Monday, 30 July 2012

Advocacy, Lobbying, and the Caregivers' Conference

I'd always believed in the proportional representation system until it came to working with Namibian MP's, who say they owe their position and power to their party, and not - directly - to the people. Lobbying, therefore, needs to be undertaken differently here.  If we wanted to advocate for the rights of care providers in Namibia, we would have to demonstrate why this would be worth it for the party and the individuals within it - it wouldn't swing it to say "you have an obligation to your constituents, who elected you."  

Liaising with parliamentarians has been an important part of our advocacy work with VSO on the issue of care providers in Namibia.  If we want to make any lasting, important changes for the care providers, then we'd need to go to the decision makers themselves. 

VSO had arranged a lunch date with two MP's - Swartz and Kavetuna - who'd been previous allies of VSO on the issue of care providers.  Swartz had, herself, been a care provider with Catholic AIDS Action down in the South of Namibia, in the Karas region. During the lunch date, which was attended by LAC, NANASO and VSO as well as the MP's, we discussed which organisation might take on lobbying of the issue after VSO departs Namibia, and asked the MP's who they could bring to the table for VSO to talk to. Whilst they gave some interesting ideas and names, afterwards we felt quite dispirited.  It looked like no-one would be willing to advocate for the care providers after VSO's departure: NANASO is facing financial issues thanks to trouble with the Global Fund, and the LAC only takes on projects that donors pay for - issues and lobbying are, therefore, donor-driven.  We'd have to get as much done before March 2013 as possible if we wanted to make any lasting change.

One fantastic suggestion given by Kavetuna was to meet with two standing parliamentary committees (Gender and Human Resources) the following week, to present the case for effective government implementation of the care providers' policy, which would drastically improve conditions for the care providers. Preparation took the whole week, with emails between Friendly Haven, LAC, NANASO and VSO pinging back and forth on division of subjects and coordination. On the day itself, the numbers were impressive: 10 MP's and 9 representatives of civil society attended (2 from NANASO, 2 from LAC, 1 from VSO, 1 from Friendly Haven and 3 VSO volunteers).  NANASO discussed current policy implementation and the need for government to take over the funding of the care provider programmes in the face of donor withdrawal, LAC discussed male involvement in care, and Friendly Haven talked about the experiences of care workers on the ground and the importance of support.

The MP's were clearly pleased with such a slick presentation and asked pertinent questions, eventually asking us outright "so if the government took on financing and implementing the policy, then this would help to address many of the current issues?" "YES!" was the resounding answer.  The MP's asked if they could attend the VSO Caregivers' Conference the following week, and promised that they would lobby the Minister for Health, Kamwe, about the issue - it would be politically beneficial for him to demonstrate that he was proactive in protecting Namibian's rights and health systems, since he'd had a lot of bad publicity recently.  We left Parliament feeling jubilant. NANASO, seeing the huge potential in continuing to lobby for this issue, also indicated that they would be willing to take on the campaign following VSO's departure.  


The following week, VSO held the annual Caregivers' Conference (Alex and I had facilitated at the conference the previous year, and were thrilled to be back). From our travels around Namibia, Alex and I were able to invite more groups of caregivers to this conference, since groups from the South hadn't been present at previous conferences.  VSO did a fantastic job of inviting the Minister for Health, Kamwe, to attend and give his support as well as launch the simple guide of the government policy on caregivers - this guide was project managed by Alex at LAC, and was published in the form of a comic. It's designed to explain the government policy simply so that caregivers would understand what rights they have and what support they should expect to receive. Alex had worked really hard on it, and was pleased to see it in print.

Kamwe launching the Simple Guide

The conference opened with the National Anthem (for those who haven't heard the Namibian national anthem, here it is:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVfzDhp7d5g&feature=related) and was followed with speeches from Swartz, Kavetuna and MP's from Zimbabwe and Malawi, and lots of song and dance from the Maranatha Singers.  Gabes, Alex's colleague from the LAC, and Sandie from NANASO, gave a fantastic joint speech on the two research reports that we'd done, on the caregivers' policy, and male involvement in care. It went down fantastically well, and Alex, Kat and I could, from that point, breathe slightly easier.  The reports had also been printed and were distributed to everyone. 

Maranatha Singers

The presentation on the research we'd done

Swartz's speech

Carolina from VSO commenting on proceedings

The National Coordinator for community and home-based care programmes then also stood up and gave a speech about how well the government was doing in its implementation of the policy - despite all facts and indicators to the contrary.  It was enormously frustrating, sitting there and knowing that what was being said wasn't true.  Fortunately, the MP's found their voice and challenged him on nearly every point, and questions continued for so long afterwards that the next performance act had to be cancelled.  The caregivers were very excited, and told us they were thrilled that they could finally have their say, and talk directly to MP's about their experiences, and challenge them too.  And they could see that organisations like VSO did care about them, and were working for them.  "We feel more valued" one woman told us, before we headed out of the room for tea and coffee.

Delightful MP from Malawi gives a speech about the challenges facing care providers in his country.

The following day, Alex, Kat and I had big plans.  Whilst VSO and LAC were taking the MP's into another room and discussing lobbying and next steps with them, the three of us, plus Gabes from the LAC, were taking all 50 caregivers, dividing them into two groups, and giving a day of training for them on what advocacy is and how to do it - with some self-care activities added in. 

Friendly Haven care givers and the LAC AIDS Unit Lawyer enjoy the activities

'What is advocacy' activity

At one point, the MP's, who'd finished their discussion in the other room, joined in with our activities and then gave the caregivers half an hour to directly talk to them about their issues, concerns and questions.

Kat's group with the MP's

Continuing discussion

Alex and Gabes' group - Gabes provided an essential translation role, translating into Afrikaans and Oshiwambo

A 'living web' activity on the Namibian political system, demonstrating 'who influences who' and how the 'average Namibian citizen' fits into it all.

A role play on approaching and lobbying political figures

Gabes and Alex in discussion

A self-care activity on 'saying no'.

Amelia, my colleague from Friendly Haven, translates into Oshiwambo when Gabes has to step out

Certificates followed the next day, and bags made by Friendly Haven staff were given to everyone. The big smiles on the faces of the caregivers and MP's was well worth seeing.

The conference was exhausting, but well worth it - and it was with some sadness that we realised that the final VSO Namibia conference had just taken place. We ended it with seven of us from VSO and GEMSA (South Africa) drinking wine around a table while the hotel staff cleared up the room around us.  

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