Flip chart pads at the ready March 23, 2007Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Eco-goodness, Gender, Namibia, The job, VSO.
Last week I was feeling more than a little frustrated with work, mostly stemming from the lacking sense of urgency and apparent disinterest in communicating important information by certain members of the village. I spent the weekend fretting about the follow-up trainings that we had had to postpone to Monday, the first day of the week of Independence Day. To the best of my knowledge, Tjono had not received my fax of military-style orders on how to recoordinate this training so that people turn up, nor had the Otjiherero radio retransmitted our broadcasts with amended dates, set to confuse all trainees.
I spent Sunday searching through VSO’s Participatory Tools Manual for appropriate activities to do with the trainees, taking into account the language barrier, the unknown literacy level, the social hierarchy within the group, and the fact that, in my experience, Namibians in a group will often agree with whatever is said, even if it contradicts something said earlier, and will spend much of the time complaining about the food. I also did not want to end up in a lecturing position, I was there to facilitate the workshop, and let them run it themselves.
Armed with leafs of flip chart paper, coloured pens, biscuits and notes scattered between scraps of loose paper, we set off for Ovitoto. We arrive a bit late, and there is no one at the Regional Councillor’s Office or at our ECO-C. But then a few familiar faces appeared from the local shop. Trainees!! 4 of them! Well, better than nothing. Rather confusingly however, these 4 trainees were from different training groups, which totally threw my structure of Tso-tso-Stoves-in-the-morning and Home-Garden-in-the-afternoon, so we combine them. Another two trainees arrived a little later and we got started with the activities. We had also managed to commandeer the Board Room at the Councillor’s Office, so no squatting under a tree for me!
Instead of us telling them what they learnt in the trainings last year, we ask them to make a list of what they learnt and present it to the other groups, highlighting what was most useful, what wasn’t useful and so on. This worked marvellously, as they set about it arduously, arguing over the smallest details. VSO would be so proud.
When doing these sort of brain-storming activities back home, participants often scrawl down key words, which often only make sense when presented to the group. Our participants however wrote neatly in full sentences, in English, even though we encouraged them to write in whatever language they felt comfortable. Since English is the third language for most people in Ovitoto, this became quite a long process, as they conjugated verbs, bickered over grammar and asked me to spell words for them. I may have mentioned before that the Hereros are very proud people, and it certainly shined through as they were determined to present their ideas to us as well as they could. The presentations and discussions went really well and the results of this activity were far beyond what I expected, and I felt bad for underestimating them. They even listened to me when I joined in – more often than not, I am ignored (still), as my status as a young, unmarried, childless woman commands it.
At 2, four more trainees turned up for the afternoon follow-up training, which was confusing for all as they hadn’t realised we had started early. Alessandro took them through a discussion on why you would want to run a business, and put them in groups to discuss what they would need to set up a Tso-tso Stove Manufacturing or a Home Improvement Enterprise, with a little hope that these groups may become more solid in the future
At the end, it was time for them to receive the training manuals, which I had pain-stakingly prepared for them, and their certificates of attendance. Although we weren’t able to grant them actual qualifications, Namibians are super-keen on certificates and formal bits of paper. After Alessandro had signed the certificates, I too signed them and began handing them out. Elvis, the first guy I handed one to, gave me a stern look and handed it back to me and then nodded at Alessandro. So I handed the certificate back to Alessandro, and a dramatic certificate-exchange-hand-shake began, which Alessandro was to perform with each trainee. Clearly being given a certificate by me was not enough, and they would only accept them from the Man, with the handshake. Again, I was put back in my place.
In the end though, we had 4 trainees turn up out of the 7 trainees from the Tso-tso stove training, and 10 from the original 15 from the Home Garden training. Not bad, considering I was anticipating a day on my own, waiting in a field. It also meant that those who turned up were genuinely interested in the project, and hopefully we can begin setting up a few income-generating enterprises in the community. Or maybe it was the biscuits, fruit juice and N$20 they each get for coming that brought them along. But I put my bets on my addition to the radio broadcasts: “Trainees will be able to collect their certificates at the follow-up trainings.”
There’s nothing like a little gentle persuasion.