Friday, 30 March 2012


UNAM - the University of Namibia. Twenty eager faces watching. Lisianna, my Friendly Haven colleague, gave me the nod. I breathed deeply, and began.

I've been trying to strengthen the links between Friendly Haven and UNAM for a while. Every year, they allocate a fourth year social work student to Friendly Haven to work with us in the local communities and schools, help deal with our clients, and liaise with the local Women and Child Protection Unit (fondly known as WACPU - or on many days, just WHACKO). This has been a successful relationship for many years, and I'd discussed the potential of developing it further with them. They'd agreed to give us another ten interns - from the third year social work students - and we'd give the whole third year training on how to work with young people in community settings around HIV, GBV, abuse and gender.

I wrote a funding application to the British High Commission, who kindly agreed to give us the money needed for three days workshops, and a small budget for materials for outreach sessions over the year. It meant we had to divide the 60 students into three groups of 20, and do the same workshop for each of them, over three Fridays. We would provide lunch and information packs. I designed the training day to include some work on how to facilitate groups as well as explore HIV, gender and GBV. I'd divided up the activities with my Friendly Haven colleagues - they would co-deliver the training with me to give them extra experience, and so I could give feedback to them after.

The training came around all too quickly, and apart from a few hiccups with the lunch timings, thankfully, all went smoothly. Feedback was great. And now I have ten enthusiastic social work students calling me at all hours of the day and night asking for advice on various matters. But I'm enjoying it really - they're delivering outreach programmes for us in five different locations in Windhoek, and it really helps Friendly Haven as our staff capacity compared to the demand for work, was low. In turn, we give the students extra support and ideas, as well as a small budget for materials.

So far, I'm pleased with how it's turning out - today, I observed one of the students during a session, and she used several of the activities from the training, which the young people enjoyed. So we'll see how it continues throughout the year.


"What does VSO stand for?"
"I don't know"
"Voluntary Suffering Overseas"
"Good one... Voluntary Servitude Overseas"
"Very Small Outcomes"

You get the idea: we'd had this conversation over many beers with VSO'er John in Zambia, who'd told us this age-old VSO joke about what it means to do a placement for a year - go abroad away from friends and family, be paid an allowance instead of a salary, be out of your comfort zone for a long time. It's something I've been thinking about as we've had a spate of goodbyes this last month as many VSO'ers are leaving, reflecting on what they've gained from their time here.

Although we're doing a lot of hard work and learning a huge amount, we're also having a lot of fun. So I wanted to dedicate one post to the VSO'ers who've just left who've been getting us through the voluntary servitude, to say how much we'll miss you all!! And to remind us during the more difficult times that any suffering is definitely voluntary, and part of the reason we came...

Alex and Tricia in Walvis Bay

In Swakopmund
Me and Tricia on the moonscape drive

Going South to Keetmanshoop

Tricia on the left, me on the right!

I promise this is Eveline

Claire and Kristen


Nienke and Eveline

Carolina's farewell cake - Carolina, Claire, Brigitte and Eveline

Eveline's leaving do at Friendly Haven

The Friendly Haven staff - Left to Right: Jacky, Lisianna, Eveline, Cecilia, Claudia, Celani

Claudia's leaving gift

The hiking trail at Dan Viljoen - me, Eveline and Tricia

We won't miss these guys

Stopping for lunch

The view over Windhoek (in the distance)

5 hours and 15km later - the end of the trail

Weekend game drive at Amani Lodge - one of the cheetahs.

Tricia on the game drive

Drinking champagne and watching the sun set

African sunsets...

Izzy's leaving do' in Que Tapas

Tea at Gocheganas lodge outside Windhoek


Nienke watching the sunset

You have to look carefully at this one to see everyone...

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Research Round 2

Once we'd picked ourselves up from our manic Christmas trip, we realised January was well under way and it was time to hit the road again. It was time for the second part of our gender research trips, where we would hit three new regions and revisit the previous six as well.

A quick reminder: we're interviewing men involved in community and home-based care, finding out what motivates them, what retains them, what their challenges are and how we can get more men involved. We're travelling through most of the regions of Namibia finding men who are involved in community and home-based care (CHBC) and talking to them. We're also talking to traditional leaders, traditional healers, church leaders, Ministry of Health employees, and, of course, women. Lots of women: mostly who are also involved in CHBC, and we're finding out what they think of men being involved. Do they like it? Do they want more men to get involved? Why or why not?

For those who'd like to know more: what is community and home-based care? It's a number of things. It's going out into the community and educating others in the community about health matters, like TB, HIV, keeping clean. It's also giving care to the sick in their homes, e.g. dressing wounds, caring for those ill with AIDS, turning them in their beds, washing them, feeding them. It's done by volunteers, usually, who spend between 4 and 40 hours a week doing this work. They're a vital part of the health system. What do they get for it? The government has an excellent policy for CHBC: volunteers should be given training, refresher training, ID's, reimbursements for expenses (often they spend their own money on taxi fare to take clients to the hospital), and an allowance of between N$250 and N$500 a month (about £25-50). Bearing in mind that food in Namibia costs more than in Europe, you'll see why N$500 isn't a lot for what can be a full-time job. And that's if the government was even implementing its policy. Unfortunately, the government here is great at making policies, and rubbish at implementing them. They've told the NGO's that they must do it. But how? When donors are withdrawing all the time from Namibia, there's less and less funding to go around. And these volunteers are a vital part of the health care system here, the government needs them, depends on them. And forgets about them.

This is also why we had another volunteer with us, Tricia, from the Philippines. Tricia is researching the level of implementation of the policy across the country, and so it made sense that she accompany us on our trips and interview the same people. Having her along was fantastic - we talked about the projects and her perspective as a volunteer from another developing country was invaluable. Having her good sense of humour and infectious laugh was also invaluable on the long car journeys. And she got us thoroughly addicted to playing 'Angry Birds' on the IPad.

First visit: Opuwo. Opuwo is in the North-West corner of Namibia, and it's relatively isolated position makes it interesting to see. It's home to the Himba people, a tribe who still live traditionally, wearing loincloths and necklaces. The women cover themselves in ochre, which gives them a reddish glow. There are also many Hereros there, who used to dress like the Himba until the country was colonised by Germany. The Germans considered their dress 'immodest' and dressed them instead in long flowing Victorian gowns. Whilst these gowns are beautiful to look at, they're extremely hot and impractical in the intense heat.

A Herero woman in Opuwo

Enjoying the stunning scenery

A wonderful group we interviewed

Dinner with Dickson and Joel, VSO colleagues from Uganda and Kenya, who work in Opuwo

Interviewing men just outside of Opuwo

A Himba girl listening to our conversation

It was interesting to interview people in these communities, as the Himba are rarely integrated into formal health systems. When we interviewed them about HIV, they often replied "Ah, that unmentionable! We put our sick people in other huts, we don't want to be near them, we will catch it! They must stay away from us!"

The Himba also told us about their meeting rituals and how they practice polygamy. Women too, however, are encouraged to have multiple partners. If a man wants to 'meet' a woman, then he will come to her hut in the night, and if she is with another man, she'll ask him to wait until she's finished and then will go to keep her appointment. Or men ask the mothers of their favourite girl to arrange an appointment for them. Whilst a man has multiple wives, if he is away for a long time, another man will 'service' them. But if there are children from this union, they are still considered the children of the rightful husband, and not of the biological father. The husband will keep them, and they will tend his family's cattle. Inheritance, however, isn't passed down from parent to child, but from the uncle. In this way, families are bound together.

Alex and I were often asked if we were married, and when we replied 'yes', it was greeted with much hand-shaking and big smiles. One Chief's wife asked Tricia and our friend Nienke if they were married too. "No, not yet" they replied. "How do you sleep at night? Don't you get hungry?" Came the concerned reply. The Chief's wife then patted my stomach and told everyone that I was pregnant. "Er, no, sorry, it's just breakfast" I had to reply and everyone around laughed. Clearly I need to do some more ab work.

With the Chief's wife. She asked us how many days walk away was our home. Alex replied '4 years' and she nodded in agreement.

The kids loved playing with our camera and taking photos of each other

The Opuwo skyline

Next stop: Rundu, in Kavango, just on the other side of the border from Angola. We spent 7 sweaty hours in the car travelling from Windhoek to Rundu, telling ghost stories from our respective countries, and watching Kat smash each level of Angry Birds with aplomb. We stayed with Bev, a lovely volunteer coming to the end of her placement in Rundu, and spent three busy days travelling between Rundu, Sawayema and the rural areas interviewing groups of carers.

Some fab men in Rundu

And then it was straight on to Katima at the end of the Caprivi strip - that long thin 'arm' at the top of Namibia, flanked by Zambia and Botswana. We were lucky enough to meet the largest group of male-only carers in Namibia, and interviewed them about their motivations and their experiences. Meeting this group was such a highlight of the whole trip: the men discussed their volunteer work with such obvious passion and a fervent desire to help their communities that Tricia and I sometimes had to clear our throats to look like we remained objective.

The wonderful men of Caprivi

And of course, we spent some time shopping in the market!

A break of a week and we were back into our rounds, this time travelling to the West of Namibia to Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, on the Coast. My colleague Loreen and I ran a workshop for 43 women in the DRC settlement outside of Swkopmund, on self-esteem and healthy relationships. One morning, we also supported Alex, Kat and Gabes on their advocacy coaching by running a small workshop on recognising and reporting Domestic Violence for their participants. The advocacy coaching is being run to train NGO's around Namibia on how to better undertake advocacy, thinking about campaigning, research, awareness-raising. The group said they'd like to roll out some of the activities we did with them to the groups they work with, so hopefully they enjoyed the exercises!

DRC in Swakopmund

The DV workshop to support Alex, Kat and Gabes

Gabes translating into Afrikaans and Oshiwambo

And of course we also had a chance to relax a little in the evenings, enjoying a drink by the water.

Left to right: Tricia, Loreen, me, Kat

On our way back to Windhoek, we took the opportunity to drive back a section of the route via the C26 through the Namib Naukluft National Park, which takes you through a section of the desert known as the 'moonscape'. It was absolutely beautiful, and gave us a chance to see the famous Welwitschia plant too, whose survival mechanisms plant-lovers the world over still haven't quite figured out.

The moonscape

The renowned Welwitschia plant

Owamboland was next, in the North of Namibia. We travelled up to Omuthiya, where Catholic AIDS Action were training over 60 new volunteers. These groups spoke passionately of the stigma attached to volunteering: how everyone assumes they are all HIV+ just because they volunteer in this role, and treats them like they're "dirty people, not to be let into the house." We spent over an hour interviewing them, splitting into teams to cover 31 each, and then continued on up to Ongwediva.

The new group of volunteers in Omuthiya

Tricia and Loreen's group

There followed three manic days of interviewing carers and Ministry employees in the surrounding regions, and going into some rural areas to talk to people - and, of course, enjoy a glass of wine in the evening with some other local VSO volunteers.

One night, Gabes left the hotel early in the morning because his brother-in-law had bumped his car, and Gabes dilligently went to help him out. At 3:30am, he returned only to find that he'd been locked out of the hotel. Alex was woken by the phone and realised he'd have to jump over the high wall and hoist Gabes back over. Job completed, they ran laughing back to their room.

Loreen, far left, with caregivers.

Interviewing the TKMOAMS volunteers in Oshakati

Finally, feeling pretty exhausted, we faced the South: Karas and Hardap regions. We could do both of these in one go, and set off to Keetmanshoop in Karas region.

Tricia in Keetmanshoop

A lovely group in Keetmanshoop

Interviewing the 'Mother's Voice' group in Keetmanshoop

We finally hit Hardap region, and weren't able to get any photos of the groups due to the sensitive nature of the discussions that took place. We were, however, very impressed with the woman who works as the coordinator for Home-Based Care at the Ministry in Rehoboth: passionate and dedicated, she understood the needs of the care-givers and the challenges they were facing.

We're now in the process of writing up the research, and this is also one of the most exciting phases of the project. Analysing the data and the statistical evidence is really enjoyable - we just hope we can get it done before the end of March!!