Social Work Study Tour to Namibia

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

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Our time in Windhoek has been completely full, with today being no exception. We started off this morning with a visit with Father Rick, MSW, the executive director of Catholic Aids Action. Catholic Aids Action is one of the largest NGOs in Namibia, and provides prevention and support to people affected by HIV, particularly children. Father Rick is a brilliant, witty Maryknoll priest from the USA, and has been working in the AIDS field for quite awhile, both in the US and around the world. He gave us a spellbinding presentation about the causes and consequences of the extremely high HIV rates in southern Africa, and about HIV in Namibia in particular. Father Rick expressed the great need for social workers to work in HIV prevention and care, but unfortunately, the field has few social workers. I think the PowerPoint presentation he gave to us this morning should be required viewing for everyone (and I rarely say that about PowerPoint)! We s

Father Rick sharing his wisdom

Our next visit was to NANGOF, the association of NGOs in Namibia, which is headed by a social worker who also teaches some courses at the University. We learned about the efforts to regulate NGOs in Namibia. One of the most interesting projects of NANGOF was their work in the Basic Income Grant (BIG) Coalition. As there is such high poverty in Namibia, a coalition of NGOs got together to pilot test a Basic Income Grant program, which would be a universal grant of N$100 per month (about $13 US). Even though this is a very small amount, it had a huge impact on communities – in two years crime rates fell dramatically (stock theft down 42%), school attendance went up (non-attendance rates fell more than 40%), child malnutrition went from over 40% to only 10%, etc. Their aim of doing the BIG project was to gather evidence for hopefully persuading the government to adopt this basic grant universally. There really is an emphasis on evidence-based programming by all the organizations we have seen so far in Namibia.

Learning about the BIG Project

We then stopped for lunch at Ferrera’s garden store for lunch at the Teapot Café. This is a nice café in the back of a garden store near the city commuter airport.

After lunch, we traveled back to the informal settlements of Katutura to meet with the Finnish Garden project, a project which is collaboration between the Finnish Embassy and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia through the National Council of Churches. This project provides a kindergarten for the children, as well as various income generating projects for the women. The pastor who showed us around had attended a seminary in Dubuque, Iowa . The goal of this project was also to provide hope and empowerment to people, and they focused on the most vulnerable of the children and their families. One of the income generating projects was a beading project, and I think we might have bought out the store!

The Informal Settlements outside Elcin

Finally, we went to Mount Sinai Centre, where Liz had done work when she was in Namibia before. Christa Vega-Billiart, the founder of Mount Sinai, is a nurse who had been working in the Katutura Hospital in the neonatal ward. With the introduction of ARVs (HIV drugs), HIV+ women could prevent their children from become HIV+. However, Christa was traumatized that these same women would be so poor that they would transmit HIV through breastfeeding, so she set up her own NGO to provide formula milk and other nutrition so that the babies would stay HIV-. At the same time, she has a number of income generating projects, such as soap making, ice cream making, jewelry, sewing, etc. Christa showed us around Mount Sinai, and we all enjoyed some strawberry ice cream. I can honestly attest that it was the best ice cream I have ever had in Namibia. We then did a formal presentation of the money that Naomi and the other students had raised for Mount Sinai, which probably will feed all 290 babies for an entire month! We also gave them a number of large bags full of children’s books. They were very appreciative, and we got some Namibian screams from the crowd (which I can neither do nor describe).

Christa explaining Mount Sinai

Strawberry Ice Cream

Naomi donating the Bake Sale Money

Mount Sinai is happy to receive the children's books!

After visiting Mount Sinai, Christa got on the bus with us and we went deep into an informal settlement to the home of one of her beneficiaries. This woman had made us a traditional Ovambo dinner for us. When we got off the bus, the woman, her friend, and their four children were all dressed in their traditional outfits and sang us beautiful welcoming songs. We were quite a sight in this area, as they are not used to having a group of 20 Americans over for dinner. Many people stood and stared, though the staring was mostly of curiosity. Emilia was quite proud to show us her house, which she had bought herself using proceeds from the income generating projects at Mount Sinai, after she was kicked out of her family’s house for being HIV+. For dinner, we ate mahungo, mopane worms, spinach, beans, nuts, and chicken. I know we all felt very fortunate to have been welcomed into someone’s house and treated so hospitably.

Greeting us with a song!

Cooking over the fire

Nearby shower

Explaining how they make the food

Mopane worms

Plate of food

Nancy J eating a mopane worm!

Traci eating a worm

Rebekah and Rachel

Our hostessesThe entire group

Tomorrow we meet with UNAM students and lecturers, and then head north to Treesleeper. We are looking forward to seeing Namibia outside of Windhoek.


  1. It's very cool to see the folks Naomi's bake sale proceeds went to. Strawberry ice cream AND mopane worms? Looks like another fantastic day!

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