Sunday, 13 November 2011

Keetmanshoop and Fish River Canyon

A group of volunteers from Catholic AIDS Action in Keetmanshoop, who do Home-Based Care for the sick in their community. Most of their clients are HIV+

Last week, we were in the South of Namibia, in a town called Keetmanshoop, for the gender research project, interviewing more groups of carers involved in community and home-based care, around what motivates men to be involved in CHBC and how to get them involved. We brought along juice, water and biscuits which was cheered by the group, especially by one couple who, we discovered, were married that morning. We couldn't believe they'd made time to come to speak with us, especially as it wasn't even a 'usual' supervision time (we usually join the Catholic AIDS Action coordinators when they visit their groups for supervision and to collect data, but as CAA had already finished all their supervision for the month, they called in this group especially to talk to us). After our discussion meeting, we took photos of the group and then of the happy couple, which we had printed out in the town as a small wedding gift, and dropped off copies at their house in the township.

Married that morning!

Alex cooking dinner

Alex and I enjoyed the free braai (barbecue to you and me) facilities at the hotel, bought some veggie burgers and salad, and made our own dinner at the hotel. It's much easier starting a fire in Namibia than it is in the UK - the air and the wood is so much drier here, the sparks light up quite easily.

The next day, we visited some more groups in the smaller villages around Keetmanshoop. Here's a picture of one group we visited that has one male volunteer: as he's a village elder and active in the church, he's instrumental in getting men to listen to him.

This group spent a long time deciding how well men could cook when volunteering in home-based care. Not very well, was the end decision.

After two days of driving around to villages and meeting NGO and government workers, we decided to extend our trip by one day over the weekend and go to see the Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world (apparently, although there is debate over the size of the canyon in Ethiopia). The Canyon was just two hours from Keetmanshoop, so we drove down, picking up a hitch-hiker along the way. Her Dad pushed her into the car with us, saying 'don't worry, the white people will take care of you', but she was so terrified of us she didn't utter a single word the whole journey, just squeaked occasionally whenever we tried to involve her in the conversation.

The beautiful scenery in Southern Namibia

Finally, we arrived at Ai-Ais, which means 'burning water' or something like that. Basically, the name refers to the hot springs that come up from the ground, and the lodge channels into pools inside and outside the main buildings. Having erected our 'new' two-man tent (the tent saga continues, for those of you at home) and seen that it does stand and can fit the two of us, we decided to do a 10km hike along the bottom of the Fish River Canyon itself. There's a five day hike that is possible to do along the Canyon, where you carry your own food etc, which starts from the north end of the canyon and goes 90km to the southern end - we were already at the southern end of the canyon, and just walked 5km up and 5km back to get a taster of what the 5-day hike might be like.

Birds on the water of Fish River

Hiking along...

We saw snakes along the side of the water, who reared up when they realised we were there, but let us quietly pass.

It was really, really hot. We only went as far as half our water could take us, and drank the other half on the way back. 10km in 3 hours...

We then enjoyed the outside pool and the thermal water, which was delicious in the cooler evening air. Another veggie-burger braai, and we reconciled ourselves to the tent with a glass of wine as the French couple 50m over argued over putting their tent up and stared longingly at our alcohol. Who says camping isn't fun?

The next day we packed up and drove along the road by the top of the Canyon to the northern end where the famous 'viewpoint' is, enjoying the scenery along the way.

Yes, it's an ostrich warning sign. And we saw a lot of them by the road too!

We arrived at the viewpoint just before noon to see the famous 'devil's bend', the most commonly depicted photo of the canyon on postcards here.

A lovely group of French tourists took this photo of us.

Driving over to 'Hiker's Point', we stopped for some lunch and a cup of Earl Grey.

And then headed back to Windhoek, spotting lots of Ostriches on the way to the main road.

It took 7 hours to get back to Windhoek, arriving just after nightfall. We decided to have dinner at Luigi and the Fish in Windhoek as we had nothing in the cupboard, and finished off the work trip and weekend with veggie enchilladas covered with melted cheese, followed by sticky toffee pudding and wine. Not a bad life, volunteering, eh?

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Community and Home Based Care

We've been on the road a fair bit since Tsumeb - and here I was, thinking that I'd never get to travel with my placement. I'd popped into the VSO office a while ago and the HIV Programme Manager, Inge, mentioned that they had N$20,000 to spend on a gender research project - this is just under £2,000 - and would I consider taking it on. I said I'd think about it and email her some ideas. Considering that VSO-RAISA's priority at the moment is male involvement in Community and Home Based Care (CHBC) in order to reduce the burden of care on women and children, it was decided to spend the money on a small survey of the men who are involved in CHBC in Namibia, seeing what their motivation is, why they get involved, how they are perceived by their local community and what stops other men getting involved. I said that Alex should also come on board to oversee the research methodology since he has a PhD, and also Loreen from Friendly Haven as she enjoys research, and that we should undertake the study as a group and co-author the final report. VSO were pleased with the suggestion, and agreed. So it's a joint Friendly Haven - LAC project.

In Rundu, the river that forms the border between Namibia and Angola. Namibia is on the left, Angola on the right.

VSO further suggested that since Alex is tavelling all over the country with LAC doing advocacy training for small NGO's in different regions as a VSO-RAISA project, that we travel together and I do the research while Alex is training, and when he has time away from the training, he comes too. This saves considerably on the budget as the Advocacy Training budget pays for the car petrol and for Alex's meals, which means I can do a lot more with the gender research project budget. Sorting out the budgets was a nightmare, and the writing of the concept paper took a long time! But since then, we've been in the north of Namibia to Rundu (700km from Windhoek) and Katima (1200km from Windhoek), as well as doing research in and around Windhoek itself.

Last week, first stop: Rundu. A seven-hour car journey from Windhoek, Rundu is right at the top of Namibia, overlooking the river the borders Angola. It's beyond what in Namibia is known as the 'red line', a demarcation line that separates the more populous North of the country from the more prosperous South. Once you pass the checkpoint of the red line, about an hour from Rundu, the houses turn from tin to earth, and wildlife roams more freely over the roads.

Catching up with other VSO's in Rundu

Drinks overlooking the river

A beautiful sunset over the river

I'd contacted the local branch of Catholic AIDS Action in Rundu, who told me they were visiting lots of their CHBC support groups the days I was there, some of which had men in them, and I was welcome to join them on their rounds. Fantastic - I spent all day village-hopping with CAA, talking to people, doing games around motivation, and sinc I 'd brought juice and biscuits for everyone it went down very well - lots of singing as a result. We even made a home-visit to one very ill patient, and being able to see the carers in action was inspiring.

For Alex, the training went very well in Rundu - he and his colleague Kat (working at NANASO, the umbrella organisation for HIV NGO's in Namibia) made indivdaul visits to NGO's and then held a group workshop. They focused on training the NGO's in how to draw a stakeholder map to work out who their priority stakeholders were, how to interview focus groups as part of advocacy research, and also used the workshop as an opportunity for them to network and discuss their challenges. He linked me to one organisation looking to do similar research on CHBC, as a potential contact for the next time we're in Rundu, in February.

Dinner on our second night in Rundu, again overlooking the river

Spring in Rundu

Chilling out with Anneke, a lovely VSO based in Rundu, and her neighbours

On the rounds with CAA in Rundu, visiting support groups for CHBC

After freeing our car from the sand at the B&B in Rundu, we headed over to Katima, which is near the end of the long 'arm' of land that's attached to the top of Namibia and borders Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. The scenery along the way changed rapidly. Elphants roam freely across the roads, as do ostrich. You have to drive quite carefully.

In Katima, Alex and Kat did a similar programme for the NGO's based there, and I called a contact I had through a colleague in Windhoek, called Oscar. Oscar knew everyone in Katima and the surrounding villages, and he and I drove through the bush, from tiny villages to rice-fields, for the whole day, interviewing men, village headmen, and even a traditional healer. This was one of the most enjoyable days I'd spent so far.and was very valuable for the data and the interviews I collected.

Oscar in the car

One of the support groups we visited in Katima

Doing some games around motivation

In Katima, we saw hippos in the river, and witnessed one of the most amazing storms - right overhead - with full-on thunder, lightening and rain.

Beautiful scenery in Katima

Local wildlife

Elephants roaming freely along the Caprivi strip

On our way back to Windhoek, we stopped for one night in Rundu to break up the journey, and went out with some of the VSO's and Peace Corps. It was a lot of fun, although tiring the next day when we drove back to Windhoek.

Approaching the red line check point

Our travel schedule is just as hectic in the next few weeks: Keetmansoorp, Walvis Bay, and Ongwediva. And, of course, my mother and sister are also visiting so we'll also be seeing Etosha and the cave paintings at Brandberg. We're really enjoying getting to know the country more - Namibia is definitely not just Windhoek.