Growing and learning in Otjiwarongo, Namibia

Namibia_Orwetoveni Youth Project Dancers copy

By Deb Raphael, Program Coordinator, May 2017

 

It is not a short journey from Sydney to Otjiwarongo in Namibia. I had made it before, the long haul flight from Sydney to Windhoek via Johannesburg and then the 3-4 hour road trip to the dusty town in Namibia’s central northern highlands. As I drove the road I wished the community development process was as straight and well signposted.

 

Lack of social, educational and recreational facilities for young people was the entry point for our engagement with the community in the township of Orwetoveni, which spreads into the informal settlements around Otjiwarongo. Through a series of consultations with Rotary Macquarie Park and then with indigo foundation, commencing in 2012, the community has identified youth unemployment rates amongst the highest in southern Africa and an urgent need for youth focussed activities to address social vulnerability and in particular the need for a dedicated space. (The Namibian National Youth Policy defines youth as individuals between 16 and 30 years.)

 

A community committee was convened under the name of Otjiwarongo Development Program Fund (ODPF) to partner with indigo foundation. Funds were raised by our partner Rotary Macquarie Park, a liaison officer was appointed and Otjiwarongo Municipal Council agreed to lease a sizeable block of land for a youth centre. ODPF identified some priority activities which could be funded whilst it formally registered as an association (which can be a lengthy and time consuming process, but would also indicate the commitment of ODPF to its objective). These would foster the relationship with indigo foundation and with their own constituency. The first funds were sent in May 2015. Visiting in October of that year Libby House, our Development Co-ordinator, and I found the start encouraging and another raft of small activities including several focussed on income generation were funded in June 2016.

 

By the time of my visit in March this year, four years since consultations commenced, we had reached a critical point for moving forward on the youth centre. To commit to building the centre would be a major step for both us and the community. From the perfunctory reporting I had been receiving I already had concerns about the commitment of some committee members and the lack of progress in registration. I particularly feared that the Council might renege on the offer of that parcel of land if there was further delay in registration. The land is well positioned for easy access from the informal settlements. I arrived in Otjiwarongo hoping that ODPF would show me that it was now capable of leading and administering a sustainable and broadly based program of development in its community.

 

The 10 days I spent in the township were jam-packed with meetings with the committee, council officials, other organisations, and community members and of course project site visits. Monica Tjediua our liaison officer had, at short notice, joined a council delegation to Durban during the second week. It was a rare opportunity for her to gain international experience and I encouraged her to go. Fortunately, Joseph Paulus the Chairperson was a constant presence throughout our visit with other committee members also in attendance at key meetings.

 

I will be honest. ODPF did not pass close scrutiny in several areas. One was the size of the committee. There were only five of the original eight committee members remaining. The founding Chairman moved away shortly after establishment and eventually the mantle fell on Joseph as deputy chair. Joseph is an aspiring politician, energetic and full of ideas but it has been a steep learning curve for him. Two members have fallen by the wayside. Meetings are held sporadically but with only five it is hard to get a quorum. At our first meeting they told me it was difficult to find good volunteers to join the committee so it was better to continue with the smaller number.

 

Fortunately monitoring and evaluation visits often reinvigorate relationships with the community and at our final meeting the committee concluded that more members and a better gender balance were essential. My concern relating to registration may have resolved itself after meeting with a young accountant who clearly understood the necessary steps to NGO registration and assured us it could be done promptly. The chief adviser to Honourable Julius Neumbo Chair of the regional Council subsequently confirmed the advice and offered to facilitate it through his office. I then realised it had been unrealistic to expect OPDF to deal with this without professional support. Of course the process may turn out to be not so simple but the path is clearer.

 

Like many fledgling organisations OPDF has found financial and activity-reporting requirements have stretched its capacity, especially without an administrator, office space or regular internet access. Maintaining proper basic accounting practices and processes requires a level of integrity capacity that has gaps in OPDF but which I believe can be improved by introduction of some simple protocols. Field visits are an excellent fraud detection mechanism and it did not take an auditor to discover that there had been diversion of some funds. To his credit the Treasurer confessed at a committee meeting and after some days of trying to calculate exactly how much was diverted an amount was agreed. A statement was signed acknowledging the misuse and undertaking to repay the funds over 12 months. His position was terminated. Hands were shaken all around and he departed. It was a cathartic experience for the committee and a small triumph for indigo foundation’s emphasis on transparency for all the communities with whom we work.

 

In between the marathon of forensic accounting I visited each of the small projects that had been funded. ODPF is currently seen as a collection of these small projects each championed by a committee member. Such lack of cohesion means ODPF has not yet created a public organisational identity for itself, which is a weakness and transparency issues rise again in relation to committee members’ interests. But there are efforts to change this with Joseph maintaining an ODPF Facebook page with plenty of photos and suggestions from Hon. Nuembo that ODPF be represented on some regional committees that are been formed.

 

On a positive note OtjiVegs continues to thrive under the patient stewardship of Hendrik Morosi a committee member. OtjiVeg is well known but not as part of ODPF. In 2013 it was a start-up coop. Four years later produce is sold daily at the market and supplied to local hotels and guesthouses. Profits are put back into a poultry side business. The seven regular volunteers share in the profits and fresh produce in return for daily commitment to the garden and there has been an unexpected outcome in an increased interest in market gardening across Otjiwarongo. Nineteen groups have applied for plots under the new Otjiwarongo Municipal Council small-scale agricultural projects program including an Otjivegs expansion and TW Tulongeni Project and Ashwell Graphics Academy all of which have received support through the indigo foundation partnership.

 

Om-Maha Tara di project is also flourishing in a small way. This is a women’s catering cooperative, which received a seeding grant for equipment to expand its business beyond a fat cakes (balls of fried dough) stand. Purchase of a deep freeze has enabled the coop to keep meat (kudu or Oryx), which is grilled on the new braai (grill) stand. Profits are slowly going into poultry (3 hens so far) so hardboiled eggs can be added to the menu.

 

The Owetoveni Youth Sport and Cultural Program was launched in July 2015 with purchase of sporting equipment, drums, projector, video camera and computer. Originally based in the Multipurpose Help Centre and overseen by Monica Tjehiua it relocated to the home of a volunteer in the informal settlements in July 2016 because of shortage of space. It has continued since then in a modest way but there has been no funding since October 2016 because of the Treasurer’s actions. The volunteer program coordinator is very able and is understandably disappointed that the on-going support for her project has been misappropriated. My impression is that it is sufficiently well established to be fully reinstated should further funding become available during 2017.

 

The only disappointment was the Orweto Brickworks, which was associated with the Treasurer. It was hard to see that any bricks had been produced, the orange cement mixer was unused and the generator missing. The cost of the generator has been added to the Treasurer’s indebtness until such time as the generator is produced. The committee has requested return of the cement mixer.
On 21 March Namibian Independence Day was celebrated. Namibia gained independence in 1990 after a lengthy armed struggle with South Africa. Each year major celebrations are held in one town. This was not Otjiwarongo’s year but most people appeared to be enjoy special meals with family. We were entertained by some talented young dancers, musicians and actors from the Ashwell Graphics Academy, which operates from Joseph’s home. The stage was the dusty shade clothed yard. The group has been coming together on weekends for 3 or 4 years to support and encourage each other and develop their creativity and skills. Occasionally there are opportunities to perform for a small audience but they long for a hall in which to practice. There had been a lot of enthusiastic use of the Apple iMac (purcahsed using indigo foundation funding) after its arrival in July last year and several short videos had been made. I had arranged donation of a better camera but shortly before my arrival the iMac took a serious fall. There are currently no funds for repairs.

 

Notwithstanding the various setbacks I left Otjiwarongo feeling positive about the future of ODPF provided the committee can be reconstituted very shortly and registration effected. The land is still available and most critically there is strong support both from Otiwarongo Municipal Council and the Hon. Neumbo. The first two years has been an extraordinary learning experience for both the committee and us.

 

Deborah Raphael

Project Coordinator

April 2017