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Opuwo! (“The end” in Otjiherero) October 15, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Cows, Culture, Eh?, Home and away, Ovitoto, VSO.
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It was time to make my final visit to Ovitoto a few weeks back. I had this nagging feeling that there was something really important that I’d forgotten to do. I also hadn’t heard from Tjono in weeks. No matter which phone I called in the village, I either found the line disconnected, or received a response of “Oh, Tjono…. He is not here,…. He is in the place” (where “the place” really is often depends on who you are talking to, but all I knew was that he was not where he should have been, on the end of the phone to me).


Having set up a last minute meeting with the Regional Councillor, so that he can meet my replacement and that I can say cheerio, we made the immediate decision to drive up that day and take our chances with having the room to stay at the school and that everyone we needed to meet would be there. I felt pretty groggy as I took the turn-off on to the gravel road to Ovitoto, trying to give my successor a crash-course in Herero customs and greetings, whilst choking on the dust that blew in through the broken cover of my friend’s Jeep I was borrowing.



Benevolence September 25, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Goodness, Home and away, Namibia, Ovitoto.

Since I found out I would be coming to work in Namibia, my parents’ church in London, St Mary’s of Kilburn, has shown incredible support towards my placement. The parish and congregation were so generous in helping me with my fundraising prior to my departure, and have shown keen interest in my activities whilst I have been away. Every week they pray for “Isabelle in Namibia”, wishing me well and that I am kept safe from danger. I find this most overwhelming though, as, whilst my parents are active members in the congregation now, they have only been in the area for a few years, and I have only turned up on the rare occasion that I have been in London on a Sunday. But the parish overlooks time, and sees any new member as part of the family. (more…)

Workshop on Wheels August 10, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Eco-goodness, Education, Home and away, Namibia, Oh..interesting, Ovitoto, The job.
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Last week, I was involved in the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia’s (DRFN) “Workshop on Wheels”. The idea is simple yet genius. Hire a coach, fill it with people with an interest in Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, and travel around the country looking at different Energy focused projects. All expenses paid. I approached the DRFN a few months ago about the wonderful wood-efficient stove, the Tso-Tso Stove (meaning Twig-Twig, referring to the small amount of wood needed for cooking on it), and they decided to include us as one of the visited projects.

As I have previously mentioned, we did a training for seven community members before Christmas on how to make these wood-efficient stoves, with the idea that they can set up a business in manufacturing these stoves. Since many people cook on open fires, even in urban areas, and wood is a non-renewable and limited resource, these stoves are important towards tackling desertification as well as global warming (on a very small scale though! But every little counts!). As so little wood is needed for cooking on them, as they are incredibly efficient, it saves the amount of money people spending on firewood, or on the amount of time they spend collecting firewood from the veld (some people walk up to 15km to collect firewood). The stove is also a lot safer to use, especially around children, and incredibly quick to cook with.

As you can tell, I like this stove a lot, but it isn’t so easy to convince people to use them. People traditionally like a good ol’ fire to sit around: for heat, for light, for the communal aspect of it, and for many, the religious aspect of the Holy Fire. Whilst the Tso-Tso Stove is cheaper, safer, quicker and healthier, for the general public, nothing beats an open fire under the stars. (more…)

Alcohol – the Aftermath August 9, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Culture, Fame, Ovitoto.
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As I wrote before, I held an Alcohol Awareness Campaign in the Ovitoto School a few weeks ago, which was also attended by a journalist from “The Namibian”, the national English-language newspaper. She was incredibly passionate about the issue of alcohol amongst youth and was terribly excited about what I had to say.

“Keep your eye on the Youth Paper on Tuesday” she said, the Youth Paper being a weekly supplement of the national paper, focussing on youth issues.

Needless to say, the following Tuesday, there I was, plastered across the front page of the Youth Paper, rather unglamourously scratching my head whilst supervising a group of learners as they scribbled down ideas on why people drink. No story this week, but a caption explaining that the story will be followed up the next week.

Inside the supplement were lots of the kids who were in the Youth “Faces and Places”. Since I was visiting Ovitoto that morning, I dashed out and bought three copies for the school, as no newspapers are available within Ovitoto. At break-time, I presented the papers to Mr Katuvesiauena (try pronouncing that one), the school’s Principal. For the first time, he actually agreed to and seemed happy to talk to me, and I swear I caught a glimpse of a smile.

“Yes. Very good. You are putting this place on the map of Namibia. We here are very grateful. Yes.”

He went shouting off to the staff room to show his colleagues. I hope the kids were able to see the copies.

Knowing that the story would be followed up the next week, I was eager to get my hands on a copy. But having spent Monday night in the village in preparation for the DRFN’s Workshop on Wheels visit (see next story), I wasn’t able to get a copy until I returned to the main road. The workshop visitors however had a copy on the bus, and as we drove the gravel road from Ovitoto after their visit, he thrust a paper in my face, saying “Is that you?”. It wasn’t that he’d read my name, or the mention of Ovitoto, but that I was wearing exactly the same clothes as I was in the photos, and being an oshilumbu amongst a crowd of black kids, I stand out quite a lot. And there were a lot of photos. I was in 4 out of the 5. In fact, they had a whole page about the workshop, explaining about the issue of alcohol, the activities we did and where the idea for the workshop came from. There was however an embarrassing number of “Isabelle said that….”, “Isabelle then explained to the learners…”, which made me sound like the national guru on all things alcohol related. But the coverage was excellent, and alcohol abuse amongst youth is now on the forefront of news headlines.

The workshop was even mentioned again this week (making it three weeks in a row!!), with a copy of the Responsible Drinking brochure that I prepared for the workshop.

All this coverage has also boosted the profile of the K J Kapeua School in Ovitoto but also my profile. I’m a mini-local-celebrity. A few of my friends have commented “oh, I saw you in the Youth Paper this week”, but the place I first got recognised was my local bottle shop (which I go to for phone credit and juice, rarely booze!). And when I went out on the Friday night to our local club.

“Sista, I saw you in the paper. Alcohol Awareness, hey? You going to be teaching us something then?”, slurred one friend, as I try to hide my G+T under my coat.  

I do practise what I preach though. I rarely over-do it anymore, am aware of how much I drink, and take responsibility for my actions and behaviour. I have never thought that “I was drunk” as an excuse to justify any inebriated behaviour, such as getting overly emotional, aggressive, fighting, bitching, being an idiot, getting sick, drink-driving or inappropriate hook-ups. My opinion is that if you can control yourself, then don’t drink. It’s a lesson that the binge-drinking culture of my homeland, and some of the alcoholic expats, could learn from.

Alcohol gives you AIDS July 24, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Culture, Danger, Namibia, Ovitoto, Violence, VSO.

My intention of doing this alcohol awareness campaign wasn’t to tell the kids not to drink; it was to educate them on what alcohol is, how it effects you physically, socially and emotionally, and to open a discussion on how alcohol is used in their society and what the consequences of these activities are. The legal age to drink alcohol in Namibia is 18, same as back home, but having been an underage drinker myself, I know that kids start drinking at a young age, and that by telling them not to will just encourage them to go out and try it.

I used some of the excellent resources that the Portman Group and Drink Aware Trust produce to figure out ways to develop this workshop. But the reasons and situations of kids drinking alcohol in the UK differs hugely from why and how kids drink alcohol here in Namibia. After weeks of research on alcohol abuse, domestic abuse and HIV and rape statistics, I decided to scrap most of what I had found out and get the kids to tell me what they knew. They weren’t going to care about statistics, or understand about the function of the liver or how many units were in a bottle of beer. I had to go local, and so roped in Milly and Tjono for translation (and later proven, crowd control).


The Bank of Cow July 10, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Cows, Culture, Home and away, Money, Namibia, Oh..interesting, Ovitoto, The job.
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As I have mentioned before, Ovitoto is a rural farming community. This is not the ploughs-and-tractor type of farming, but more livestock farming. Especially cows. The Hereros are well-known for their love of bovines. Cows are everything: money, status, livelihood, food, gifts. The women even traditionally wear hats which resemble cow horns, coupled of course with an abundance of Victorian-style dresses, layered one on top of the other.

Hereros, like many African groups, don’t tend to use banks as readily as people do in the West. They instead use the Bank of Cow, with their money tied up in cows and other livestock. This makes a lot of sense really. Livestock grow, they reproduce and create offspring which will also reproduce, which means your investment will increase naturally – a better inflation rate than any bank will offer. (more…)

Time for Training June 27, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Cows, Eh?, Food, Home and away, Out of the city, Ovitoto, The job.
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Getting anything done in rural development takes forever. It is six months since a small group of Ovitoto residents took part in the Tso-Tso Stove Manufacturing Workshop, training them in the technical construction of this wood-efficient stove. Since then, we have run a follow-up training for them to see who is really interested in making stoves for a living, and making a business out of it. Out of the 7 trainees, only four turned up, which wasn’t too bad for Ovitoto. That training was more to see who turned up, who is a little business-minded and assess the group dynamics, and get them thinking about the commitment and motivation needed to run a business. This follow-up training needed another follow-up, which is why I spent yesterday sat in the freezing Regional Councillor’s Office, trying to understand where my boss was going with his activities. (more…)

Violence in the dark June 1, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Danger, Devastating, Ovitoto, Raaah!, Reality, Violence.
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On Tuesday, I rang the Regional Councillor’s Office in Ovitoto, hoping to speak to Tjono. It had been a while since I’d last spoken to or seen him as I have been heavily tied up with office work over the weeks, but I needed to check up on the project. For once, he was there. “Ah, yes, the centre is fine. Aaaah, everything is ok.” Good, good. I then ask Tjono how he is, is he keeping warm now the winter has come, has he any news. He starts explaining about a funeral he had been to in Okahandja last weekend, and he was waiting for a taxi to go back to Ovitoto, and something something and he had to go to hospital and is still very injured. !?!?!?!?! I ask him to repeat  but don’t get much more information other than he is hurt, but “ok” (although his English is ok, he is quite difficult to understand on the telephone).

I wanted to visit Ovitoto as soon as possible. In any case, I needed to give Tjono his salary (£45/month), which it sounded like he would need right now. The earliest I could manage was yesterday, Thursday, so Brian my trusty taxi driver took me up there. (more…)

Closing down May 28, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Communication, Money, Namibia, Ovitoto, Reality, The job.
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As I mentioned before, Phase 1 of the Ovitoto Environmental Community Outreach Centre (ECO-C) Project came to an end at the end of March 2007. Since then, I have been working on the report, evaluation and financial report for the entire project, which was finally handed in last week. Hooray! Well, kind of….

Since my role since I’ve arrived has been assisting with and then managing the ECO-C project, and that we now have no money left, I’m in a bit of a limbo. There are various interim activities that we have planned, like follow-up business training for anyone wanting to set up a business using the skills that they learnt in our trainings, and also an alcohol awareness campaign, for which I received some money from the British High Commission through VSO. But it is all a bit tricky when we don’t really have enough money to pay for the petrol for me to get up there, let alone stay there for a few days. The pressure seems to be off for the moment, and I do have the chance to tidy up a few bits of the project, so long as it doesn’t involve any money.  (more…)