Social Work Study Tour to Namibia

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

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Today we had another full day, even though we started a bit later. After taking a few hours off when people ran errands in town or relaxed, we took off in the morning for Prison. We are probably one of the few American tours to Namibia that have included a stop at the Windhoek Central Prison on their itinerary. We had a very interesting tour in the prison. The Commissioner, a social worker, and some of the prison officials first told us about the corrections system in Namibia. They are in the midst of changing to a new philosophy focusing more on rehabilitation. We also learned that “stock theft” is one of the most serious offenses in Namibia, and can result in severe sentences – 15 to 30 years! We then went on a tour of the wards, and went through the minimum security unit and the maximum security unit. In the minimum security unit the prisoners had a fair amount of independence, and could keep personal items and cooking gear in their rooms. The prisoners were mostly friendly to us, and we talked to a number of them. We created more of a stir in the maximum security unit, though it looked nothing like a maximum security ward in the US. The prisoners slept in bunks with about 40 or so people in a ward, and there were even pet cats and birds. The prisons are not segregated by race, though we only saw one white person in the whole prison. The structure of the prison system is that everyone goes to maximum security first, and then you earn your way down to minimum security for good behavior.

This was the only photo we were allowed to take!

We then ate lunch on the bus, and headed off to visit to NGOs in Katutura, the old township in Windhoek. We first went to the AIDS Care Trust, which is a fairly small NGO that works with children affected by HIV. They provide an afterschool program for kids to help them with their homework, have a community garden, and have a sewing/craft project for the parents and caregivers (we bought a few things!). The AIDS Care Trust staff were mostly young people, and we were all impressed with their energy.

Finally, we went to the Hope Initiatives. This NGO was started by a dynamic woman from Zimbabwe, Patricia, and her husband. Patricia’s brother had migrated to Namibia, and had died of AIDS. Her family hadn’t really talked about it, and felt sorry about that as they think they could have helped him. Patricia’s response was to move to Namibia and help people who were living in poverty. She started only 6 or so years ago, and has done amazing work in helping children in the informal settlements outside of Katutura. First we went to her educational program, which is a “bridging” program for children who have dropped out of primary school, usually because they were too poor to attend. Usually, once you drop off, it’s your last chance. But in this Bridging School, they tutor children until they are able to get back into school, and have been quite successful. Next, we drove quite a long way into the informal settlements. The informal settlements of Katutura go on and on, with more people moving in every day and setting up a new shack. Hope Initiative has built a Center in the middle of one of the informal settlements, where they provide meals to the children, help them with school, and have quite a few income generating projects. They also have a space for kids to play safely, and as soon as they opened the gate for us, about 35 kids came running in. The kids really were having fun playing, and we were having fun watching them play or playing with them. Patricia and her husband were so inspiring to us!

Patricia showing us the gardens

Cute baby!

We spent the evening having a “braii” at Ndii’s sister-in-law’s house, who kindly opened the door for 20 Americans! We sat around the outside Braii on a beautiful Namibian evening relaxing after another long day.

Cooking at the Braii

Only sad news, Anna STILL does not have her bag. The rest have arrived.

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