Social Work Study Tour to Namibia

The University of Minnesota School of Social Work is studying in Namibia during May 2010.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Final Thoughts

I said good-bye to most of the group yesterday morning as they left for the airport for their long journey home (I stayed on a bit longer to quickly meet with some Namibian friends). I had dreamt about the possibilities of taking a group of MSW students to Namibia since shortly after I arrived in 2007 to work at UNAM for my sabbatical year. During the planning process of the trip, when Traci, Ndii and I were very much bogged down with the logistical details, I wondered if this trip would actually be worth the effort. However, I can enthusiastically say now that the Minnesota Social Work Study Tour to Namibia far-exceeded the lofty expectations that I had back in 2007.

We managed to pack in SO much into such a short-time. We visited over 20 organizations working on social development issues in Namibia , met incredible people devoted to improving the world, such as Father Rick, Patricia, Christa, Moses and many others, and learned more about social development than we ever could have sitting in a classroom. We were fortunate to have people welcome us into their homes – in the informal settlements of Katutura, in a rural San village, in a nothern Ovambo homestead, in a flood relief site, in modern homes in Windhoek and Oshakati, and even in the maximum security ward of the Windhoek Central Prison. We also saw the stunning and varied Namibian landscape in our “shortcuts” on the gravel highways and trips through the sand dunes, and were able to see the prized Africa wildlife--even a leopard. We had quite a few “off the beaten path” experiences which really helped shape our understanding of Namibia, the land of contrasts. While our trip was full of learning, it was also full of fun and adventure. As I told the group on the last night, my favorite part of the trip was being able to show 19 more people the wonders of Namibia.

My fears of mishaps were not realized. I enjoyed every single one of the students, and am amazed that such a large group traveled so well together and had such overall harmony. I am sure there could not have been a better group ever (Full Flexibility points for all!).

I really look forward to our final meeting as a group, when students will do their final presentations and we all will get a chance to reminisce about our “trip of a lifetime”.

Thanks to all for following our Blog! The folks at the conference were stunned when I told them that a travel blog could get 3,400 hundred hits in two weeks (and I was too).


((nearing the end of June, there are now about 5,000 hits. Wow!))

Last Days in Namibia

After our conference, we had our last group dinner at the famous Joe’s Beer House in Windhoek. We had our last chance to order Namibian game (there were orders of ostrich, zebra, gemsbok, springbok, kudu, and other exotic game at our table) and Namibian drinks. We had some somewhat spontaneous group toasts, and then each person stood up and spoke about their favorite “moments” of the trip. Elvis, our bus driver, even got up and shared his favorite moments! These moments were all over the map – including intense learning moments, great adventure moments, and just overall “moving” moments. It was great fun, and also even a bit emotional for some of us. It was a great end to a great trip.

The next morning most people made one last dash downtown for some shopping at the Pick & Pay (grocery store), the mall and the Craft Centre. While it seems as if we just arrived a day or two, the bags were all packed up at Puccini House, and the two minivans pulled up to take folks to the airport. What a great trip we had.

Traci at the meteorites displayed downtown in the Post Street Mall

Megan shopping at the Craft Centre

Eric preparing for the long plane ride

Our Last Group Photo

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Back in Windhoek, we had a day off to relax and get ready for our presentations at the conference to be held on our final full day in Namibia (and visit the Craft Centre).

Our students were honored to be invited by the Namibian Social Work Association (NASWA) to present at their national conference. This was a great opportunity for us on the trip. Folks prepared their presentations before we left for Namibia, but I think it didn't really hit everyone that we would be presenting at this conference until we saw the advertisement in The Namibian newspaper about it when we were in Oshakati (or that our presentations would be the entirety of the conference)!

The Ad in the Namibian

I was really impressed by how well all six groups were able to integrate what they learned about Namibia during the trip into their presentations, or as they would say in Namibia, how they "Namibianized" their presentations. The presentations were really well-received, and their was really active participation by all the attendees of the conference.

The conference venue was the Windhoek Central Hospital

Conference program

Liz giving the keynote

Kristina lecturing on social marketing

Kao Lee, Christi and Gina speaking about volunteering

Small group discussions during the conference

Monday, May 31, 2010

Swakopmund Days Two and Threee

We had a full day off in Swakopmund, and our group of 22 (including our driver, Elvis) split up to do various things. A good number of the group just hung around Swakopmund walking on the beach, shopping, having lunch and visiting the great museum. Others went on a day long tour to Sandwich Bay, driving on the dunes and seeing the desert and sea. Another group went kayaking in Walvis Bay. Finally, another group went quad biking on the dunes.

Swakopmund Lighthouse
Swakopmund Craft Stalls

Cappuccino outside one of the best bookstores in Namibia

The Kayakers relaxing after their fun day on the sea

Some of us got to see an African-German Karnival

At night, we all went out to celebrate Megan and Lindsey’s birthday. Many of the group went out dancing afterward.

Megan singing on the bus in the shotgun seat on the way to her 30th birthday party!

The whole group at the Lighthouse Restaurant for the birthday party

Sunday we woke up early and drove to Walvis Bay for the Mola Mola Bay Tour – about 10 each on a boat. We all had a great time. We saw the cape fur seal colonies, penguins, flamingos & pelicans. We also had groups of dolphins driving along side us. The tour finished with a wonderful spread of raw oysters, champagne, sailors' coffee and other Namibian delicacies!

The "Jo Jo" Boat Crew

The "Sandy" Boat Crew

Lindsey enjoying the ride

Justin giving the Seal a mohawk

Feeding the pelicans

Cape Fur Seals

African Flamingos

It's not called the Skeleton Coast for nothing...

We finished our trip on the coast with a visit to Dune 7, one of the largest sand dunes in the world. About half of us climbed all the way to the top, which is harder than it looks, but is worth it.

On the way "home" to Puccini House in Windhoek, we played bus games, including Minnesota Namibia Social Work Study Tour Trivia.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Swakopmund Day One

We arrived in Swakopmund, a sunny, German-African beach town, late on Thursday night. We are staying in the Swakopmund Municipal Rest Camp in six-person A frames.

Municipal A-Frames

We got in late, and went to the nearby Tiger Reef Beach restaurant for dinner. They were just closing, but opened back up for our large group. It was nice to see the ocean and eat some Hake & Chips, even if we were freezing.

Tiger Reef had a table large enough that it could fit two groups our size!

We woke up early the next morning to do our last formal visits of our trip. We met Amanda (former student of Ndii & Liz), our escort from the Ministry of Health and Social Services, and she took us to the DRC Community Project. The DRC Project is in the informal settlement of Swakopmund. They provide a bridging school (like Hope Initiative in Windhoek), to help children who are not attending school to catch up so they are allowed back into school. This project is funded through the Pitt-Jolie Foundation, and is housed in old containers that were used in the production of the movie, Flight of the Phoenix.

Amanda and the volunteer at DRC

Across the street from the DRC

After DRC, we drove 30 kilometers south to Walvis Bay. Between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, the desert sand dunes come right to the ocean.

In Walvis Bay we visited a faith-based organization called Healing Ministries, which works with women who have worked as Adult Service Providers and their children. They run various shelters for women and children, such as Hope House Refuge for Teens.

After our NGO visits in Swakopmund & Walvis Bay, the Ministry of Health and Social Services provided us a light lunch. After lunch, we had a whole day off, where everyone scattered to relax, shop and do laundry. At dinner, we were all reflecting on how the Study Tour has seemed both really long (we can't remember all that we have done), and really short (we can't believe the end is in sight).