Elephant Energy Womans project and wrapping up....farewell Caprivi!
on Marika VSO-ing in Namibia (Namibia), 09/Dec/2010 19:12, 34 days ago
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As the academic year draws to an end, I continue to have reduced obligations at Mavuluma with the exception of the numerous attempts and a lot of prompting needed to get my reference completed by the Principal and VSO end of service forms. So I had the opportunity to get involved and assist in work with Elephant Energy, in particular the Women’s Energy Project. This is a project that a couple of the volunteers who have now left were working on, alongside Carol who continues to support its running. It basically involves identifying the needs of the women in the villages of Caprivi and bringing in ‘appropriate technologies’ tailoredto these needs to help improve their quality of life. The project has various stages and is also running at different stages in different conservancies simultaneously.On Thursday then, I set out with Carol, Joseph and Anna to what might on the surface just seem like the selling of solar powered products. What underlined this though was the recent opening of the‘Elephant Energy’ stand/shop at the open market, mostly organised by Katie who has now left, including the training up of Anna, the main shopkeeper. Below the surface though involved the research, the numerous meetings organised through the conservancy and the volunteers of the IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation) Offices i.e. Katie and Kaitlin. The timing of this ‘sale’ was crucial as it is coincided with the distribution of money from the conservancy to its members as a result of a ‘trophy hunt’, meaning when a (usually Afrikaner) hunter who has an agreement with the conservancy wants to hunt, not only is the meat of the animal distributed to the people of the conservancy, but also the payment for the right to hunt. The conservancies in Namibia have proven to be leading successes and examples in the developing world but not surprisingly things don’t always run as smoothly as they should, for example, the most prevailing complaint being that hunters come and hunt illegally, overruling the conservancy and essentially the local community. The agreed timing of this is essentially immediately after the distribution of the money as the Caprivians are not renowned for their saving/planning of finances, so it is vital to get there as immediately as possible after distribution.The reality follows after a month of several meetings and organising on behalf of Katie, that despite confirmation the afternoon before, we leave at 6am for the hour drive to find that the money had yet to be distributed to none of the 4 villages even though they said yesterday on the phone it had. Communication is a continuous problem here. We were unsure whether Joseph who had spoken to them on the phone had misunderstood or whether they just said yes. Many volunteers who have worked here have found this problem. It’s as if the people simply answer what they think you want to hear, even if it’s completely false information (tried and tested I assure you). Also, there seems to be an issue of if something such as a meeting has been arranged, and somehow their plans have changed, even if it is out of their control, they will not contact you to cancel, but instead just let you show up, whether they are there or not. This has happened so many times, it can get unbelievably frustrating, especially as it can have huge implications on the other persons behalf. It’s difficult to understand exactly why, although we could make some attempts at guessing, and adds to the difficulty of trying to do any project here in the region. On the plus side it improves ones skills in making plan B’s (and maybe even C’s).Our plan B on this day was to confirm the attendance of the women the next day to one of several meetings arranged in the research phase of the project and then one of the villages managed to start the distribution of the money that afternoon as the whole process takes the Khuta and Indunas (traditional authorities) a few hours, allowing us to have a few sales over the hour and a half or so until we had to leave to minimise the time driving in the dark. Despite me personally always feeling a gut objection in being involved in anything to do with sales, and perhaps due to the nature of this project, it was actually unusually satisfying to see the sales, knowing that many of the people had already sampled the products, but in particular when we saw one woman head off to her village to find her husband and get him to buy one of the products by waving us down as we were leaving. Knowing that she was one of the women who had sampled the products and how she managed to get her husband to give the money (the men here are almost always the ones with the household money) for a product that would make her life easier as it is the women that do most of the labour in village life. I got a sense of what it feels like to sell a product you believe in. Another satisfying element was the very old man who returned the next day to another village to tell Anna and Joseph how impressed he was with his product.So, to put the above into a bit more context, we set of early again the next day to meet a sample of the women from the Kwandu conservancy involved in another stage behind this project. A woman is chosen to organise a group of several women who manage another several women, including a group from Zambia as the conservancy meets the border as part of encouraging trans-boundary work, who will in turn trial the products on a weekly rotational basis. The solar products consist of a Small and Big BOGO (Buy one Give one scheme) torches, designed with a hook for hanging and the large one having different settings for lighting long distance or broad short distance, a‘Crocodile Eye’, almost like a desk light but removable hand held torch, a lantern, a radio, a ‘Fire Fly’ most common for its mobile phone charger gadget (even without electricity, it was initially surprising to see most people own a mobile phone), a brazier and a cook stove. So aimed at villages that don’t yet have electricity, these products are trialled by the women and at the end of each week they feedback with the advantages and disadvantages of the products, stating how they used them and what changes it made. So we had this meeting with the women on Friday after we droppedoff the ‘sales team’ (Anna, Joseph and today with Michelle’s support) with another person with a vehicle to get round to the other 3 villages where the money would have been distributed by that point (we hoped). In fact, the a few meetings had been either fully or partly ‘unsuccessful’ sowe would be collecting information from the last 4 weeks.The women are asked to fill in questionnaires which are sometimes answered in Silozi and therefore need translating. I was basically there to help Carol in the meeting by essentially scribing/typing what they reported, taking some of the relevant information from the questionnaires for use in adjusting the design and suitability of the products. In terms of their benefits from participation, I understood that the 2 lead women (the‘sharp’ Brideness and Memory from Namibia and Zambia respectively) get paid for participating in this project and ‘organising’ their group of women, and the rest receive one of the products in return for their participation. It was interesting to see how the leading women were selected forperhaps what would be seen as leadership qualities, status and basic literacy skills. It was interesting to hear the difficulties they were sometimes having with ‘their’ women quoting, “me, I am having a problem” or “we are all big women, we meet and discuss well” and facilitating theirdiscussions on how to deal with women who wouldn’t rotate the products they really liked, or attend the weekly Thursday meetings. As they were translating/summarising the questionnaires, we really got an insight as to how these small, simple products can change their standard of living. I enjoyed hearing simple stories of seeing snakes with the light at night they might have not seen before, being able to read at night (often bibles or religious books), children being able to study later, pounding maize meal at night when they haven’t had enough time to do it in the day, sorting out cattle into the kraal, saving time by reducing their collecting wood time and distances by a1/3 and especially the noted savings they make from not having to buy candles, matches and using the money to buy more food or stationary for the children to take to school. Some were even making a small business out of the cell phone charger by charging others N$5 to charge their phone.In order to supplement the information gathering, as we had arranged to stay at the Sijua (IRDNC) campsite with Lise we also had the wonderful opportunity to visit the women at night in their homesteads to get a better idea of the functionality of these products and also for Carol to take some pictures for reporting. So we meet with Brideness who takes us round with her gorgeous daughter Emma, to the nearby women using the products. Most surprising was a woman casually sitting outside near her fire that had just given birth that day looking and most entertaining was walking into a courtyard to meet one of the women with a small BOGO to find her husband using it to shower. He seemed indifferent to 5 strange women in his courtyard giggling away.The night was incredibly enjoyable as we had a lovely dinner at Sijua camp with the inspiring Lise (S.African) and Dan (a Jordie!). A great place located right on the Kwando River with a caged river pool (the only other I am aware of apart from Ngepi camp on the Kavango River) where we enjoyed an afternoon swim. A place where Lise casually says she had a Python in her garden the night before and that on her morning walk she saw lion prints, hears the spotted hyenas she’s researching at night, alongside the hippo that lingers around the deck and grazes on the grass at night. We didn’t encounter these (fortunately I think, but a bit disappointedly too). The highlight by far was where Michelle and I managed to creatively arrange a mosquito net and our mattresses to sleep outside on the deck, up a ladder and had a stunning view literally over the river, over to the grasslands on the other side, facing sunset. Fortunately we escaped the rains that have been increasing and were becoming consistent over the last few days. It was my first night to see lightning bugs flying happily around (I was very impressed with this) and being especially aware of sounds as we had our hopes for many things, the main noises were the figs regularly falling off the fig tree into the river below, the fish splashing around under the deck and of course the birdsong. Oneof, if not the best nights and mornings ever. On that morning, I felt crazy to be leaving Caprivi.To exemplify the inspirational yet maybe slightly eccentric people I love meeting here and shared the evening with, is Lise who is essentially monitoring spotted hyenas by laying out bait (of which we got a lovely view of), setting up a movement triggered camera, looking for prints, tagging and tracking a predator that takes a lot of blame for loss of cattle. Interestingly she has proven that they are completely over estimated and are in fact mostly on the other side of the river. She too has began a task that we helped in on our journey to the women by literally counting the cattle on the road that are not in their kraal for the night in order to demonstrate how much food there is that the hyenas could potentially be feasting on, already proving to be a lot more than expected. The reasons of the cattle not being in their kraal might be many and justifiable, but it feels cynical and even sad, even if true to label it as pure framer‘laziness’ which is the conclusion many are drawing. The Herero (from Northwest Namibia) are said to have come to Caprivi in mockery of the Caprivian farmers who have multiple times the number of resources available such as wood and rich fertile land in order to be able to be doing much bettercattle practices than they are currently. The Caprivian reputation seems more justified the longer one stays here, but it just feels so cynical, sad and maybe even judgemental. Are there other factors that we are not considering that hinder them from success/development more so than other parts ofNamibia where the resources appear to be even more limited? Is this too judgemental, harsh or is it reality? This is something that is not only specific to farming, but I could say is a thought that crosses our minds in all domains and what an effect this thought has had on my whole year’s workhere.I am in the last few days now, Michelle and I continue to have gatherings, dinner, music, including even her hidden talent of bagpipes (who would have thought I would find myself listening to a live bagpipe player in Namibia!) and Salsa dancing at the house, mostly led by Jake, Frisbee in the field, swims at Stone City of the Zambezi River which is now beginning to rise as the rains have began and the level seems to be dependent on the Zambian rains. Especially fun was a newly discovered spot where you can enjoy a natural spa/massage under the mini waterfall created by the rapids. We can get try to ignore the broken glass that is to be found by wearing shoes, but I continue to find it hard to ignore the shifty drunk men that linger around despite having the masculine looking enough Jake (PCV) and Biggie (Zimbabwe) accompany us girls. We enjoyed a night out dancing and a bit of pool with Lilian (who I must mention is an awesome pool player) and Romeo, and we played on Jake pretending we were all his girlfriends (we also use this tactic at Stone City) which is very readily accepted by the men well exemplifying the male practices here. If it wasn’t for the men, the hassle you get as a girl is just too annoying to want to bear. Something I won’t miss on leaving. On our night out, I had the usual encounter with a few of the younger male teachers and the odd learner who protectively don’t leave us girls unaccompanied until Jake returnseven when he was just a few metres away at the pool table. I won’t start on the male practices here...We also had World Aids Day‘Celebrations’ the announcement that the rate in Caprivi has gone down to 35% from the 40s it was a couple of years ago (I think they test every 2 years or so). It’s unusual that it is called a celebration, nevertheless they organise the usual speeches and dancing at the Sports complex, mademore enjoyable by having the Ministry of Education organise it this year, schools including Mavuluna invited along and Jesse brought the Cheshire Home kids. Only then did I understand why some had stayed behind because of the number of other children that stand round to stare at them. It emphasisedhow much those with disabilities are still so discriminated against here and it disappoints us that VSO is also closing the Disability programme in Namibia. Then again, with an estimated 35% HIV rate, Caprivi is still the highest in the country. On the other hand, there are so many other NGO’swith a focus on HIV&Aids.So my packing begins (and typically I have more stuff than I’d like to have to sort out), the planning for the holidays is starting to have some kind of structure and the farewells begin. The compulsory 3 year rotation the Inspectors have between the circuits causes a reason for an event, Michelle and I also held an informal party at our house. A lovelynight highlighted by great dancing from the 3 Advisory teachers who when they get together I struggle to stop laughing. The sad goodbyes begun this yesterday with seeing off Michelle, Rani and Andrew for the last time and the days are flying almost too fast. They were more choking today as I had amoving farewell at Mavuluma and then did the rounds at the Regional offices after I realised that tomorrow is a public holiday as a result of Human Rights day. Reality is really hitting now as I find it hard to accept that I will not meet again with some of the nicest people I have met. Farewellconversations have me holding back sad feelings, today in particular with my Principal and the Senior Education Officer who were essentially my 2 line managers over the year and I am realising how fortunate I am to have had the opportunity to work alongside them both. I know I have at least one more particularly hard goodbye to face, which will be Biggie from Zimbabwe who I haven’t mentioned much but has particularly moved me recently with his warm personality and zest for life, despite the profoundly difficult circumstances he has lived through. I could probably say that his attitude andpersonality that flourishes over and above his ‘story’ has made me admire him maybe more than any of the Namibians I have met here all year.This might be my last‘VSO-ing in Namibia’ post, and I know it was a very long one, but the rest of my travels might feel a bit irrelevant to the context and the details of these can be left for when I see y’all again soon. With a return flight still not yet booked, I will just see for how long Southern Africa keeps me captured...Thanks for reading :)