, called His People. The first hour consisted of a live band (complete with bass, guitar, keyboard and backing singers), singing, dancing, flag waving and conga-lines in the audience. The service itself was energetic and interspersed with prophecy for Namibia – that its future was bright. The deep sense of community and spirituality in the room was palpable.

On Sunday night, we bid adieu (for a while) to Anneke, one of the fabulous Dutch ladies who trained with us last week and is now off to her placement in Rundu, in the north of Namibia. It’s about 700km away from Windhoek, so we’ll next see her at the second part of the in-country training, ICT2 which will take place in September about 300km north of Windhoek, a mid-way point between volunteer’s placements in the north and Windhoek. Apparently we’ll be camping – and they’ll have the opportunity to tell us all about the things that bite in Namibia. Alex and I have already killed/captured and released several spiders from our apartment and we’re not sure if we want to know what exactly else is out there.

Alex has some time before his post at LAC begins on 22nd August, and so he decided to venture into Katatura and volunteer his time at the Catholic Aids Action after-school for children in the area. The place is run by Mary-Beth, who is something of a local celebrity, having set up the school single-handedly in 2005. Alex’s first experience was being asked to lead a class on long division – it was the longest two hours of his life. He’s enjoying it though and feels his first few weeks will be put to good use working there. The pupils are delightful – in Mary-Beth’s words, ‘little bundles of happiness’.
Monday, I started work at Friendly Haven, a women’s shelter in the north of Windhoek. It’s a secure location, which means I’m not allowed to divulge the address or many other details about its physical location, in order to be able to protect the women who are staying there. I won’t be posting any photos of the outside of the building either, but might be able to pop up some of the inside of my office (which could be an office anywhere in Namibia). In any case, client security and confidentiality come first, and I’ll be checking everything with my line manager, Jacky. Jacky’s fantastic – she’s a really dynamic woman who is the beating heart of the organisation, and with whom I’ll be working closely. There will also be another VSO volunteer from the Netherlands, Eveline, who will be working with Friendly Haven around their HR policies and issues. We’ll be sharing her with the Namibian Football Association which is running a programme called ‘Galz and Goals’ for young women, but for the first month we are lucky and have Eveline all to ourselves. I will be focusing on mainstreaming HIV and AIDS issues (especially in how it relates to gender-based violence, or GBV) into all of Friendly Haven’s policies and programmes, which will mean supporting programmes and staff in the implementation of programmes and helping staff integrate HIV into them, training staff around HIV and AIDS issues, strengthening links with other HIV and AIDS organisations.

Our first morning, Eveline and I arrived at the shelter and everyone sang hymns together, clapping and harmonising expertly. Later that morning, I was able to go with Mary, the Business Advisor, to sell soup and bread at one of the Ministry offices, as part of an income-generation project for the shelter. Like most shelters, Friendly Haven is really strapped for funds: some funders have promised funding but haven’t been delivering the promised sums, and funding for key posts is done only on a year-by-year basis by one of the international organisations. This means less security for the shelter in terms of their personnel and also a two month insecurity period every year where, while accounts are finalised, they don’t know if funding will continue or if a post will be cut suddenly: what a Damoclean sword. 

This morning, Friendly Haven sent Eveline and I to the Childline offices in Windhoek to begin the week-long training commissioned by the Ministry of Gender on working with men and boys around gender, gender-based violence, HIV and sexual and reproductive health. It’s been an excellent introduction to the Namibian context and institutional landscape. During my research and in-country training, I was struck often by the apparent similarities between Namibia and the UK in terms of HIV and AIDS development issues around multiple partners, condom use, gender-based violence and healthy relationships. Whilst on paper the issues could have been copied and pasted from the same development texts, however, Namibia is, of course, different. For example, the issue of coercive sex, grooming and cross-generational sex is present in both the UK and Namibia. In Namibia, this is often played out in teachers coercing students into having sex in exchange for grades. Young school girls are also targeted by older men who offer money, phone credit, etc in exchange for sex. The young women apparently call them the ‘Ministers’ – the Minister of Transport takes you places in their car, the Minister of Communications buys you phone credit, etc etc. The sexual undertone to this ironically naïve name-calling hit me as being particularly awful. I’m enjoying the training, and particularly the information on the country it’s providing me with - it will continue this week and I hope to then cascade the learning into Friendly Haven.
So much to do and so little time!

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