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What I do January 26, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Eco-goodness, Other VSO blogs, Peculiarities, The job.

A few people have commented recently that I haven’t written very much about work recently, and however great my road trip sounds, that is not why I’m here. But I often wonder that just because I find my work interesting, will anyone else? So here’s a little insight into my little NGO world.


Having been absent from work for most of December and returning in a state of recovery from a potentially life-threatening infection, it was a bit of a bumpy start to the year. But there was no time for faffing, as there is (always) lots to be done. My boss announced that he has decided to give me full control and management of the ECO-C project in Ovitoto, that I have been working on since I arrived. Oh goody! This not only means that I have earned his trust and respect – although he would never admit this – but that I can start taking on the role of manager as opposed to Alessandro’s dogsbody. Although Alessandro will still be seen as boss (because he is a man, and older than me, oh, and because he is), if I am seen to be calling and running meetings and presenting ideas alone (previously it is often Alessandro and myself, and sat next a man, I just blend into the scenery in this culture), I can finally get heard and get things done. Or so I hope! 

Back in December, we finished the main elements of Phase 1 of the ECO-C project: we had built the metal shack, where the caretaker lives; we had a converted shipping container, which will become a ‘Business-in-a-Box’; we had two Otjitoilets built; we had trained 16 members of the community in Home Gardening and Shack Insulation, and in the process, set up vegetable gardens at the ECO-C; and in early December, we trained 7 members of the community in how to make Tso-tso stoves (little wood efficient stoves). Phase 1 will finish in March, and there isn’t much money left, but I’ve cooked up some ideas for activities.

Firstly we will run follow-up trainings for the trainees of the

Garden and Insulation training and of the Tso-tso stove training, and see if any of them are interested in setting up an enterprise using the skills they have learnt. These enterprises would be operated out of the ECO-C, using the tools we have there, and the Business-in-a-Box. We will offer business training to anyone interested, and support them however we can, but they will be financially independent.

Secondly, after the tremendously positive feedback from the Home Garden and Insulation training, I want to run a repeat training in one day, instead of three (much of the previous training was in time-consuming practical activities). As we can’t afford the expensive trainer we had from the Desert Research Foundation, I propose that Tjono, our ECO-C caretaker, facilitates the training. He did the initial training, and is responsible for the site, so it makes sense. Empower the people. But he will need some serious coaching and grooming before this, as he has not done anything like it before, which I am already working with him on.

Thirdly, I want to run an Open Day, inviting the whole community to the ECO-C, to learn about the concepts and technologies that we are promoting there. We are also hoping that people will approach us with their ideas, but sadly few people here have the entrepreneurial streak so it is unlikely, but I am forever optimistic. Even after a year of running, people in the community don’t seem to understand or know about the project. The main problem they have is that we are not handing out money to them, and once that got made clear, they lost interest – the expectation of hand-outs is ingrained in the culture, and is one of the biggest hindrances of this project. Another problem is that our Field Officer (who has just left to move to Windhoek) did not mobilise enough around the 19 villages, so most people just didn’t find out properly because the advocacy was not strong or constant enough.

I will be doing a mobilisation around the various villages, conducting a survey (to find out the needs of the people, in a very participatory manner), explaining what the project is doing and inviting one and all to the ECO-C Open Day. We will hopefully run a separate Open Day for the learners (what they call students here) from the local school.

Finally, we will prepare awareness material, posters and pamphlets, explaining all the alternative energy technologies and environmental-awareness concepts that we are encouraging through the centre. These will be distributed at the Open Day and at other key points across the community.


So those are the activities that I will be working on until March. Each activity holds a host of headache-causing conundrums which I will battle through, from whether Tjono is up to doing the one-day training, to whether any of the trainees are at all interested in setting up a business, and from how I will cope in Ovitoto without our Field Officer Milly to translate and explain everything to me (and stop me from embarrassing myself) to how will we be able translate the awareness materials into Otjiherero, with their comparably limited vocabulary and inability to explain anything simply.

Oh, and will there be any money available to do any of this….well read on and you will find out.




1. Gail Hoyos - February 2, 2007

I have enjoyed your blog. Please take a look at mine about gardening

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