Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas at OVC

Before we left for our 10 day adventure we tried to sort out some plans for the Christmas celebration at the OVC project that was scheduled for 4 days after we returned. We hoped that the committee and volunteers would take ownership for their event and plan while we were away, but weren’t surprised when we arrived and absolutely nothing had been done.

On Sunday after church, three days before the celebration, we met with a few of the committee members to plan an event for 300 people. We tried to plan a menu, a program and sort out many of the details, but this is Africa and planning is not done the same way as home. In Canada this would never fly!

Monday morning Mom and I went shopping with a couple of the cooks and filled up the back of the truck full of food. We bought huge bags of chicken, rice, potatoes, tomatoes and the lot. It’s hard to comprehend, but a meal like that is only for very special occasions in the village that we work with. Some of the kids had not had rice before and chicken was very rare. So although it was a big job, there was an element of excitement in our task.

We then spent the rest of the day frantically trying to put together gift packages for each of our 180 kids… not an easy task! We used the remainders from other give-aways, as well as some recently received packages from Canada. The gift packages all had some basic school supplies in them like paper, crayons, markers, pens and pencils and then we tried to put a few items in each bag that were age specific. Our favourites were the packages for our youngest orphans that contained lovely cuddly stuffed animals, a rare treasure for them!

The morning of the event was spent running last minute errands, checking on the hardworking cooks (of which there were about 20) while mom and Kimmie worked away on the gifts. We were truly African when we were still at home trying to organize, label and package the gifts at 3pm when the program was due to “start” at 2!

Daryl had the opportunity to share the Christmas story and it was a great success. We also sung some Christmas carols which the kids loved. The most successful part of the day for us was having the kids eat FIRST(!!!), before the elders and caregivers. This was a huge feat as it is very counter cultural and has yet to happen at any of the big celebrations at project. Everyone participated in the celebration feast in a relaxed way, all the kids lined up without pushing and shoving and chaos did not ensue.

The gift giving also went amazingly well as we called the kids one by one to receive their gifts. There were many smile s on many faces. After that we had the opportunity to honour the volunteers and cooks by giving them a small financial gift that had been donated by some of our supporters. Daryl and I also ordered custom t-shirts for all of them but unfortunately this is Africa and they weren’t done on time.

We were setting ourselves up for disaster but it was far from it. We thank God.

For more pictures:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dunes with mom

The much anticipated visit from with my mother has been fantastic so far. After her arrival, and getting over the excitement of seeing one another, we spent a few days in Windhoek eating great food and catching up on sleep. Then the adventure really began.

We drove South West to the world famous (and Namibia’s number 1 tourist attraction) Sossousvlei in the Namib dessert, the oldest desert in the world. Our drive there was fantastic as we were surprised by the panoramas as we drove through ever-changing landscapses. Sossousvlei is known for the tall, majestic red sand dunes, which get their colour from the iron content found in the sand. We stayed overnight just outside the park gate so that we could get in at 6am when the gate opens, as the colours are more dramatic in the soft light of morning.

“Dune 45” is one dune in particular that you are allowed to climb, and so all three of us slowly made our way up taking in the breathtaking view of dune upon dune. After having lots of sandy fun on top (see pictures!) we made our way down and drove further on to make our way to “Dead Vlei” which is a pan of 900 year old fossilized trees and a beautiful sight. By the time we did all this the sun was full blast at noon and it was time to seek some shelter. What an amazing morning!

It took a couple of days for us to get to the Atlantic coast with more surprising landscapes along the way. The desert landscape changed dramatically to light yellow dunes and it was amazing to see them literally disappear into the sea! Mom never ceases to amaze me as she was keen to participate in Quad biking in the dunes (especially after she learned that it was not a regular bike that you have to use your “quads” for!). So we took an amazing 4 hour tour of the dunes on our Quad bikes stopping to learn about the flora and fauna, and the 10 000 year old fossilized foot prints, jewellery and pots, and human skeletons from when the bush people lived in the dunes with all the animals.

Mom was also keen to go sea kayaking in the lagoon near Walvis Bay, and we paddled along side colonies of seals and dolphins that were jumping right beside us, and thousands of flamingos. I have to say that Swakopmund also offered really nice shopping (surprisingly Daryl didn’t enjoy that part quite as much as mom and I, but made sure to sample the great coffee).

The journey continued in the North West region of Namibia to Twyfelfountein where we admired the most extensive and oldest rock art in all of Africa. Then we had the chance to visit a Cheetah Conservation Project to see those amazing animals run!

Other than me successfully bursting a tire, we made it home to Rundu safely and were thrown into the midst of OVC Christmas planning…

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Choir Debut

Just as coming to Africa has been a long dream of mine, so has singing in an African choir. My expectation was of a beautiful choir accompanied solely with drums. Unfortunately, thanks to Western influence they have replaced their drums with a horrible synthesizer which overpowers the beautiful voices and diminishes the overall effect.

It’s hard to describe the “culture” of choir here. Church services last on average 4 hours and the far majority of that time is filled with songs sung by the choir. But there is not just one choir. There is a “youth” choir, made up of men and women of all ages, a Sunday school choir, and a women’s choir and each choir sings a handful of songs weekly. It is an honour and position of prestige to sing in one of the choirs, and they take membership quite seriously. Little did I know that joining the choir would prove to be so difficult.

The first hurdle is that the church we are working with prides themselves on memorizing all the songs and therefore there are no written words. If the songs where in a language that was recognizable for me, that would be one thing, but I struggle picking up the African dialects by ear alone. So then the next hurdle is getting someone to write them down for me, but most are unconfident in their writing skills and claim “they don’t know it well enough”. It has been months now of me attending practices and still not knowing the words well enough to sing on a Sunday, which drives the choir crazy but not enough for them to help despite my asking.

Then there is choir practice. These are every Friday and Saturday afternoon. On Saturdays, choir practice is suppose to start at 2pm, and when people don’t show up on time they are scolded publically…but no one shows up on time. Except for me, until I learned better after spending 3 ½ hours waiting by myself… Practice starts when enough people show up to form a choir and that is different all the time. So the couple times they did start before I arrived, I was chastised for being late! Can’t win.

A few weeks back the Choir Master approached me because they were going to be a “guest choir” at a different church. They agreed to work with me to put some extra effort in to help me prepare and so I, in turn, agreed to have my debut. They doubled the number of practices the week leading up to it, and I filled a voice recorder with all the songs we were to sing, forced someone to write down all the songs, and was practicing day and night to try to wrap my tongue around the language. I still don’t actually know what I was singing about but at least I could mimic the words!

The lead up to the Sunday brought a lot of commotion. There was such excitement about the prospect of being a guest choir that I felt as though I was watching little kids in a chocolate factory. This excitement was magnified because they were going to have a white person singing with them. Church members were coming to practice just to see the “chindele” sing and dance (did I mention each of their songs are choreographed with African moves, which they think is hysterically funny to watch the white girl attempt…) This one guy kept going on about how much people were going to laugh and stare and how great it was all going to be…I told him he wasn’t helping my confidence with his comments.

So we met at our church on Sunday and hopped into the back of 2 pick-up trucks in the rain to drive to the other church, singing all the way. We all lined up outside the church and came marching in with our “entrance song”, but as there were 50 of us it took two entrance songs to get us all in and organized. There was also another guest choir from a third church that had been invited, and as such the church was packed. All the receiving church’s choirs, of which there were at least 5, and then the two guest choirs were each given the number of songs they were to sing. So we all took turns singing and dancing and sweating. I definitely stuck out but did my best and had sweat running down my face like the best of them.

The service started at 9 am and by about 2pm the half hour sermon was coming to a close. We were all gearing up for the end of the service and looking forward to some fresh air when the service leader announced that each choir was to sing another 4 songs each (not including the song that it takes to get up from the benches and move to the front, and then the song to return)! Each song lasts on average 8-10 minutes and most songs are only 1 or 2 verses max with a whole lot of repetition.
So after 7 hours and 20 minutes we were finally allowed to do our exit song! It wasn’t only Daryl and me who thought this was out of control, everyone in our choir was complaining. As this is a bush church, there are no toilet facilities, no place to get a drink of water, no snacks and it was hot and muggy! We figure that we heard about 50 songs in total and over 6 hours of singing.

Daryl is sure that if I wasn’t so stubborn, I would have given up on this whole choir thing months ago. But, I am glad I finally did it and have built some good friendships in the meantime. I think I am still feeling a bit shell shocked and am not sure when my next attempt will be!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Good-bye Shelley

As we celebrate the 6 month mark of us being in Namibia, we also are sad to see the end of our dear friend Shelley’s time here.

Shelley arrived in Namibia from Australia the same day as us. We did our Orientation together and have spent a considerable amount of time together here in Rundu. Shelley worked in Rundu hospital as a nurse on the paediatric ward. She worked alongside us in the OVC project three afternoons a week. We went through culture shock together, experienced similar difficulties in the hospital and at the project and encouraged each other in the face of the regular challenges of being a foreigner in a new place.

I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to watch Shelley grow in her time here. When she arrived she was a brand new nursing graduate and lacked confidence in her skills and struggled to find her feet in a very different hospital culture. She worked hard to learn some local language and managed to do assessments in Rukwangali, but most impressively she managed to maintain a good attitude in spite of the shockingly poor work environment.

As she worked on the paediatric ward, one of her biggest struggles was dealing with apathetic nurses that would sit by and watch a child die without attempting the necessary emergency steps to possibly prevent it. Over time she was able to encourage the nurses to do basic resuscitations and was an excellent example of taking action before it was too late to save a child’s life. I’m not sure I would have had the strength to see what she saw, and am thankful that God called me to rehabilitation! Shelley eventually began to enjoy work in the ward and developed fantastic relationships with the kids through games, cuddling, and compassion. The mothers also loved her company, and I have no doubt were thankful for her individualized care.

The loss of Shelley at the OVC project means much more to Daryl and I, as her help was invaluable. The younger kids in particular would come rushing to Shelley once we arrived at project wanting a hug and a hand to hold. She definitely found her niche there, constantly bandaging little wounds, holding skipping ropes, throwing a ball around, and most importantly "tickle ministry"! Her help with organizing Home Based Care and some of the administrative work for the project will also be missed.

Shelley was a great example of one of the main goals of Africa Inland Mission in Namibia: to show God’s love and compassion to orphans, vulnerable and disabled children and their caregivers by ministering to their physical, spiritual and educational needs and seeking to empower them.

We miss her already.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Rain in Rundu!

We have finally experienced rain, after being in Namibia for 5 ½ months! This has been a dramatic change compared with Vancouver where rain is the norm. Our first few months we had bright blue skies everyday. Then as the ground became drier, the air and sky filled with dust. The horizon was no longer clear and the sun would disappear in the dust, rather than set. Then about a month ago we started to see beautiful fluffy white clouds, which have progressively become darker and more ominous. So what does rain mean for our lives in Rundu?

*After a short rain, you can actually smell the flowering trees, instead of dust and burnt garbage.
*Thunder storms are so loud you think your house will crumble
*Lightning shows that would rival any I grew up with in Ontario
*Laundry becomes a trickier task as we use a clothes line (this will be my nemesis I know it!)
*I had to figure out where the windshield wipers were on the car because I hadn’t used them yet.
*A break from the stifling heat! Rain is usually so welcome here because it can bring the temperature down from the 40’s to the 20’s…BIG difference.
*The pot holes on the roads get much worse.
*Bugs, bugs everywhere, of all sorts and sizes. Back onto the Malaria pills…
*Not sure yet how this will affect our OVC project. We are trying to complete the kitchen in the new building so the cooks can prepare inside. As of now, they are cooking huge pots of pap outside on firewood. We will also need to come up with some indoor games for the kids - not sure how we will keep 180 kids organized in a small building…
*Rundu has already started to look a little more green and less brown, and hopefully our water bills will be less because our gardener won’t have to use so much water!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Motivating our volunteers

Since September we have had a difficult time with the volunteers out at the OVC project, with their enthusiasm and commitment decreasing significantly. In October there were days when only one volunteer would come, especially dangerous when we were on vacation and Shelley was alone with the one volunteer and close to 200 kids: chaos ensued, including fist-fights.

We called a meeting this past week and invited the OVC Committee Members and the volunteers so we could improve communication. Originally, the volunteers expressed frustration by the lack of supplies for the Home Based Care (HBC) program, which haven’t been replenished for months by the ministry of Health. Eventually the main issue appeared, that the volunteers are burnt out. Some regularly give up 3 afternoons a week, 2 for project and 1 for HBC. We have been asking the committee to search for more volunteers for months now, to no effect. We would ideally like to see the number of volunteers triple from 11 (of which usually only 3 or so show up), so that there could be a rotation schedule and we could supervise and interact with the kids better. We are also going to try a formal schedule for the volunteers: we hope it works!

In August we hosted a pizza party and showed our volunteers the first Lord Of the Rings movie to bless their hard work. It was such a hit we decided to do it again, this time hoping it would excite them to renew their commitment as a volunteer! It was a great success. We served homemade pizza and showed them the second part of the series and they enjoyed it tremendously. I don’t think I have ever watched a movie where there was so much cheering and applause! We hosts couldn’t contain our laughter as we watched them enjoy it so much.

We took a little intermission half way through and as it was Sabrina’s birthday, Kimmie and Shelley had made a cake and everyone sung happy birthday, which just began an impromptu time of singing and dancing - what fun! We also took some time to let the volunteers say their thank yous to Shelley as she prepares to leave us this week.

Hopefully we see some change in terms of the volunteers showing up on their scheduled days. Please pray we get more of them!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Our first African vacation!

We met our friends from Canada (Marc and Karla Drader, who are currently living in Germany) at Livingstone Airport in Zambia on Oct 2nd. It’s an 8 hour drive from Rundu to Livingstone, so we split the trip into 2 days so that we could get to the airport in time to pick them up at 12:30. The border crossing at Zambia was quite a cultural experience, as most of the many visa and car fees were collected in broken down motor homes! We managed to get to the airport just on time, only to find out that the plane was going to be delayed (it arrived 7 hours late) and then their luggage didn’t come until the next day! What a way to start..

Our first day we went River rafting down the Zambezi river. Apparently river rafting junkies travel from all over the world to raft these rapids, especially at this time of year as the waters are very low making the rapids even more challenging. None of us had ever done it before and it was so much fun, not to mention hair raising! (The highest level of rapids is a class 6, which they don‘t allow people to actually attempt, and we travelled through a series of class 4 and 5’s. One rapid we travelled through was going to be shutting down one week after we went as it was getting too dangerous - yes, this is the one that we completely flipped in!). The afternoon was spent on the top of Victoria Falls looking down at the beautiful valley and the rapids we had rafted through that morning. The falls are very low at this time of season but it was still a majestic sight.

Our second day was spent doing a full day safari in Botswana at a Game Park called Chobe. We saw well over 250 elephants, fields full of the dangerous cape Buffalo, crocodiles, and hippos! The morning was spent on a boat along the river where we got to “swim” with the elephants crossing the river, the hippos playing hide and seek, and the crocs poking their heads up to say hi. In the afternoon we were given a private tour in a safari jeep in the bush where more wildlife made themselves known.

Our third day was spent doing “Gorge activities” in the morning. Unfortunately Karla came down with the travellers bug and wasn’t able to join in. The first activity was called “Absailing”, or rappelling, where you propel yourself backwards down a cliff-face, and then hike the Gorge up (about a 20 minute steep climb). The second activity was the “Flying Fox” where you are attached to a sort of zip line and you run off the cliff to zip across the Gorge. The third and definitely most challenging was the Gorge Swing. This is very close to a Bungee jump as it is a 53 meter free fall and then the “swing” catches you and you and gives you time to recover before they let the line down onto the ground. Marc and Daryl found that although they wanted to yell, they couldn’t. Not to worry, because Sabrina’s scream made up for it all!

After the Gorge activities we met up with Karla again and had lunch on a little island called Livingstone Island. This is a very popular destination as we had the opportunity to literally sit one meter away from the edge of the falls. Karla was such a trouper - not many people can literally say they threw up “over” Victoria Falls!

Much too quickly our time in Zambia was over, and we were on the road back to Rundu. Although we had already spoken a lot in the previous few days, the road trip was a great time of processing so many of the challenges that we face in our lives here. The next few days Marc and Karla were able to participate in our ministries here at the OVC project and home based care. They immediately clicked with the kids and we wish so much they could stay and help! They also got a tour of the hospital and saw our work environment.

Both Marc and Karla where overwhelmed by the heaviness and the struggles that we simply know as life here. We so appreciated having them here and listening to our every detail. Saying goodbye was extremely tough, as we knew we were returning to Rundu to deal with all the hardships here, whereas we felt a certain sense of jealousy that they just got to leave. These last few days have been really tough on us, as processing and discussing has brought to the surface several painful issues. Conversely, it also allows us to deal with situations and reminds us to pray and press into God for help and grace.

We truly had a wonderful vacation and felt a deep gratitude for good friends.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

National Immunization Day

Once a year in Namibia it is National Immunization Day (NID) which is a series of days whereby the goal is to vaccinate every child under the age of 5 for polio. This is no easy task for a country that has one of the largest land to people ratio, and most of the country is desert. Every year it is a major government campaign and they require a great number of volunteers from the community to help. So we were ready to jump on board.

Daryl and I went to a training day to become “Quality Monitors”. This role involves monitoring the vaccination teams to make sure that they are doing everything as told (correct dosage, proper storage of meds, proper tallying, and so forth) and also going into the villages to do home visits once the vaccination teams had gone through to see if there were any children that were missed. Seem simple? Well, not in Namibia.

The first major problem was the selection of volunteers. We have heard from many foreign workers the challenge of education in Namibia and we got to see some of it first hand. Most of the volunteers looked like they were in their early 20’s but it ranged to a few who were middle aged. The training was done in English, which was helpful for us, but one of the many barriers for them. Yet the problem seemed much more complex then basic English language issues as I was astounded by the lack of comprehension for very basic instructions. After a FULL day of training (when we could learned what we needed in a short session) the volunteers where called upon to review different sections, but many would decline saying they still were not clear, even though we were going out the next day. The crazy thing is that the statistics of how many kids were vaccinated’ collected by these so called “Quality Monitors” were going to become the World Health Organization statistics!!!!!

On the actual day, it was no surprise that things were running behind, as they were struggling to find drivers to take the monitors and vaccination teams into the field. Everything was chaos but I was finally teamed up with another girl and we hopped into the back of a very beaten up truck. We were off to the boonies for the day and it was quite a lot of fun. We had to drive through extremely thick sand (it is a miracle we didn’t get stuck on numerous occasions) into areas with no real road - so to get directions we had to ask the few random walkers where to go and they would point and we would drive. The “roads” were sometimes so narrow that our car barely fit between two trees!

It was a long day of walking between huts and driving crazy roads but we worked hard to do as many home visits as we could. When we got back at 6:30pm, and we collected our data, I was told I needed to stay for the oral report, which ended up taking anther 3 hours. Every group had to discuss their statistics, in English which is already a problem for most of them. The statistics were often interesting. My group was the only one to have come across children who missed the vaccine, which seems unlikely to me that every child was vaccinated in the whole region accept for the ones we came across. Another group said they had visited 51 children and 56 were vaccinated… Even with the head nurse explaining the impossibility of these statistics in their first language they could not comprehend what was wrong. Next time I see a WHO stat, I will take it with a grain of salt.

It was a very interesting experience.

(Photo is of the caregivers and kids under 5 lining up for their oral vaccine).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rehabilitation at Rundu State Hospital

Three mornings a week I work in the Orthopaedic Rehabilitation ward at the hospital. I work with 3 others, a physical therapist and an occupational therapist (both from Zimbabwe), and a ‘rehab therapist’ who is Namibian and has been there for 10 years.

When I first arrived, I was very curious to see what my life as a therapist would look like in a hospital setting. My first morning I was welcomed and right off the bat was given my first patient without even having a tour of the facilities. I had to ask where the sheets were, was there lotion available, where the assessment sheets were (there are none), along with many questions as my patient stood beside me waiting. There is only one communal treatment room with no privacy, and I have found in general that patients here have a lot less privacy needs than back at home!

The OT and PT both watched as I did my assessment and they didn’t seem to have any patients, until around 10 am when all the patients showed up at the same time. I was confused by this and quickly figured out that the therapists don’t have a schedule (one reason I heard was because they didn’t think patients would show up for them so why bother). Well, I knew that system wasn’t going to work with me so I did some trial runs with a schedule and have been booked solid for 4 months, with my patients all showing up on time! Funny that even after 4 months, I am still the only one doing it. I think a big reason is because they tell their patients to show up sometime the next week, and usually the patient doesn’t show up, which means less work for them. So they sit around a lot and get paid for it while I work (happily) non-stop for no money at all!

My Namibian co-worker has been a particularly big challenge for our rehab team. In four months, I have only seen him treat a handful of patients. The OT and PT really struggle with it because he is constantly pushing his responsibilities on to them. He is suppose to be available to us to help translate, but most of the time he is not there, and when he is he asks other patients to do it for him!! When he is called on it he gets very upset and uses his authority as the Supervisor of the ward to get out of personal responsibility. I am fortunate that I only have one Namibian in my ward, compared to Daryl and my other AIM colleagues because sadly apathy runs rampant in the local work ethic here and has a poisonous effect in the work place.

One joy I have working here compared to the private setting at home, is that I don’t have to handle any money. Patients pay their small hospital fee and if they have been referred to our ward, I can treat them for however long, and however often I want without having to feel that money is a barrier to patients receiving treatment. It makes everything a whole lot less complicated. From what I can see, patients have been very appreciative for the time that I give.

The cases that I treat are mainly patients with chronic pain that have been coming for treatments at this hospital or others for some time with no resolve. It is especially challenging because there are literally no resources available for me to look things up and cross reference. I am in the process of trying to order some text books in order to help me, but also to help stimulate and challenge my co-workers. I have done a number of training sessions with my OT and PT colleagues but it hard when there is not even a muscle chart to refer them to and to teach from. I hope to see some change in this area before we leave.

So there is a basic review of what my hospital life looks like. I have many sad and interesting stories that I will have to post some other time, so stay tuned!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

This afternoon at Home Based Care

Every Thursday we go into the village of Kaisosi with our volunteers and do home visits with the orphans at our project. We primarily check their health and the volunteers have a medical bag full of supplies for wound care, cough syrup, thermometers, and some other random things. Normally kids complain of headaches (the sun shines all day without a cloud in the sky and they don’t drink water - a good recipe for a headache), or they have a cough (viruses run rampant in the community due to poor hygiene and low immune systems).

But today was a unique experience.

Our time started out with a conversation with one of the volunteers who informed us of some major issues that are currently in the local church we attend. We will need to tread carefully as to not take sides and burn bridges. There is obviously a lot we don’t understand.

Soon after we ran into a situation where an Auntie was beating her 6 year old nephew with sticks. We (the volunteer, Shelley and I) ran over to step into the situation and take the boy away. The little boy, Jacob, is in a family well known to us due to the many issues that have been raised in the past. We had already removed his 12 year old sister for the same reasons of abuse. The Auntie is an alcoholic with no children of her own, and of course the beatings get more severe as the alcohol intake increases. The siblings’ parents are no longer in the picture (the father abused the girl when he was around) and so extended family now “care” for them. The community has tried to deal with the situation by talking to the Auntie and reasoning with her, but they don’t seem to understand that an alcoholic who is sober for a day will claim many things until the next bought of alcohol when the cycle starts again. So, Jacob held Shelley’s hand for the rest of our home visits until we were done (Jacob is the one on the far right).

Walking along, gathering more and more kids who all wanted to hold our hands, we came across a group of young girls who were all standing in a row with the sand all marked out in a big T in front of them. I asked if they were about to play some sort of game and the response was that they were practicing being in a beauty pageant! So I asked them for a show, pulled out my camera and we had fun “make believing”.

Carrying on we ran into a huge commotion with people running and crowd’s gathering. We found out that a man had just been caught for stealing 5 cows. In this culture, it is considered very bad and along with catching the thief comes beating him to a pulp. We still had little Jacob along with us and so weren’t interested in sticking around to have him observe another round of physical violence.

When we were wrapping up we needed to come up with some short term solutions for our little dude, who when I stopped him to look him in the eyes nearly burst into tears. We held a meeting with some of his distant relatives who agreed to temporarily house Jacob, and we have an appointment with a social worker on Monday about the situation. I haven’t seen a lot of first hand abuse. It’s not easy. We pray for wisdom in the days ahead.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

My Life in a Namibian Pharmacy

I am volunteering five mornings and two afternoons a week at the pharmacy in the referral hospital in Rundu. As with most health care positions in the area, the pharmacy is grossly understaffed when it comes to pharmacists. I work with one other pharmacist, Chakanyuka (pictured), who hails from Zimbabwe, and we have 5 pharmacy assistants. We are to manage the medications for a 300 bed hospital, plus all the state outpatients (usually over 300 daily), plus administer and manage all the HIV medications for the thousands of patients in the area.

There are many challenges, as you might expect, but the nature of these challenges actually surprised me. Due to the generosity of foreign donors and programs such as USAID, there are sufficient supplies of antiretroviral medications (ARV) to treat the HIV/AIDS patients in the area. I was also surprised to find the pharmacy was actually quite well stocked with most of the basic medication, as well as secondary therapies for treatment. What I hadn’t counted on was the lack of empathy and poor work ethic that pervades the staff of the pharmacy, and most of the hospital as well. Even though we are chronically understaffed, the assistants routinely disappear from the dispensary without notice or warning. Two or three hour lunches seem to be the norm, and there is this unspoken idea that I am not there to assist the staff in there work as we try to improve the poor standard of care, but rather that I am there to do their work so that they can leave to go shopping or other stuff. I have often returned to the dispensary from an errand to find the outpatient window abandoned with a huge queue unattended to, and have had no option but to try my best in broken Rukwangali/charades to assist the patients. My attempts to address these problems have proved to be unsuccessful up to this point.

There are also challenges with the medical staff and physicians, who hail from a number of countries, including the old Soviet Union and Cuba (Cuba apparently has some program whereby they exchange doctors for food, and so these Cuban doctors come for 2 year terms to Africa). While I can speak and communicate in Spanish, that doesn’t mean I understand what some of these Cubans are attempting to do, as many of their approaches to medicine are not based on evidence or good practice or rationality. Fortunately the majority of my suggestions about ways to advance patient care have been received positively, and improvement in prescribing patterns have been noticed.

There still remains a lot to do, especially when we are so occupied with the basic tasks and there isn’t enough time to address all that we should be. I realize that my training and expertise and experience will probably go underutilized due to the “tyranny of the immediate”, but that change can be introduced, even if it is done very slowly. I am continuing to build friendships with my colleagues, which enhances communication and allows me to make more of an impact. I do feel that my presence is appreciated, and there are small victories along the way.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pizza Party!

On Saturday night we decided to honour our twelve OVC volunteers by hosting a surprise pizza party and movie night. We told everyone that there was going to be a project meeting at our house, so after choir practice we were going to drive all of them back to our place for the “meeting” then drive them all home. They entered into our house to find the furniture rearranged and a projector that we borrowed from the hospital projecting up on our wall. The kitchen was a flurry of activity as the four of us aimers had been working all day to produce homemade pizza (definitely what they call white peoples food)! The dinner was well received and we made fresh popcorn, cookies, fudge and cinnamon rolls - so desert was also a hit.

We showed them the first of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. All but one had seen a movie before but most could count on one hand the number of times. At the beginning of the movie we were concerned that they weren’t going to understand it as they were all busy chatting amongst themselves and not paying attention, but sure enough as the tension started to build they were sucked in! It was so much fun to hear them shout with excitement and in agreement during the action scenes and grow to love Frodo.

The next day at church they were all talking about the movie and were anxious to see the second part. They were all intrigued by the fact that the Orcs took the wrong Halflings, and what would be the result of evil King Sauruman. It was a great night and we were happy to bless them in a fun and unexpected way.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Leaving home.

After having been in Rundu for just over 2 months, last weekend we had the opportunity to leave this small town for the first time.

Our first destination was Etosha National Game Park. It is considered one of the top safari’s in Africa. This particular safari is one in which you can drive through in your own vehicle (or go on tour groups), and there is no fence separating you from the wild animals. We had an extraordinary first of three days in Etosha, and Kimmie (one of the nurses from AIM who we travelled with) who has been a dozen times was blown away by the number of animals we saw. On the first day we saw 23 elephants, 13 lions (!!!), a black rhino, a very rare spotting of a leopard and hundreds of zebra, giraffe and antelope.

But despite the first time seeing some of these stunning animals in the wild, it was also our first time seeing so many white people congregated in one place in quite some time. Most of these were European tourists, especially from Germany, lugging around cameras that cost more than some people’s cars. It was odd to see these families in their matching safari hats and huge rugged hiking boots (very necessary when you are sitting in your car for 12 hours unable to leave) staying in fancy hotels, ready to really experience “wild Africa“. Most of the kids at the project have never even seen any of the animals that we just assume local Africans live with, and yet here we are living in both worlds.

After a spectacular few days of being glued to the camera (to see some of our photos click on this link:, we headed off to Windhoek for a couple of days. Traveling there meant driving through a number of small towns and it was very obvious to me that “Todo, we’re not in Kansas anymore”. Rundu is a different place altogether. Rundu is the major town (actually, more of a collection of connected villages) in the poorest region of Namibia, and so in many ways it is unlike the rest of the country.

These other small towns we drove through had paved streets and sidewalks (not sand) - imagine! We even saw a little section of grass that people were lounging on. We rarely saw any mud huts on the side of the road, and instead there were lots of flashy shops and restaurants, especially in Windhoek (which you would never imagine is an African city). There are many more people, and as a result more crime - we had our car broken into with windows smashed and stuff stolen, which was a nuisance.

Language was another aspect. We have worked hard to learn some of the basic greetings in Rukwangali, the trade language spoken here - but only here. As each region and tribe speaks different languages, it was such an uncomfortable feeling to be in these other cities and having no idea how to say “please” and “thank-you” except in English, hence feeling like an insensitive foreigner.

As we were returning from Windhoek, Daryl and I noticed a strong sense that we were coming home. It’s amazing that after only 2 months we could feel an attachment to a place that we still don’t understand on so many levels. The dogs just about ploughed us over with excitement to see us again, and it was so easy to hop right back into life here. The kids at the project all missed us when we were gone, and it was really great to be back. Home, for now at least, but home none the less.

Monday, July 28, 2008

First sermon

Daryl had the opportunity this past Sunday to preach the sermon. The preparation was quite different compared to the times he has preached back home. Since there are no resources here, he didn’t have weeks of reading to do on the topic even if he wanted. He also had to choose fairly basic language and themes as we have noticed the depth of the sermons to be limited. He also, of course has never preached using a translator before. Thankfully he had a really great translator, Anton, whose English is quite good and we feel reasonable confident that not too much got lost in translation.

Daryl shared on Matthew 11:28-30 which reads:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The sermon was well received, so much so that after he sat down again there was a significant period of time when the elders were speaking and motioning to Daryl and the group of us missionaries (we try to hide in the back but hiding is difficult when we stand out like sore thumbs!). Part of their response was that he would have to begin preparing his next sermon now because they want him to share again very soon. One thing that we are finding is there is some tension because the missionaries that are coming through now are no longer “church missionaries”, where they are only here to serve the church. Now we come with part/full time jobs and fit ministry into many areas of life, so there is still some expectation of our time and commitment from the elders of the church. Just one of the many things we are working through.

All in all we all felt very encouraged and it reminded us what a privilege it is to be here. The service was also only 3 hours not 5, of which Daryl’s sermon was only 30 minutes so we all had much more energy after a Sunday morning then usual!

One side note that cracks me up about church is how the secretary goes up to the front at the start of the service and says “good morning” and then lists a long string of announcements. Then toward the end of the service he comes up again and now says good afternoon (because it has been many hours) and lists the same set of announcements again! We have also heard the same announcements for weeks now, for example, I know that there is a women’s conference at the end of October that they have announced every week (twice a week) since we have been here, and we will here it every week until it happens. So funny!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Adventures with Zeka

We want to introduce to you one of our friends here, Zeka Avelino.

He is 22 years old and is a first year student at NETS (Namibian Evangelical Theological School) in Windhoek, but his home is here in Rundu. We met him when we first arrived here and sensed the beginning of a good friendship from the start.

He was born in Angola, as are the majority of people we spend time with, and his childhood was spent in constant turmoil and flight due to the civil war in Angola. It is an unbelievable story and too long for me to write about but in brief, at the age of 15 he escaped to Namibia. His parents “sold” him to a man in Rundu with the agreement that if Zeka would care for his cattle, he could go to school in the mornings. Up to that point he had not begun any formal schooling, and did not know a word of English or Rukwangali (the trade language here). At the age of 16 he began school here in Namibia and finished grade 12 by the time he was 21; a truly amazing feat where very few here pass grade 10 and of those that do, a very small percent pass Grade 12 (passing here is only 30%!). He received top marks in all his classes, and was regarded by others to have a real gift from God. Zeka attributes the gift to a passion to learn and a strong work ethic (a unique quality from what we have experiences here).

Now he is studying theology to become a pastor here in Rundu. Unfortunately, pastors don’t get paid here; they have to have some other form of trade on top of their dedication to the church. So, after he is done his four years at NETS he hopes to further his education to become a teacher or a nurse.

Spending time with Zeka gives us hope for the people here, and we always come away encouraged after spending time with him. He is young, enthusiastic and has a very teachable spirit. He has such a huge passion for the people in Rundu, his family and his church. A major problem for him is that his enthusiasm is not always met with kindness from the locals here, especially the elders of his church. In a church were there is a desperate need for change, they pass him off as too young to have any valuable ideas and suggest he should leave his “Western ideas” alone.

He has spent a lot of time with past missionaries and has learnt a lot about the western perspective of the world and seems to understand some of challenges we have faced in adjusting to a different culture. It is such a blessing to have a local who we can speak freely and honestly with, to ask difficult questions and to get honest answers, and who despite his own problems would give the shirt off his back to help someone in need.

We have also had the opportunity to support him financially with some of the money given to us by our local church at home. He wanted to speak into the lives of the younger generation so he put together a weekend retreat with the youth from his church with the theme of “Choosing to Wait”. Single teenage pregnancy is a staggering problem here. Many many young girls find themselves with an unplanned child, which makes school extra difficult and so their lives continue to be a struggle: poor, uneducated, mouths to feed, and little opportunity to escape the poverty cycle, which usually continues to be repeated generation after generation.

During his month off from school we have been able to spend some good quality time with him. Daryl was able to help him prepare for his first sermon, which was well received. He invited us to his house for a traditional meal of Pap and relish and got us in on the action! (We have since that time designated Monday nights to be ‘Pap night’ since it is cheap and darn tasty!) Zeka has also taken us canoeing on the river that separates Namibia and Angola. We all got a turn a attempting to paddle the wood canoes but they are nothing like the nice aluminum ones at home that you can actually steer! We even went across to the Angolan side, and bribed the officers there so that we could walk around for a half hour! It really helped that Zeka is Angolan. Had we attempted to enter Angola by ourseleves…well, we wouldn’t have tried it on our own.

Here are some pictures of our time together:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Spare time

I, Sabrina, work at the hospital 3 mornings a week and I am at the OVC project 3 afternoons a week, so what do I do with my all my “spare time” you ask? A big project that I have taken on here is trying to get at least some of the kids in our project (about 180) registered with the government in order that these kids’ caregivers might receive a monthly grant of 100 Namibian dollars a month (about $15 Canadian). Although past missionaries have tried to begin this enormous task, it seems that very few of them have gotten any where, and I am now beginning to understand why. Here is a glance at a typical afternoon in this endeavour.

It’s a Wednesday afternoon and I arrive at Kaisosi village (where the kids from the project live) at around 2:30 after getting back from work and grabbing a quick lunch. School gets out at about 1:00pm so when I arrive there is a bunch of teenage boys awaiting my arrival. In the car I have a number of important documents collected by past missionaries with a list of some places to start on the journey. Five boys happily jump in the back (they love car rides) and off we go back into town to our first stop, the police station.

Three of the boys have fathers who are missing, which is a very common story. We need to prove somehow (in order to apply for the grant) that these fathers are gone and were told the police could help. After explaining to a police officer why I, the white girl or “sharumbu“, was with these boys, we were told we needed to get a letter from the “Head Man” of Kaisosi village stating that in fact these boys fathers were missing before they could help. Strike one.

Next we went to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare. I needed to get some letters signed by a social worker in order for a couple of boys to get birth certificates (in order to get a grant). There was a sign posted on the board (not in English of course) saying that they were gone for the week. When I say “they”, I mean all 3 of them. That’s right, there are 3 social workers assigned to the whole North Eastern region where there are tens of thousands of orphans. Strike two.

Next stop was the Department of Home Affairs. One of the boys whose father has gone missing also has no mother because she died eight years ago but was not issued a death certificate (necessary to apply for a grant). He had been in a few weeks before with a previous AIMer to apply for his mom’s death certificate and was told it would take 2 weeks to process. After standing in line for some time the man at the desk agreed that it only takes two weeks but you can only pick them up on Thursdays, and as it was Wednesday there was nothing he could do. Strike three.

Then into another long line up to apply for birth certificates with 3 previously signed letters from the social worker. I was able to come away with 2 full birth certificates, but one of the kids only had a baptismal card and not an “abridged birth certificate”, so his application was denied. I had a long conversation with the gentlemen explaining that most of the kids only have baptismal cards and he insisted that the caregiver (usually the grandmother) must come in and explain in person why they don’t have an abridged birth certificate. (I have since this particular day found out after bringing in these kids and their grannies that the process is significantly more complicated than that). Another strike out.

So, after multiple dead-ends, we decided to find this “Head Man”, whose “office” is in his mud hut. I was sceptical of this so called head man before I got there, and my scepticism only increased the longer I was there. Since the head man wasn’t there and apparently never is, I spoke to a young girl who ended up being the “secretary”. Meanwhile we had to fend off a drunk man who was accosting me the entire time. After a very long time I convinced her that we needed letters for three of the boys with me whose fathers were missing. The first letter she wrote was for a boy with a missing father and a dead mother and although my instructions were very clear, she wrote that both parents were dead. I read the letter and said “no, the father is missing”. She replied “well he could be dead” and my response was “but we don’t know that, he could also be very much alive!”. She rewrote the letter and after paying 20 dollars a piece I had three letters. As it was getting dark and I had to drive the boys home, I called it a day.

In spite all the frustration with the oppressive bureaucracy which seems to block these orphans from getting the support they are entitled to, not all is bleak. It has been a tremendous blessing to have spent the last couple of weeks trekking in and out of town with these boys. I count it a privilege to show these kids love in a practical way and in a way that no one else does. They have shared with me their current living situations and family histories, all which are shocking compared to the norm back at home. Please pray that they would see the love of Christ through me and that through these ventures they will have hope for a bright future. The attached picture is two of our young stars at the program Kahilu and Earnest.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Canada Day!

As you all know, Canada Day fell on a Tuesday which also happens to be OVC project day, so the inspiration came to have a Canada Day celebration! Thankfully our American and Australian volunteers were fully on board.

The afternoon began with face/arm painting, which was a huge hit. The kids sure showed their enthusiasm as they crowded us painters in like a mob as they don’t have a keen sense of patience and order. It was hard to stay calm while being shoved and pushed from every direction, but the kids were all smiles which is why we do it. While the girls were busy painting, Daryl was busy organizing relay races with the kids. Again, although slightly chaotic, kids of all ages were having a blast.

During the program time, Daryl and I gave some history of Canada. Namibia is a very young country with only 18 years of Independence so to hear that Canada was over 140 years old was very impressive. We then taught them the National anthem and they loved it! We gave all the volunteers some confetti so when we were done singing they threw it up in the air over their heads in celebration. We did a pop quiz toward the end of the program, and gave out some great prizes.

Now as any proud Canadian does, we brought some Canada paraphernalia such as pencils, pens, stickers with us (some were also parting gifts from friends - thank you!). As we pulled out our stuff we realized that we didn’t have enough for all 200 kids. Giving gifts at the project in the past has been a bit of a nightmare because the kids don’t have a very good concept of sharing and if you give to one and not another fights break out. BUT, a few days before we found a whole bunch of similar items like, Canada pins, stickers and pencils that had been left behind by past Canadians! So we made little gift packs for each kid that contained Canada stuff and candy to give out just before they got their meal. Days later we still found kids sporting all their Canada gear.

It was a very encouraging day for us to see the kids so happy and having such fun. It reminds us that all the hard work is worth it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Our first Safari!

We went to a game park called Mahungu about 2 1/2 hours away and left at the crack of dawn. This particular game park is a one day drive through where you take your own vehicle un-guided over designated roads that take you through a variety of terrain like dense bush and open fields (keep in mind: no fences!).

There were 6 of us in our 7 passenger 4x4 and we had a wonderful day of seeing all sorts of animals. We saw:
Impala (their version of a deer),
Kudu (curly horns and cool stripes),
Zebra (self explanatory)
Roan (a browny-red antelope),
a whole group of Baboons (the little playful ones were so cute),
Warthogs (think Lion-King),
Hippos (mostly far off in the distance but our little lunch spot was right beside water and it was evident that we were in the hippo land and we saw one poke it’s head out at us, thankfully it decided our lunch wasn‘t appetizing),
Cape Buffalo (one of “the Big Five”, we saw 3 of them behind a bush not too far from our car and let me tell you they did not look impressed with us and barely took their eyes off of us),
Wildebeast (big and grey, kinda beast like)
And elephants…here’s where the story comes in.

We had been driving all day and we were desperate to see an elephant. So we’re driving slowly along, scouring the bush when suddenly one of our group, Mackenzie, shouts “Stop the car!” There it was, our first encounter with a wild elephant. After looking at antelope all day I could not get over how incredibly massive this creature was - this must have been a bull elephant because he was huge and just off to the left of the road behind a tree. We were so excited and all wanted pictures so we crept forward until we were just on the other side of the tree from the behemoth.

We were all in awe at how beautiful he was and wished he wasn’t so hidden so we could get a better shot. Now during this, Kimmie, a nurse who has been in Namibia for a couple years, was explaining to us what cues elephants give you when they are mad. One of the first cues is that they will flap their ears at you- but as this is also the most efficient way of shooing flies, this cue is difficult to interpret. (Do you see where this is going?!) It started to flap its ears a little, but we were on the other side of the tree and therefore felt quite safe.

Then the elephant decided to try and relocate away from us, so it started to walk the opposite direction, crumpling bushes on its way. The atmosphere in the car was intense with excitement. We all wanted to follow it (Mackenzie was videotaping and we all wanted the perfect shot), so Daryl, who was driving, started backing up (Mackenzie loudly saying “Back-up“ over and over). Apparently we were approaching too fast for the elephants liking, so he turns around and stomps the ground, madly flapping his ears at us. Our lives flashed before our eyes, and Mackenzie was frantically screaming “DRIVE FORWARD” over and over. Daryl threw the car into gear and hit the gas, while I was frantically trying to close my electric window, wondering why they ever designed them to close so slowly. Seriously, I almost wet myself…but the elephant turned around again after a few steps and lumbered across the road behind us into the bush.

Although in that moment all we could think of was “Jurassic Park“, Kimmie wasn’t scared and said that the elephant would have given us more warnings before stomping our car. We’re such rookies! After the adrenaline had worn off, we couldn’t stop laughing at ourselves, and the whole thing is on video! Later at the very end of our day we came across another 6 elephants drinking at a waterhole, and being a little gun shy, gave them plenty of space. They are magnificent creatures.

You have to check out some more of our photos!:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Our home-sweet-home

We moved into our final destination and are so happy to have a place to call home. It is a one floor house with four bedrooms, two bathrooms and large yard. We live in an area called Tutungeni, which is very close to the river that separates Namibia from Angola and we get to view marvellous sunset on a regular occasion. Many of the houses still have bomb shelters in the yard, a legacy of the pre-independence skirmishes between Namibian rebels who were in Angola and would launch artillery at the South African forces stationed in Rundu.

We have adopted the house gardener, Mr. Kamocha, who is here faithfully 2 days a week. He is an elder at the church, has about 3 teeth from the looks of it, speaks very little English and walks an hour and a half to get here for 7 am despite his badly arthritic joints. From what we can gather, he has been working at this house for about 10 years.

I need to introduce you to our new house mates: Abby and Molly, two year old beautiful black Great Danes. They live outside and love to bark at anyone and everyone who walks by whether day or night…very good watch dogs. :) People are terrified of them because they are so darn big but of course they are super lovely once you get in the gate! I am having fun getting to know their personalities and learning that to teach on old dog new tricks is no easy task! The missionary family who we are house sitting for have 6 young children who are constantly in and out and playing in the yard, which would make consistency in training tricky, but they loved being stimulated all the time and I'm sure the dogs miss those kids very much. As of yet they don’t have a clue how to “sit“, “come” or even catch a ball and the couple of times I have tried to teach them, they are so distracted by each other it is pointless. I even tried locking one up in the entrance way but the other would not leave to come and play! So funny! Training aside, it is wonderful to be greeted every time I open the door even though it means getting slobber on my shirts because they are so tall.

It’s been fun to get a few items to make this place a little more “ours”, and I, Sabrina, have been busy scrubbing walls, floors and furniture to get some of the sticky finger marks off from the wonderful kids! It will take weeks before it is all scrubbed but it will get there. We feel so blessed to have such wonderful accomodations while we are here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Opening Day at OVC

One of the main areas of ministry that we are involved with in Rundu is the Kaisosi Orphans and Vulnerable Children’s project. The idea of the program sprung up from the compassionate response of the pastor of a local church in Kaisosi, a neighbourhood village next to Rundu. The pastor was moved by the great need of all the underprivileged and orphaned children in his area, and the idea of organizing an after school program for some of the kids was born. Presently there are about 170 kids that are registered in the meal program and another 30+ kids that show up for the games, songs, stories and extra leftover food. The program began about a year ago but it still is very much in its infancy.

The project has been operating outdoors, but there was a need to get a building for the OVC project to expand the programs available to the kids, such as computer classes, a class room for after school help, a library, a kitchen for the rainy season, and storage. The US embassy, together with a large number of individual Canadian donors, gave funds toward the project to help cover building expenses.

So at long last the building was up and we had a huge “Opening Ceremony” for the community to come out and see what this OVC project was all about. It took days to prepare for the party. The cooks slaughtered a cow the day before and it took them 24 hours straight of cooking…they worked all through the night over fire in the middle of their winter (gets down to about 5-10 degrees at night). But of course even after all the “planning”, this is Africa and things are just done differently here.

The program didn’t start on time, to no one’s surprise, but all the official people were there, including the mayor of Rundu, school principles, the head of the District Hospital, and even NBC (Namibian Broadcast Coporation) recorded the proceedings. Then the speeches started. Next time you are at a wedding/banquet, just be glad you’re not in Africa - there is no rush here and the microphones weren’t working so barely anyone could here what was going on.

For the most part the kids were honoured, and the kids were given a chance to play on a brand new playground. It was such a joy to see the smiles and laugher of the children on the playground equipment. Inevitably one tire swing broke after only about 3 hours, after 30-40 kids piled on to it! All the children were also given a blanket that day to help get them through the cold evenings.
Our joy was tinged with disappointment in that we wanted all the children to get served food first, which is counter to the usual situation in Naimibian culture where the important adults get fed first, and eventually the kids are remembered. In the end some of the kids had to wait up to 4 hours, while others got tired of waiting and left before getting any food. Attempting to feed over a thousand people is a huge undertaking, and with all the volunteers sleep-deprived and undermanned, chaos soon ensued. People are in such need and so desperate it is hard to ensure that things are done fairly, so people were attempting to get as much for themselves without much concern for others. Even after a positive day of media coverage and community support, our enthusiasm was tempered by the reality of how far we still need to go.

If you want to see more photos please click here:

Saturday, June 7, 2008

First impressions

The best word to describe our state of mind is overwhelmed.

There has been a real sense of urgency since getting here. The long term missionary family who have been here for nearly 3 years are leaving this coming Sunday (meaning we have only had a 11 day overlap). Rob is a doctor who has been volunteering at the Obstetrics and Gynaecology ward of the state hospital full time and has made huge headway in gaining respect and love from the community here. Not only has he managed to put his heart and soul into the hospital, he has been involved in getting the OVC project up and running. The project is still very much in its infancy stage and we have agreed to try to take on some of the responsibilities, as he and his family of 6 kids (including one darling little Namibian girl they have adopted) are going home to Canada for a year before returning for another 2 year term.

What does that mean for us? That’s a good question! We have been bombarded with many people to meet and are attempting to understand how systems here work (and don’t work), along with many other details. Our brains are full at the end of the day and in some ways we will just have to take one day at a time. We can’t be Rob or do all that he does. He has spent so much time developing relationships and trust with the community, that it would be foolish to assume we can walk into his shoes. What we do have to remember is that God has brought us here to serve the people of Rundu, and we can only do our best…we have so much to learn. It’s rather complicated to explain all the details, but we would very much appreciate your prayers as we learn how use our time in this amazing OVC project.

As far as the hospital is concerned, we have had a tour already and met some future colleagues. The hospital itself is quite big and both of us were impressed by the large size of the pharmacy and physiotherapy department. We are in the midst of deciding when we will start work and what are schedules will look like. We will keep you posted.

We are currently living with Kimmie, a fellow AIMer that has also been here for just over two years and is a nurse at the hospital: we have been grateful for her help in adjusting to everything new. We are also living with Shelly, a nurse from Australia who went through orientation with us, who will be here in Rundu for 6 months. We will be moving into Dr. Rob’s house once they leave and are very much looking forward to feeling settled.

Jumping right in

Upon arrival in Rundu, we immediately headed to the Orphans and Vulnerable Children project (OVC), an after-school activity and meal program on Tuesday and Friday afternoons. The program starts at about 2pm when the kids wander over from the bushed beyond. The kids play games, sing songs and hear stories, then eat a hot meal (likely their only protein of the week) before dispersing around 5:30pm when the sun is setting. You will hear us mention much more about the project as we will both be significantly involved in it while we are here.

However, the day we arrived was extraordinary. We were blessed to participate in a huge clothing and gift give-away which had been organized by some of the other short term missionary families working at the project. There are about 200 kids in the program and each one went away with one warm sweater/top (as winter is almost here), one miscellaneous item such as a T-shirt, hat, pair of shoes, or underwear, and then a whole slew of crayons, pencils, a toothbrush and a pack of toothpaste along with other random things. What fun! The process had to be strictly controlled to eliminate chaos and ensure fairness, so we accompanied each of the kids one at a time as they made their selections. At the end all the local volunteers for the project were also given presents and you should have seen their faces!! We were inspired by the hard work and energy put in by the missionaries and volunteers here. What a great way to start.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Heading to Rundu

We headed off to Rundu last Monday afternoon, 9 of us fitting into an 8 passenger “Combi” (the “record“ is 22 adults and children). The journey north usually takes 9 hours, so we went half way to a town called Grootfontein. We stayed at an awesome lodge which is home to Moufassa, a nine year old male lion who pretends to be a large house cat. He was living in the house until he was four but eventually outgrew it and now has a very large space outside all to himself, on the other side of a secure fence! Moufassa loves to be petted and growled loudly throughout the night.

The lodge also has two cheetahs: unlike Moufassa, attempting to pet the cheetahs would be a very bad idea! There were also two gargantuan Ostriches: you can see that I was a little scared on getting close - he had just spat on me! Along with the exciting big animals, there were meerkats, caracal cats, and pearl spotted owls. All in all a fun little overnight stay.

The next morning in Grootfontein was spent visiting fellow AIM missionaries working hard with dedicated locals at a soup kitchen for the local school. We also visited the biological father of Christy, who is in the custody of the Rineers, our leaders here in Namibia. They are in the process of trying to officially adopt her. It is a very long story but in short she was brought into the Rineer house at 2 years old after severe malnutrition. She is now 6 years old (and let me tell you one of the cutest kids ever!) and adoption still has not gone through. It was challenging to see what difficult surroundings her birth family lives in and how big she is in comparison to her siblings simply due to having proper nutrition and a safe place to live.

As we approached Rundu it was amazing to see the landscape change from bushes and trees to clumps of little mud huts along the highway, with the huts become more frequent as we approached our little town. Having seen so many pictures ahead of time, it was similar to some of our expectations, but lots of intrigue. In many ways we were just happy to finally get here.

If you want to see more photos, see link below:

Monday, May 26, 2008

Language learning in Windhoek

Our last week has been about language and how to learn a new language. We have not spent the week learning the language for the town we are going to (that will come later once we get to Rundu) but of one of the many tribal languages spoken in Windhoek called Oshiherero. This is the language of the Herero tribe that was almost annihilated by the Germans. So we would spend our afternoons in the Katatura area (the slums outside of Windhoek) hanging out with them and eating their delicious fresh beef. The picture of the woman with the head piece is the traditional dress for a Herero woman. Whereas the picture of the naked women is the traditional dress for the Himba tribe (the difference between the two picture is that I had to pay big bucks to get pictures of the Himba and it was free to get pictures of the Herero!)

One morning we went to go visit Hanna-Lee and her family (3 daughters and a granddaughter) in the slums. She and her family are HIV positive, and she is a former prostitute. She was rejected by her family but has come to understand the love and grace of God and has given up prostitution and tries to encourage other women (as well as her daughters) to also give up selling themselves to men. We had the chance to hear her amazing story and Suzanne meets with this family weekly to offer help and counsel. She lives each day not knowing how to feed her family and although she lives in desperate conditions we were touched by her peaceful heart. Her road is not easy.

If you would like to see more pictures of our time in Windhoek then just click on this link:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


In our last entry we gave you a brief look into the history of Namibia and the racial tensions remaining today. Well, the biggest problem regardless of race is HIV infection.

Yesterday we had a woman come and share with us the latest statistics for Namibia in regards to this devastating disease. Namibia still remains the 2nd highest infection rate in the world although they have seen a slowing down of infection as the government is providing opportunities for people to receive free testing, treatment and counselling. The struggle is getting people to take the test, and then getting them to take the meds. There are so many social issures at hand.

First, men still carry so much power and for the most part it is acceptable for men to have many partners and or more than one wife. Women don't have enough power to demand that their partner use a condom. The areas in Namibia that have the highest percentage of HIV are those where there are army stations, truck stops and those with high volume traffic with huge amounts of prostitution.

The second major issue is the fatalistic attitude that prevails in Namibia. A lot of people believe that whether they get sick or not has nothing to do with their actions, but rather that their ancestors or someone else has willed it on them. Because people don't show any symptoms until many years later, people deny that actions from years earlier would affect them.

HIV still carries significant stigma so people just don't want to know out of fear. People are still ostracized from their friends and families. We had a woman who is HIV positive come and share her sad story with us as she struggles to mother her HIV positive son and foster child...yikes, our sense of 'trials and tribulations' is so different.

So we went to get HIV testing this morning. Mick wanted us to experience what it would be like so we could encourage others to go. It was amazing how nervous we all were about getting our results! For people that have virtually no chance of having it, it was a relief to hear we were negative. I can't even imagine how it would feel if you thought you may have been exposed.

The learning continues.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A sobering day.

We started our orientation Friday, but Saturday was truly a challenging day. This is a long post but an important one.

A man named Naf gave us an incredible first-hand history lesson on Namibia in the morning. The history of Namibia is truly a sad and depressing one, filled with colonialism, genocide, racism, concentration camps and apartheid, all which still deeply scars the people’s psyche to this day. Mick had told us the day before that while he grew up in Eastern Africa and has visited and lived in many African countries, and although the infrastructure here in Namibia is so nice, he said it has been the hardest country he has ever lived in.

In brief, Germany colonialized Namibia in 1884 (then known as German South West Africa) and held control until after WWI, in 1920. During that time, the German army attempted to eradicate the largest tribe, the Herero, eventually killing 80% of them. Naf is Herero and had many relatives slaughtered during that time. After 1920, South Africa took over control, instituting white minority rule as in South Africa (SA). In 1948 the policy of Apartheid began, and as in SA, blacks in Namibia where forced to live and work in black-only areas. Through out this time, when extreme atrocities were occurring, there were underlying tribal and political groups that began to fight for freedom and independance. Finally in 1990 they were granted independence from SA and formed a democratic republic and significant changes has occurred in the lives of its residents.

Naf’s personal story was deeply moving as he honestly and candidly shared his struggle to choose forgiveness toward white people. He spent his life learning to hate whites with such intensity and by the Grace of God he is now able to talk to us and to befriend us. We fought tears as we listened to his story. That afternoon he drove us all around Windhoek to the historical places, like “Heroes Acre” where history is celebrated and the many heroes of freedom are remembered (the caption under the statue writes "Glory to the fallen Heroes and Heroine of the motherland Namibia". We shared a delicious Herero lunch and then drove through the shanty-area know as Khatatura, where the blacks were forced to live. The conditions are still severe, with 10x10 tin shacks that sleep 20 people each.

Naf’s encouragement to us: to be people who will do our best to recognize the racial issues, to love the blacks and invite them into our lives, and to help integrate the blacks and whites. Even within “Christian” circles racial issues separated where love should unite. Naf encouraged us that if we can affect 3 people during the time we are here, perhaps it will only take 5 generations instead of 20 to see change. Healing will be slow and change will take time.