The ideas and thoughts expressed within this blog are not the views or opinions of WorldTeach nor the Namibia Ministry of Education, but rather my personal views.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Meeting Namibia's Premier - The Right Honourable Nahas Angula

Nahas Angula is one of the first names I learned when researching the foreign land of Namibia where I’d be living, partnering, and working for at least one year. Angula’s name popped up in my Google searches, and stood out because he is a fellow alumnus of Teachers College, Columbia University, having earned his M.A. and M.Ed there in 1979. He is the current Prime Minister and was the first Minister of Education of the newly independent Republic of Namibia.

From the time of my arrival in the country, I’d been dropping little hints about wanting to meet him. I mentioned it to various government and education ministry officials, with whom I work and with whom I know he works, but no one really paid attention to my hints and no action resulted. Then, after receiving my admission offer to an EdD program at Teachers College and learning that he is the keynote speaker at a Teachers College Distinguished Alumni event next month, I decided to just go out on a limb and try to reach him directly. It would be good, I thought, to introduce myself and get his support for and guidance on future fieldwork I may wish to conduct in Namibia.

I found the fax number to the Office of the Prime Minister in the yellow pages (those books are effective pre-internet relics, by the way), and then faxed a brief letter of introduction requesting to meet him during my trip to Windhoek on Friday, 19 March. I followed up with a phone call, during which the secretary reported to not have received my fax; so, I confirmed the number, sent it again, and then left it alone. About an hour later, my cell phone rang and an unidentified cell phone number appeared on my caller ID. “You sent a fax to my office, wanting to meet with me?” inquired the caller. It was the Right Honourable Nahas Angula, Prime Minister of Namibia, himself.

Luckily, I am always ready for “unknown” callers because of my partnership work; however, I was indeed surprised by his direct outreach and personal response to my request. We spoke for a few minutes and established that I would arrive at his office at 1:50pm the next day, after he swore-in the new Members of Parliament.

During our meeting, the Prime Minister was very relaxed and welcoming; although, I didn’t really stick to my script or get any of my prepared questions answered. I wanted him to help me expand my current list of books and policies to read and review; I wanted to hear his opinion on the ideal roles of foreign partners in Namibian education; I wanted to get his recommendations for people I should contact regarding my studies; and I wanted his advice on approaches to my research.

Instead, it was a loose, comfortable, and honest discussion that ended up focusing more on my current work and constructive dialogue about the challenges associated with my volunteer project - computer-based learning centres. He actually switched the direction of charge to me, by requesting my formal involvement on a computer-based learning project he has in mind for a foundation he began in the North. Of course, I accepted. Since our meeting, we have spoken via e-mail on his project and I plan to join an exploration team he pulls together in mid-May.

My meeting with the Premier, a title used interchangeably with Prime Minister, was a success, was memorable, and hopefully opened the door to ongoing dialogue. Nahas Angula’s role in this country’s liberation struggle and rebuilding, especially in regards to education, places him in an invaluable position in my quest for knowledge and understanding and support of our global struggle for equality and equity.

On my departure from his private office, I had another memorable encounter, with the just retired Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Libertine Amathila. She was patiently waiting for Mr. Angula to head to her farewell celebration in Parliament Gardens nearby. The photo included in this post includes the three of us, outside the building, before they whisked off in their motorcade.
The following is a link to information about Nahas Angula, from the Teachers' College Press Room.
The Prime Minister of Namibia is appointed by the President in terms of the provisions of Article 32 of the Constitution. Further, Article 36 of the Constitution stipulates that "The Prime Minister shall be the leader of Government business in Parliament, shall co-ordinate the work of the Cabinet and shall advise and assist the President in the execution of the functions of Government" and Article 34 stipulates that where it is regarded as necessary or expedient that a person deputize for the President because of a temporary absence from the country, the President appoints the Prime Minister to deputize for him.

In terms of the provisions of the Public Service Act of 1995, the Prime Minister is also responsible for the overall management of the public service.

By virtue of his responsibilities of advising and assisting the President, as the leader of Government business in Parliament, as the co-coordinator of the work of the Cabinet, and as the political authority responsible for the public service, the Prime Minister's task involves co-coordinating the work of the government at inter-ministerial and inter-governmental levels and for projecting the good image of the government.

Independence 2010 - Thank Moses!

Last weekend was a colourful, diverse, educational, and festive reflection on the anniversary of Namibia’s independence from South Africa. It was definitely a very different “celebration” than the one I encountered last year, which I don’t classify as a celebration at all (see March 2009 post, “Whose Independence Is It Anyway”). I can point to at least three reasons for the change in tenor.
  1. This year (2010) marks the 20th Anniversary of Namibia’s Independence, “0”s and “5”s usually prompt more attention

  2. This year, I celebrated in the capital city, rather than in the coastal retreat of Swakopmund
  3. I participated in the nationally-planned central activities, which had the benefit of greater financial investment and marketing.

During the weekend, I had my first dance-club experience in Windhoek, which was freeing. I attended my first international football/soccer match, which resulted in a 0-0 draw, but was fun anyway. I got pelted with candies and smiles at a parade down Independence Avenue. I went to a gospel concert where I learned new dance moves (watch out Kirk Franklin). And I saw constant images of the many types of people and customs that classify Namibia as contrasting and beautiful.

Current and former Heads of State and other dignitaries from Zimbabwe, Angola, South Africa, Malawi, China, and Cuba, among other supportive countries, came to Windhoek to witness and participate in formal festivities, especially the day-long celebrations at Independence Stadium. Ah, Independence Stadium. That was an experience.

While the VIP gates, processes, and controls at the stadium were fairly well identified, open, and managed by uniformed officers, the other nine(9) entrances for the general public were jammed, closed, unmanned, and daunting for most of the morning. I, along with two friends, waited in one of these lines with the hundreds of others for about 2 hours, with each of us taking turns checking out other lines and trying to decipher the organizer’s system or plan. Still confused, we finally decided that we would leave the line - it hadn’t moved in the whole two(2) hours we were in it – and either wait in a more direct, shorter line (that also led to locked, unguarded gates) or move to another venue altogether. After watching the chaos of new busloads of would-be spectators arriving, laughing at the impatient (and naughty) children hurling their bodies over the walls of the stadium, and figuring that entry before the end of the morning’s events was slim to none, we continued walking around, scouting out the location of the afternoon’s football game between Namibia and Botswana.

And then, like I blessing, came Moses. I was so glad to see that blinding green suit; it would be our actual ticket in. Convinced that “money talks,” I now know that a fly green suit does the same trick, which is probably safer in the midst of anti-corruption commissions. But, it wasn’t an easy ticket.

Who’s Moses? you ask. Well, Moses “Black Door” Shilongo is a local performing artist, who also happens to be the ever-present husband of the WorldTeach Namibia Field Director, and as such, part of WorldTeach Volunteers’ social network/family in-country. I always have random “Moses sightings” when roaming the streets of Windhoek, but this was an especially welcomed encounter. Black Door, Moses’ stage name, was scheduled to perform IN the stadium, so we promptly each grabbed one of his items (his RED suit, equipment bag, box of CDs) and became his (un)official entourage. Little did we know, at the time, that he was having trouble gaining entry as well. A classic and common retort we received from the uniformed Namibian officers at the various gates to which he was sent was that, “We are not working on ‘African Time’ anymore. Why are you late?” Further, the officers were not a part of the organizing committee and the majority of them basically had no idea where to send the entertainers or any permission (or desire) to abandon their post to help us actually get answers.

After about 90 more minutes of shuffling around from gate to gate with the other entertainers also stuck outside, we finally made it to the big stage and took our places in the open arena, with impressive vantages of the crowd, room to breathe, and perfect positioning for pictures of performers. Thank goodness, because the Himba performers, bodies covered in their traditional red ochre, were getting way too close to Black Door, having actually rubbed against his vulnerable bright green suit, causing even more frustration for the artist who was ready to about-face home.

Yes, we’d missed the parade, the arrival of dignitaries, the formal swearing-in of the president, the announcement of the new cabinet, and the distribution of the lunch bags; but, we were able to hear some of the presidential address and participate in some of the closing morning formalities (Anthems of Namibia and the African Union). Without Black Door, we would not have gotten in before all the dignitaries left, we would have been crunched into the stands when we did get in, and I would not have gotten the cool experiences and pictures afforded me through the eyes of the performers of the day. Good Times. Happy Independence, Namibia!. And Thank Moses.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Start Spreading the News

“Start spreading the news: I’m leaving today (actually in August). I’m going to be a part of it (again) in ole New York.”

I just received and accepted an offer of admission to resume doctoral studies at Teachers College Columbia University in the fall. This time, I will be pursuing a doctorate of education (EdD), rather than a doctor of philosophy (PhD). Over the past years, I have come to understand the difference in the two degrees. While the PhD is primarily geared at nurturing academics for university teaching roles, the EdD is more geared towards equipping senior-level practitioners and executives with the tools of applied research. I will be a student in the department of International and Transcultural Studies, in the programs in Comparative and International Education Development, with a concentration in International Education Policy Studies.

Start sending the money, should be the actual title of this post. It should be an interesting transition after three years of no real salary to suddenly have a US$60,000 bill (the approximate total of annual tuition and fees). It is definitely time to begin hunting for work and fellowships. I’m pretty sure that I have secured housing, so I won’t need to deal with that.

In any event, I am excited to have my next journey semi-mapped out. I was a mere 22 years of age when I began the PhD program at TC. I was focused, ambitious, engaged, bright, and somewhat accomplished (for a first-generation college graduate from the inner-city); however, I lacked exposure to truly place the degree and my future in the most appropriate and satisfying context. At that time, I made the difficult decision and voluntarily left the program, but at least with a master of arts in hand. I always knew I would return to the higher degree and I have never stopped enjoying applied research. With the travels and work I have embraced over the past nearly 15 years, I am now ready to resume doctoral-level study and the Comparative and International Educational Development programs appear to be the good fit.
Over the next few weeks, I will try to meet the current Prime Minister of Namibia, the Honourable Nahas Angula. He is a fellow Teachers College alum. I have already met the current Minister of Education, the Honourable Nangolo Mbumba, a few times. I will, however, also try to meet with him again before June. I would like to share with them my goals for conducting my doctoral field work here, and hopefully receive their blessings, support, extended partnership, and guidance. I have already received an open invitation regarding my graduate studies from the Ministry of Education Directorate of Research, Science, and Technology.

I Need Help

Snippets of my Popular Phrases Solo on Friday, 5 March 2010:

“Ha---Rold! Sit Down!”
“Yes, ‘more than’ means ‘bigger.’ “
“No, the computer room is full. Sessions will begin at the end of March. Today is just for testing these learners.”
“Whoa, Panduleni! Check your work. Is that really the correct answer?”
“Ha---Rold! Sit Down!”
“Who turned their computer off?!? Chanique! What did I say about touching that button?”
“Yes, Ronaldino? You may go to the toilet.”
“This is called a mouse. Hold it like this. No, like this. Relax your hand and fingers. Good.”
“Who called me?”
“Ha---Rold! Sit Down!”
“No, you may not enter today. The computer room is full. We are just testing these learners. We will officially re-open at the end of March.”
“Yes, I see, Marchelle. You entered the right answer. Great job. Now, click the forward arrow for the next question.”
“A penny is a coin we use in the United States. Those are pennies in the box. How many pennies do you see? Een? Twee? Drie? Vier? Vyf? Baie.”
“Theresa, did you say you can’t open your account? Okay. Let’s see if we can find the problem. One minute.”
“Ha---Rold! Sit Down! If I have to say that one more time…..”

That afternoon was pure energy. I had about 40 learners show up for a session that was designated for 25 pre-selected learners (the maximum the Centre could hold). The goal was to administer a mathematics assessment and expose a few learners to the Centre’s resources and rules before it fully re-opens. So, after admitting the originally-selected twenty-five, I had to deal with the other 15 who simply would not leave the front door. I should be happy that the interest is high, but it was truly exhausting.

Within the class of 25, I had another three sub-groups.

1. Those learners who never touched a computer before and needed basic orientation
2. Those learners who never used the PLATO software and needed guidance on how to log-in and navigate within the system
3. Those learners who spent much of the past year in the Centre, apparently doing whatever in the world they pleased. (they were the most unfocused and disruptive of the bunch).

So with the four populations of learners, all primary school age I might add, in extended testing mode, often wanting affirmation and to share praise received from the computer, and without fully functioning air-conditioning units, and as the only adult in the room, I had my hands completely full. Yes, I needed and still need help. All super-puns included, and you can let it mean what you like.

The experience, as always, though, was instructive. I had not had such a draining time with any group of learners in my former Centre in Khorixas. I also had already conducted the same exercise with 75 other learners from seven other Keetmanshoop schools, without this resultant admitted sense of chaos. I guess it was time I got a sense of the classroom management problems that other volunteers had mentioned often. It was also good to see the challenges that would face those who would assume leadership hopefully before and definitely after my departure here in Keetmanshoop.

I already have signs on the doors explaining the current activities of the Centre and the fact that the Centre will not re-open until the end of March. I immediately began drafting a flyer for grade 12 learners to apply to become Volunteer Centre Captains; they can help manage crowds outside and answer basic questions inside. I also immediately began creating big posters with the Centre Rules. Finally, I drafted a request for teachers to shadow me in the Centre as Senior Teacher Ambassadors. I already have a group of teachers from each of the nine schools to serve as “regular” Teacher Ambassadors,” for the purposes of planning and general advocacy, but I needed them to step up their game. The lure for these “Senior” ambassadors was a t-shirt (I picked up a few during my business trip to meet the software account personnel in Johannesburg in November), and a certificate (which I would make look so nice and official that framing would be likely).

I will see how many assistants my efforts have yielded by Friday, 12 March. Until then, grant me the strength. Or at least help me learn how to say all of the phrases above in both Afrikaans and Nama/Khoekhoegowab.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Theft is NOT Culturally Relative

Though extremely well-written and engaging, the article that is the subject of this post (http://matadorabroad.com/my-day-of-african-justice/) had a few elements that moved me to comment, and probably rattle the innocent intentions of the author. But, as I said in the final comment (that the article’s author or some other moderator decided to remove), I engage in such “debate” regarding what I deem as cultural misrepresentation all the time. I do it with friends, family, and colleagues, in whatever forum, from whatever country, whenever I feel so moved. It’s not personal, nor about the length of the author’s story. In the case of this article, I read the piece, had a reaction, hit the reply button, and posted my opinion.

The article, “My Day of African Justice,” is about two volunteers supposedly from the Namibian town of Khorixas (where I served last year) who had their items stolen continuously over the course of a year, eventually discovered who took them, personally retrieved the items from the home of the thief, were forced to leave the recovered items with the police as “evidence,” and were then forced to appear in court, where and when the thief was found not guilty and they were told that their items were missing and would not be returned.

You can read the article yourself. It’s a fun read and paints vivid pictures. I’ll bias it a little, though. Within the article, I most directly took issue with the phrases, “African style of justice” and “Namibian sense of fairness.” I also felt that something was missing from the story. Exactly who allowed this to happen?

I regularly interact with citizens of various African countries who have very distinctive politics and legal systems, so I don’t really know if I buy the existence of an “African style of justice.” What goes on in Namibia, in Zimbabwe, and in Nigeria, where most of my local friends call home, can hardly be considered the same. Secondly, I regularly interact with Namibians of various ethnic and tribal backgrounds. The commentaries made about the others’ value systems are sometimes a bit biting. Just today, I endured comments by a “Coloured” suggesting that barbaric natures of discipline are culturally appropriate by “Oshivambos” and “Namas.” Just from today's comments alone, I’m pretty sure that Namibians across the ethnic and class spectrum have different notions of fairness.

Within the back-and-forth banter I had with the author, I was taken aback when she asked me, “Is there really a need to defend Khorixas, Namibia, or even all of Africa?” against her story. Here lies a bigger issue that I’ve thought about often.

From the first days of my orientation as a volunteer here, I have found myself defending Namibia, it’s teachers and educational system, and it’s road to progress, from what I deem to be gross mis-generalizations. My underlying mission is to have people think about allegations they make and reflect on the cultural context, to be sure that they are truly accurate. Once evidence is available, I am accepting. It’s just curious that I am so defensive. I think it is because I consider myself a member of many communities that have been culturally misrepresented in the past. That, and because of my studies and leanings toward holistic analysis, anthropology, and empathy.

In any event, I asked the author about more details (location and timeline) in her case, because it reeked of corruption, but she didn’t share them. My closest friend in Namibia is a magistrate and it would be interesting to see if she knew what actually happened and why. I guess I am not as accepting of such blatant injustice as the author (although I do not know the whole story and all the actions they took). I think I want to know a somewhat different Namibia, one that has civilians stealing (as they did my housemate's clothes from our outside line), but one that does not have members of the legal and judicial system obnoxiously laughing in the face of victims.

Her reported case leads me to wonder how useful it would be to have regular “crime against volunteers” reports sent by volunteer program heads to a partner police division in their respective countries. This way when things that are so blatantly wrong happen, there is at least one place for an attempt at recourse.

Theft is not culturally relative. You simply do not break into someone’s home, take what is not yours, identify yourself, and then get away without much constructive ado. This is especially important when volunteers, individuals requested by the host country’s government to meet specific areas of need, are the victims. Perhaps I am a bit too na├»ve and I have too much faith in partnerships and contracts, but until it is proven otherwise, my optimism will stand.

You can read the article (http://matadorabroad.com/my-day-of-african-justice/). Enjoy. The website is also very informative.