Social Work Study Tour to Namibia

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

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

We’ve spent the last three days in Oshakati in the Oshana region of northern Namibia. This is the most populous part of Namibia, and is the home of the Ovambo people. We stayed at a nice hotel in Oshakati called the Santorini Inn.

Sunday Ndii arranged for us to go to an African church. We had a unique experience at a Jehovah’s Witness church, which is not a typical African church experience. The church brothers and sisters were very kind and welcoming. Here is a photo of us all dressed up.

After church, one of Ndii’s childhood friends had us over for a traditional lunch. It is truly generous to have 22 people over for lunch! We had the traditional food, including worms, spinach, beans, etc. We took the rest of the afternoon off, and people hung around playing games, reading, writing and generally decompressing. There were also quite a few trips to the neighborhood Supa Dupa, our favorite Oshakati grocery store.

The Supa Dupa, our favorite store

Monday we went back to work, and had another full day touring the Oshana region. We first went to the Oshakati State Hospital and had a briefing with the Director of Health of the region.

Then we met with the social workers at the Ministry of Health and Social Services. They briefed us on social welfare services in the area, and now that we’ve been in the area for a week, we were able to ask a lot of questions to really get a deeper understanding of how things are structured. The MoHSS social workers then accompanied us for the rest of the day, as we toured various NGOs. We went to the SOS Children’s Village – a homecare setting for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, which is an NGO still getting on its feet in the region as they are waiting for children to be referred to them.

We also visited TKMOAMS, a very impressive grassroots NGO that provides services, outreach and support for people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. They have a number of volunteers who provided home services for people with HIV, and also have income generating projects. One of the neatest ones they had was a bicycle project, which is affiliated with the Bicycle Empowerment Network (BEN) of Namibia. BEN gets containers of donated old bikes and bike parts from the West, and brings the containers to NGOs or other groups out in the regions. They then train several people to be bike mechanics, and then they can repair the bikes and sell them. The container itself becomes the shop. Very cool.

Next, we visited the regional office of Catholic Aids Action. They have almost 800 volunteers who work for them doing outreach and support for people affected by HIV. It was great to see the work in the regions that Father Rick had talked about in Windhoek.

Finally, we visited the Flood Victims Resettlement Camp. For the past 3 years, there have been extensive floods in the Oshakati area, and many people are displaced from their homes. There are large tents set up where 3-5 families live. People were kind enough to show us around their tents and tell us a little about what it is like to stay there. We were sort of surprised that it seemed as if there was nobody or no organization in charge of the tent city, and the social workers accompanying us thought that people received donations, but there were no staff, security, or other type of support for these people.

May 25th is Africa Day! We slept in on Africa Day, which was our treat to ourselves. After a good rest, we went up to visit Penny’s parents’ traditional homestead. It was fascinating to see what the traditional Ovambo homesteads look like. These are generally an area that is enclosed with sticks tied together, and then there are a number of huts with various purposes – the kitchen, storage shed, sleeping quarters, etc. The particular homestead we visited was very nice, and the Tate (grandpa) and Meme (grandma) were gracious to show us all around. We saw how they harvested and pounded the mahangu, where they cooked and slept, and learned about how the family members interacted. Even Ovambo people who live in Windhoek usually have a homestead up north to come home to.

We were close to the Angolan border, so we went ahead and drove right up to the border town, and walked around the market a bit. Even though many of the stores were closed, it was still one of the busiest places we have seen in Namibia, with all the trading going on. Many Angolans come to Namibia to shop these days.

Angolan border

We are looking forward to our visit to Etosha tomorrow!

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