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Jacqueline N. Mahoney, MSW – ASU PhD student visits and works in Namibia, Africa, June/July 2009
I, Jackie Mahoney, met Naf Mieze at a Health Disparity’s summit held at ASU Downtown Phoenix campus by Dr. Olga Davis in February of 2008. judy butzine of the Cultural Arts Coalition introduced us. Judy had met Naf through one of her former students who was doing her master’s work in Namibia and invited Naf to come visit the United States.
Over the next year there many meetings to discuss ways that we could do some work with Naf, "a cultural development worker" in Namibia. We developed a program with the help of other experts in the arts and technology fields and continued our talks with Naf via email and telephone. Naf arranged to come back for another visit.
Namibia is the most newly democratic African nation. It is located north of South Africa and its western border is the Atlantic Ocean.
In the interim, I became a grandmother and was accepted to the Ph.D. program in Social Work at Arizona State University. As a full-time student the trip would be a financial impossibility for me. Yet Judy and I, and others, met with Naf and continued our talks. A lot of planning went into training and developing the program. An expert in digital storytelling gave us a wonderful training and we were all very excited about the possibilities. Naf returned once again to his country with more hope and enthusiasm and began talks on his end for the people that we would need to meet to implement the project. The other people that were discussing the possibility of going to work in Namibia were no longer able to go.
I arrived at Windhoek International Airport after two days of travelling and was greeted by Naf, his wife Levee, their then 4 year old son Ujama, a friend Martin, and Martin’s son. It was a warm welcome and the beginning of life-long friendships. When we arrived at Naf and Levee’s home, their daughter, Urii, age 13, had returned from school and was very excited to meet the American. My luggage was carried into the house for me, and I was shown to "my bedroom". Urii gave up her bed for me, and we shared a bedroom for the next six weeks. She slept on a mat on the floor, and we had many long talks into the night.
The six weeks that I spent in Namibia were filled with adventure and love and excitement and lots of enthusiasm… by me and those I worked with. I began by teaching English classes to 8th and 9th graders at Urii’s school, Rocky Crest High School, two days per week on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
I developed an afterschool program for those students that needed extra help. On Wednesday afternoons I facilitated a Homework Afterschool Program that Naf and Levee created in their home. The boys that participated in this program were neighborhood boys ranging from 3rd grade to 10th grade.
The students, or the Learners as they are called in Namibia, were bored with the "sit-down lecture style" approach so I used games to get them and keep them engaged. One of the games that we played was a version of "Giant Step/Little Step". The boys, and now Urii and a few of the neighborhood girls, would line up against the fence at the far side of the front yard and I would be at the opposite end. I would ask the Learners questions related to spelling and math. By a show of hands, I’d pick the one who raised their hand first and if they answered correctly they would take a step towards me. The one who reached me at the other end of the front yard first would receive candy, also known as Sweets. The children really enjoyed this game and became proficient in English spelling words and basic math.
Sometimes I would play soccer with the children and give them a break from learning spelling words and math. During this time, we might talk about other things… like how school was that day or what their parents were doing. I came to learn that extended family is very significant in Namibia. Many of the children I worked with were often being raised by aunts or uncles or grandparents or older siblings. While many of the children were very poor, by our standards, they appeared to be rich with family.
I went to a village, Coblenz, to visit a boarding school. The children lived in dorms so they could attend school because they either lived to far with no transportation to get them to school daily or because they were orphaned by parent/s that died as a result of AIDS. This school has many, many needs but the teachers and staff are committed to making it work.
The children often steal from each other because toiletries are their own responsibility and many are not able to get them. The children wear uniforms, which helps defer some of the cost of clothing. However, the children only have one uniform each and often use it from year to year and sometimes need to wear it on weekends because they have so few clothes.
The Coblenz boarding school is a project I would like to develop. I would like to get sponsors to send the children clothing and toiletries; particularly, the orphaned children, about 25 girls, who have no one to send them items regularly. Additionally, I would like to get sponsors to help with textbooks, pens, pencils, notebooks etc. as well as to setup a fund to be able to take the children on field trips.
The other project I became slightly involved in is a project that Naf, Dave Rukero, Veno and I met to discuss. They would like to get the Herero culture, traditions, and history in writing. To date all of this information has been passed down orally. The group, which includes several other members of the community, is working on a proposal to get funding to begin interviewing the elders, writing the stories and printing books.
It is my hope that I will have the opportunity to return to Khomasdal/Windhoek, Namibia to continue the efforts that have been started.
Arts observed around Windhoek:
One of the projects I designed and facilitated while I was in Namibia:
Creative Writing Conference
July 10 - 12, 2009
Per my observation, and after many conversations with Naf, a conference was designed to meet the needs of some of the youth we encountered at schools in the Windhoek/Khomasdal area. The aim of this conference was to increase the writing skills of the attendees as well as to increase their knowledge and raise their awareness regarding other topics and issues that blocks one‘s success.
The topics that were covered in this conference included: Life Skills; Esteem Building; STD Prevention; Oral Communication; and Social Skills. These skills were developed or enhanced through a series of workshops using Creative Writing; Interviews; Physical Activity; and Games. While Learners were advancing their writing skills, which included spelling and grammar through writing poetry, plays/theatre, and short stories, they were also progressing in their ability to focus longer. The Learners were given a series of writing assignments which got progressively longer to complete. Learners worked alone, engaged in dyads, and groups.
In reviewing the evaluations that were completed by the Learners at the end of the conference the majority of the Learners indicated that the workshops were "fun and interesting". They also reported that they "liked to be around new people" and "make new friends".
It is my hope that this conference was but the beginning of many. Additionally, Naf has put in a lot of effort to keep this project going as a club. He will be meeting with the students regularly and organizing projects and activities. I will remain engaged in this effort while I am home back in the states by supporting Naf through curriculum design and supplies.
This has been a very successful project and I look forward to returning next year to repeat this work with new learners and offer new workshops to the current learners.
Jacqueline N. Mahoney, MSW - PhD student
Creative Writing Conference