Tuesday, 23 August 2011


I've been asked many times about our daily lives now we've settled here a little more. Each day is different, of course, but I will attempt to answer (pictures courtesy of fellow volunteer Eveline).

Alex and I get up at 5:50am each morning and usually run in the local area or do something like yoga for half an hour. Running has really helped us to get to know the roads and the city, and as we've acclimatised we can run further. Now in a morning we can run into the city centre and back again, or up to the Katatura State Hospital and back. If we run in our local area, there's a children's playground where we're able to do some cheeky pull-ups on the playground bars, much to the amusement of the local dogs. Everyone in our area of Windhoek North has a dog, sometimes two. They create a huge row when people pass, and it's largely for security that people keep them. Our landlords, who live next to us, have two fabulous dogs (Snowy and Op-Tail, which means 'pick-up' in Afrikaans, as he was a rescued dog) who now greet us with wagging tails and nuzzling heads whenever we come home.

Op-Tail in our garden - and Snowy's back.

Work usually begins around 8am - on Mondays at the shelter we have the weekly Monday morning meeting, which starts with singing hymns and a prayer before discussing the issues, concerns and triumphs of the previous week. I've asked for a regular 20 minute slot at these meetings to discuss HIV/AIDS issues and run an activity around HIV/AIDS, self-esteem, discussing HIV with clients, etc. This week I conducted an assessment of the staff's HIV/AIDS knowledge - which was generally excellent, and they requested more technical information around ART, HIV and breastfeeding, as well as self-esteem activities and training on counselling skills. I'm really looking forward to getting this aspect underway and doing something every week - the Monday meeting is one of the only times everyone is together as the shelter relies on the care-takers undertaking shift work, so organising training for everyone at the same time isn't easy.
My office at the shelter

I'm also looking at the shelter's policies on HIV/AIDS, and also the Best Practice Model document which the shelter is writing. The government is rolling out shelters across the country and are using Friendly Haven as the model for best practice. I'm really impressed by the work that's been done so far and the passion of the women working here to keep going and get the work done no matter what, and despite the appalling level of funding.

With Mary at the office

There are some wonderful women at the shelter: In the office, Jacky, the shelter manager, is a woman with endless energy, ideas, and knowledge. The way she stands up for women and children' rights in meetings never fails to convince those around her - even the hard-hearted - and I believe her boundless passion is linked to her deep faith. Then there's Cecilia, who takes care of the admin and always has a funny story to tell. Mary, the Business Consultant, is from Kenya and has a dry sense of humour and a healthy disrespect for politicians. Loreen, the social worker, knows her stuff inside out and will always go the extra mile for the shelter clients and the community projects too. Then there are the caretakers, who look after the shelter's clients and take care of the shelter too. Lisianna is the senior caretaker, a very bright woman who is keen to learn more, work hard and with whom I'll be working on some of the training materials. There's also Amelia who is a real Mum and kind at heart, and Charmaine who can dress like no-one else. Joanna is the seamstress, creating beautiful items for the income-generation sewing project. And quiet, polite Martha tends the garden project and sells the food made by the caretakers.
Lisianna baking bread

Each day when I come to the shelter, bread is baking to be sold at the Women and Child Protection Unit at lunchtime, and I usually pick N$2 out of my wallet to buy a steaming, fresh bread bun to munch. The children at the shelter enjoy popping by my office at regular intervals throughout the day to say "Auntie, come look" at something they've made, or "Auntie, tail me op" (pick me up). Sometimes they get very cross because we lock the door when we're working and occasionally the sounds of a right tantrum waft across the yard.

Amelia in the Kitchen

Afrikaans is the main language spoken by the people working at the shelter, although English is mostly spoken in equal measure. Some speak Oshiwambo, and others speak Damara - one of the 'click' languages, said to be among the oldest languages in the world. I've asked one of the caretakers to give us some private lessons in Damara, and our attempts at forming the 'clicks' have produced general hilarity. Alex and I have also signed up for another German course at the Goethe centre here - 30% of the population speaks German - and we're also trying to teach ourselves Afrikaans. I'm picking up a bit from the children at the shelter - mostly the Afrikaans translation of 'look at this, it's a snake', 'plait my hair, Auntie' or 'Jonny horse fell down!'

In the evenings at the moment it gets dark around 6pm-7pm. In Namibia, people don't really tend to go out in the evenings, preferring instead to spend time with family members. Alex and I catch up with each other and cook dinner, sometimes we watch a film, and sometimes we learn something of one of the languages. I always try and play guitar each evening - I'm learning 'Mad World' at the moment - and occasionally we meet with other VSO volunteers for a drink, a film, dinner or theatre piece. We get to bed between 9:30pm and 10pm - so much for the partying!!

Organising a weekend lunch

Last weekend we were invited to the home of one of the participants of the training that Eveline and I attended in the first week of work at Lifeline. Hilarie and her husband Leonard welcomed Eveline and I into their home and for four hours we were plied with wonderful food (including 3 vegetarian dishes, very kindly cooked especially for me, and very much appreciated by all), wine and beer. Our hostess even cooked a cake there and then and we each had three big pieces. Eveline and I left tipsy, stuffed and very happy.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Jogging in Windhoek

Walking down the road near our house.

We've been jogging nearly every day in Windhoek - at 6am, the roads are clear, the sky is gently pink and purple and the sun is slowly radiating over the horizon. There are lots of joggers around - some jogging for exercise, others on their way to work. Either way, people seem a little surprised to see us jog together around our local area. Sometimes our landlord, Earnest, joins us and shows us different jogging routes. He's amazingly fit and very quick - it's a real test of stamina keeping up with him. We blame our wheezing on the altitude, of course.

Walking down into Windhoek city

The last two weeks have been frantically busy. Last week I started working in earnest at the shelter, having been on training the week before. The first few days passed reading through Friendly Haven's policies and programmes, and meeting various people connected to the shelter: the Reverend who helped to found it, the local Women and Child Protection Unit, and of course, the staff at the shelter. I was then invited by the shelter's assigned social worker, Loreen, to support her in her work at a local school, running a programme on domestic violence, sexual and physical abuse. I was to help her integrate HIV/AIDS activities into the programme and support the implementation - VSO's ethos is not service delivery, but on 'capacity building' whereby we share skills instead of taking a local's job. Working with Loreen was a real pleasure. I learnt a lot from her, different activities that I hadn't tried before, different ways of explaining the subjects, and how she went about organising the groups. The young people really responded well to her, stating that they felt comfortable in talking about all their experiences and issues with her. She also said that the different activities and ideas that I brought were new for her. So my first experience of 'skill share' was just that - a positive exchange of skills.

Walking up towards Katatura in the north of Windhoek

What is upsetting is the level of child abuse that was apparent. After talking for a while, some of the children came to me and said quietly "Auntie, please can I show?" and then lifted up their jumpers to reveal coffee skin mottled by swathes of purple bruises, punctuated with angry welts that bore the outline of belt buckles. The pictures they draw of their homelife aren't much better. I felt sick and angry - I don't understand how people can do this to such tiny bodies. Loreen and I now have four child protection cases to work with - the Women and Child Protection Unit is the agency we go to in this situation. This week we will be working with the children to explain the reporting process, and then taking them to the Unit, who will then call in the parents.

The Women and Child Protection Unit, sponsored by Coca Cola!

A lot of the children are also hungry as they don't get much food at home. Many of the schools have soup kitchens visit them at the end of the day so the children get something to eat, as there are't school meals. School is from 7am to 1pm here, to avoid the heat of the day.

View from one of the schools in Windhoek

Alex himself fell prey to the heat last week - having not drunk enough water throughout the day, he fainted after one glass of wine in a restaurant that night. It was another VSO volunteer's leaving do', which we helped make very memorable as Alex was carted off to hospital to have stitches in a small cut on his temple. Fortunately, a member of the VSO staff was there and drove us to the hospital and sorted out all the paperwork. I was very impressed with the level of care that Alex received - the doctors were great, and after stitching Alex up, referred him to the neurologist to make sure that nothing else was going on. The neurologist was really excellent with a gentle voice and reassuring manner. He told us how he'd grown up running around barefoot in the bush in the north of Namibia before becoming a doctor, and was now able to support his whole family. He carried out an EEG and an MRI just in case, and we breathed a sigh of relief when everything came back as clear. Another VSO volunteer, Eveline, had stayed with us throughout the whole day, and I was very grateful for the support. Alex is drinking a lot more water now!

Anyway, I'd better get back to work - I'm meeting with a lot of other volunteers this week at their placements to get a better idea of the organisations working in Namibia and how they all fit together. First up, the Namibian Football Association!