Southern Africa Fall Semester: Johannesburg!

Students who will be spending the semester in Namibia have started their semester with a 10-day travel seminar in Johannesburg. Johannesburg, being one of the main hubs of Southern Africa, provides the students with great resources to build a foundational knowledge about the region as a whole. The official title of this travel seminar is, “An Orientation to Southern Africa” because both historical and currently, Johannesburg has been the center for economic, political, and social development. Johannesburg has a rich history of colonization, industrialization, revolts, uprisings, and students are given an opportunity to explore these themes by talking with speakers who are very knowledgeable in these fields either from first hand experience or through educational studies. Students are also given access to museums and other historical landmarks. Since Namibia was under South African rule from 1910-1990, starting the semester in Johannesburg provides a great introduction to the rest of the semester in Namibia.

Students have been extremely busy thus far this semester. The students spent the first week of their semester meeting with various speakers to learn more about the history of South Africa, apartheid, what is going well in the country, as well as current political and social challenges. Students had the opportunity to hear from individuals who were members of the 1976 Soweto Youth Uprisings where the school children decided to no longer stand by and began to take an active role in the liberation struggle. When Afrikaans was declared the official language of instruction in the schools, the students began to protest, which led to the 1976 uprising.

CGE students also got to meet with members of some of the political parties, academics, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), and community members who are acting as agents of change in their communities. The students got to hear from speakers young and old, as well as speaker who represented different viewpoints and opinions to contribute to a well-rounded understanding. After hearing from various viewpoints, students are able to form opinions for themselves.

In addition to hearing from various speakers, students also have gotten the opportunity to visit numerous museums and historical monuments. Some of the sites that were visited included the Hector Pieterson Museum, Kliptown, Constitution Hill, Apartheid Museum, U.S. Embassy, Freedom Park, and Voortrekker Monument. The Hector Pieterson Museum is dedicated to Hector Pieterson who was one of the first causalities during the Soweto Youth march on 16 June 1976. The museum is dedicated to all the youth who lost their lives in the struggle for liberation. Kliptown is a historic town where the Congress of the People met in 1955 and where the Freedom Charter was signed into existence. The Freedom Charter is a document that was created by South Africans to express what they wanted to see in South Africa. The first line of the charter states, “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”.

Constitution Hill is the site of South Africa’s Constitutional Court. The site is also home to one of Johannesburg’s most well-known prisons. It was notorious for its harsh treatment of prisoners, which ranged from political prisoners to individuals who violated various apartheid laws. Students got the opportunity to walk around the site and hear not only about the history of the site, but about the transition to democracy. Students were able to see this transition by noting that a notorious apartheid prison was turned into the site of the new Constitutional Court—a transition that shows the efforts to move towards a new South Africa. Towards the end of the week, students also got the chance to visit the Apartheid Museum. The Apartheid Museum provides detailed account of the history of apartheid through written information, videos, artifacts, and visual displays. The students found that the Apartheid Museum was a powerful tool to help organize the information they have been learning about all week. While there was a lot of information, many of the students say that after visiting the museum, hearing from our speakers, and doing the required course readings, they felt as though they had a much stronger understanding of what apartheid was and the impact it had on the people of South Africa.

The US Embassy was a visit that sparked a lot of feelings and conversations. The purpose behind the visit to the embassy is to learn about what the US Government is doing abroad, and in particular, what is their role in South Africa. This visit forced students to examine their opinions and beliefs on US Foreign Policy. While some were critical of what was said by the foreign service officers, other students who are interested in a future in foreign policy or international relations found the visit extremely enlightening and helpful when considering future career plans.

Our last two visits were to Freedom Park and the Voortrekker Monument. These two places provide contrasting histories. Freedom Park is government funded park and museum that pays tribute to all those who lost their lives and fought for the liberation of the country. While the liberation struggle is the most recent struggle for liberation, the park also looks at previous struggles such as South Africans who participated in both World Wars, Slavery, the South Africa War, and pre-colonial struggles. The Park came out of a recommendation from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to create a memorial site as a way of healing. However, just across the road from Freedom Park is the Voortrekker Monument which memorializes a completely different history. The Voortrekker Monument celebrates the great trek of the Dutch settlers across South Africa and is considered a celebration of Afrikaner heritage. Viewing both monuments in light of the other allowed students to see two different sides of history and to understand that there is never one side to history. While many students felt uncomfortable at the Voortrekker Monument, it allowed students to consider the history of the United States and how they portray their own history.

Finally, one of the most exciting aspects of the trip to Johannesburg is the opportunity to participate in a homestay! Students were paired up and sent to spend the weekend with various families across Soweto. Students arrived at their new homes on Friday afternoon and were picked up on Monday morning. While each family did different activities throughout the weekend, all students said they felt as though it was a positive experience and contributed greatly to their learning and understating of the area. By spending a weekend with a family, students get the opportunity to form their own connections and relationships with a family, ask questions, and observe both similarities and differences to their families back home.
As you can see, the first week has been extremely busy! While we have had a very packed schedule, students were able to increase their knowledge about the history of the region as well as start learning about each other and building their community. After a quick flight to Windhoek, Namibia, students will be spending the rest of the week orienting themselves to Namibia, touring the city, and preparing for their internships and course to start. Best of luck to all of the students in Namibia throughout the rest of the semester!

 

Internship Celebration Party

This semester we  had seven students participate in internships around Windhoek. Students, staff, and internship supervisors all came together this afternoon to celebrate the time and commitment that our students have put fourth this semester. By signing up to complete an internship, students are agreeing to 112 hours at their placement in addition to a two-hour weekly class. By spending 112 hours at their internship, students get a chance to take their learning outside of the classroom and gain a more comprehensive understanding about the realities in Namibia. Students get hands-on experience working for causes they are passionate about and are given the opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals through their organizations.

As everyone was sitting around the living room, each student stood up and stated what organization they have been working with and what tasks had been their primary focus. While tasks varied for each student, one thing that was consistent throughout each presentation was the gratitude that each student expressed for the opportunity to learn from such dedicated organizations.

This semester, we had students at women’s rights centers, youth empowerment and education programs, and a legal assistance center. While some of our students were teaching classes and leading youth groups, others were preparing documents for upcoming trials. No matter what the tasks were, each student felt as though they were able to positively contribute to their organization.

Congratulations to our students for completing a successful internship at their organization!

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Stop Forced Sterilization

Monday was a big day for women’s health and reproductive rights in Namibia. The Supreme Court issued their judgment on the Government of the Republic of Namibia vs. LM and Others, an appeal that had come from the government in response to the High Court’s ruling that three HIV-positive women had been involuntarily sterilized. In short, the Supreme Court dismissed a government appeal to not be held accountable for paying damages for the involuntary sterilization of three women at the Oshakati and Katutura State hospitals. The case will be returned to the High Courts where compensation for the three women will be determined.

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This case has been going on since 2008 and has been a long battle. In 2007, there were found to be over 40 cases of women being sterilized without their informed consent in government hospitals and clinics.
I, Chelsea, the international resident assistant, have been working with Namibian Women’s Health Network (NWHN), a community-based organization founded to empower those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS in Namibia. Monday morning, I quickly headed to the office in order to meet up with the rest of the NWHN staff to head to Zoo Park. At the park, all of the supporters gathered together to walk to the Supreme Court as a united front. I can honestly say it was such a privilege to be surrounded by such powerful and strong women (and a few men) and to know that I was about to witness something incredibly amazing. Upon arriving at the Court, we were directed to the court room where the ruling would be announced. There was a buzz of excitement and trepidation in the air as we were all waiting for the result. One by one the judges walked in and we all stood up knowing that we were just moments away from a monumental decision. Upon hearing that the appeal had been dismissed, there was an air of relief and celebration that immediately took over the crowd. As we all headed outside, dancing and singing took over as a long journey finally came to a close. I was so honored to get to be a part of such an occasion. It was truly a moving moment when justice was finally achieved. While the issue of forced sterilization is far from over, it was truly a giant step forward for women living with HIV/AIDS not only in Namibia, but around the world. This court case is expected to have far reaching effects considering that Namibia is the first country to successfully take the government to court and get a favorable ruling in regards to ending the practice of coercive sterilization.
To read more about the ruling, please check out the following articles:

  • ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/court-namibia-forcibly-sterilized-women-hiv-26650518
  • Southern Africa Litigation Centre: http://www.southernafricalitigationcentre.org/2014/11/03/news-release-namibias-highest-court-finds-government-forcibly-sterilised-hiv-positive-women/
  • The Namibian: http://www.namibian.com.na/indexx.php?id=19740&page;_type=story_detail&category;_id=1#
  • To learn more about the Namibian Women’s Health Network, check out their facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Namibian-Womens-Health-Network/109958059086329?ref=ts&fref;=ts

Reconnect Retreat

This afternoon, CGE staff and students gathered into the van to head off on our mid-semester reconnect retreat. The goal for the retreat was to provide an opportunity for staff and students to come together and prepare for the next few weeks in Windhoek and Cape Town. Since the students just got back from their break, this was a good opportunity for everyone to check in and brainstorm how we, as a community, want the last four weeks of our semester to look.

The afternoon started with a welcome from our program director, Romanus. He outlined the importance of a supportive community and reminded both the staff and students that these next four weeks are an opportunity for us to continue to grow and get to know one another.

Chelsea, our international resident assistant, then led the group in a team building exercise where the group was split into pairs. One partner would have a blind fold on while the other partner had to lead them through an obstacle course using only their voices. The purpose of this activity was to remind staff and students that we need to work together and use open communication in order to form a supportive community.

After a quick safety activity, both staff and students took some time to reflect on where they started the semester and what they still wanted to do in the upcoming months. Students reflected on why they applied for this program, the emotions they  felt right before leaving, as well as their expectations. Students were then challenged to explain how they wanted to spend the next four weeks of the program and what they wanted to take away from this experience.

Finally the afternoon wrapped up with a final team building activity where the entire group was blind folded and had to create various shapes using string. The purpose of this activity was that, unlike our first activity where you only had to communicate with one person, you now had to communicate with fifteen other people in order to achieve the task.

The afternoon was a great success and both staff and students are ready to work together to make these last four weeks the best yet!

Halloween at CGE

Every week, student leaders take turns hosting community events. The goal of these events are to bring our living and learning community together and take time to reconnect and continue our journey of getting to know one another. This week for our community event, our student leaders decided to throw a Halloween party for all of the students. Activities included personal trivia where the students would answer trivia questions about members in the group. If answered correctly, that student would get a piece of candy! This was a great activity to show that we still have a lot to learn about one another despite having lived together for over two months now!

Other activities included a doughnut eating contest and a candy toss game. After having the previous week off for fall break, this was the perfect activity to reunite the group and get everyone ready for the next four weeks in Windhoek! By the end of the event, everyone left with a candy bag and a positive attitude to start the week. While this may have been a slightly different celebration than what the students typically do back in the States, it was the perfect taste of home.

Happy Halloween from our Fall 2014 students in Namibia!

Permaculture at CGE Namibia!

I recently voluntarily added a new item to my list of responsibilities.  When I was in the US this summer, I attended a Permaculture Design Course.  I was so inspired by the principles of permaculture, which aim to leave the world a better place than we found it, that I have started experimenting with permaculture at the CGE Namibia site.  I’m starting out small, trying to see what works in this urban desert environment.  Step by step, I plan to add more and more permaculture design features to our landscape.  So far, we have planted tomatoes, lettuce, passion fruit, lemon verbena, pomegranate, fig, mint, lemon grass and rosemary.  These are all surrounded by a mulch of locally available leaves, grass clippings, flower petals, etc (basically anything I could find).  The mulch helps to keep out unplanned plants, keeps water in the soil, keeps the soil cool and helps to fertilize the soil.

The pot standing on top of a white tube in the middle is our worm tower!  We throw our kitchen food scraps into the tower, where the worms eagerly devour it and spread the nutrients into the soil through holes in the tube which they can crawl in and out of. The pot is on top to keep out flies and other non-worm species. We also need to keep the worms moist so we pour some water into the tower regularly.  This also helps to keep water in the soil.  The worms also aerate and soften the soil as they crawl around and fertilize it.

Future plans include adding more worm towers (we produce a lot of food waste and the worms don’t travel that far away from the tower, so we could certainly use more), using grey water from the laundry (when people use natural cleaning products) to water the plants, adding more plants, continuing to learn and add what works well to keep our little plot in harmony with nature’s processes, absorbing greenhouse gases, processing our waste naturally, and producing usable resources (food!).

While I really don’t have a lot of “free time” to spend in the garden during a work day, a 10 minute break now and again makes a big difference on our little garden, and makes a HUGE difference in my productivity level in the office the rest of the day.  I’ll be sure to keep you updated as our dabbles in the world of permaculture expand and evolve over time!

-Linda

 

Team Building

This afternoon, the staff and students spent a lovely day learning more about each other and preparing for the semester ahead. The day consisted of cycling through various activities that explored what identity consists of and the factors have influenced the creation of our identities. Areas such as race, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, and gender were explored in more detail with both staff and students sharing personal experiences and beliefs about each topic. The group also participated in numerous team building activities to get to know each other.

The day ended with everyone splitting into four groups for a hastag competition. Each group had to come up with a word or a short phrase represent our identity as the Fall 2014 group. The winning hashtag was #cgebabiesoflove. The group stated that the semester is a journey and that their journey is just beginning. They are babies now, but as the semester progresses they will graduate to #cgetoddlersoflove and so fourth.

At the end of the day, the group was ready to head back to the house and everyone felt as though the day was a success and they were grateful that our community got the opportunity to learn more about one another.

The Students Have Arrived

Our new students for Fall 2014 arrived in Windhoek, Namibia on Wednesday afternoon.

The students arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 17 August, and spent ten days learning about the history of South Africa and their struggle for liberation. The students got the opportunity to talk to various organizations and hear from many different viewpoints. One of the highlights that many of the students mentioned was the opportunity to meet many influential speakers and be able to engage with them in a small group setting.
The students were shocked to learn about the vast inequality that exists in South Africa. Many found it hard to believe that one of the poorest townships was in the same municipality as Sandton, one of the wealthiest areas in Johannesburg. Many of the students mentioned that reading about these inequalities in a textbook could never do the reality justice and they were very grateful to get the opportunity to see these inequalities first hand. The students also got to meet with members of the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party of South Africa, and the Democratic Alliance (DA), the official opposition. The students got to hear each parties platform and where they would like to see the future of South Africa.

Another highlight for many of our students was their home stay in Soweto over the weekend. Soweto stands for South West Townships and is an area made up of 34 townships and is a suburb of Johannesburg. Our students were split up into pairs and were placed with one of five families throughout Soweto. Some of our students got to attend a soccer match, go to church with their families, or just hear about daily life in Soweto. The students were all very grateful to get to spend time with families in Soweto and to look at the similarities and differences between Soweto and their communities in the United States.

After finishing their time in South Africa, the students took a quick flight up to Windhoek and spent their first day meeting all the staff and getting a tour of the house.

 

Meet Chelsea Beyrand!

Hello everyone! My name is Chelsea Beyrand, and I am the newest International Resident Advisor (Intern) in Windhoek, Namibia. I arrived about two weeks ago and have been slowly learning my way around Windhoek and the Center. I am excited to learn about the history and cultures of Southern Africa and help guide ten incoming students through their semester abroad with the Center for Global Education (CGE).

I graduated from Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts this past spring with a dual-degree in Human Development and Theology (focus: Islamic Studies and Social Justice) and a minor in Special Education. Throughout my college career I worked with the Boston College Campus School which is a school on the Boston College campus for students ages 3-21 with severe and/or multiple disabilities and complex health care needs. I volunteered in various capacities throughout my four years and was co-president of the organization my senior year. I also began working at the school my junior year.

My sophomore year of college, I travelled to the Dominican Republic to serve at Hogar Immauel, with ten other Boston College students. Hogar Immanuel is an orphanage for children with disabilities run through the Mustard Seed Communities. While in country, I also spent time at a nearby Haitian village learning about the vast inequality that existed within the country and the stigma of being a Haitian within the Dominican Republic. I led the trip my senior year in order to expose other Boston College students to the realities that exist within the Dominican Republic and to return to the children who changed my life.

My junior year, I spent a semester studying at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. I took classes in African history and learned about the challenges that the continent faces today and how colonialism still exists today in the form of foreign aid and development. While in South Africa, I served at an AIDS clinic in the township outside of Grahamstown, and worked closely with the staff on developing an outreach program to educate elementary school students about HIV and AIDS.

When I began to consider my post-graduation plans, I realized that working with university students had become something that I had become passionate about. I believe that university students are at a very unique time in their lives in regards to identity formation and questioning who they are. CGE’s commitment to experiential learning fosters an environment where classroom learning is met with real life experiences that lead to a personal connection and reflection of the topic. Students gain a much deeper and holistic understanding of their experience, which is something that will stay with them for a very long time. I believe that you never truly stop learning and I am excited to continue my journey learning about Southern Africa and social justice, while also guiding the students in their quest for understanding.

I am excited to draw upon my experience with leading two service organizations and my time in South Africa to foster cross-cultural understanding and dialogue. I look forward to working with the students to create a living and learning environment that focuses on listening to understand, questioning with compassion, and learning to promote social justice, equality, and kindness. I want to challenge the students to not only learn new information and ways of thinking, but to also rethink their way of life back home.

In addition, I will be working with the religious studies instructor to help explore the role of religion in Namibian history. I look forward to continuing my study of religion from my undergraduate studies and hope to contribute some of the knowledge I have learned from various courses and experiential learning opportunities that I have had.

During my summers, I am a health care staff at a summer camp for children and adults with disabilities. In my spare time I enjoy travelling, listening to music, reading, learning more about the world around me, and having quality conversations with friends new and old.

I am looking into various programs to eventually become a nurse practitioner focusing in forensic nursing, community health, or HIV/AIDS, or an occupational therapist working with children with low incidence disabilities.

 

Alumni Visit

The CGE Namibia staff were pleasantly surprised this morning with a visit from Tom Siburg, a student on the Nation-building, Globalization and Decolonizing the Mind program in the Fall 2008 semester.  We all have very fond memories of Tom as a student here and are excited to have him back in the country for a while! Tom is spending the summer months in Namibia doing an internship with the City of Windhoek – Community Development Department.  Tom is studying at the University of Minnesota towards a double Masters in Social Work and Urban and Regional Planning.