Archive for February, 2008

Hello again, all.  I have now been in Windhoek working with both in the main Namibian Training Authority (NTA) offices and the “Habitat Center” in Katutura for 2 full weeks now.  There is certainly a lot of positive work going on!  I am swimming in more and more information about the organization of both the NTA and COSDEF as well as trying to understand some of the problems (and solutions) that are facing Namibia right now.  Both have provided unique and exciting glimpses into the future of Namibia and also into the general nature of development work.  It is a busy time now in the office – Parliament is session and has begun the process of fully legalizing the NTA as the national training assessment body in the country.  Meanwhile, I am awash with acronyms and will gallantly try to explain as many as I know…

I send this post out with a disclaimer: I am still learning all of this information myself!  Although (I think) the picture is getting clearer and clearer everyday, the following information is only my current perception of the situation at hand – almost certainly this will change and develop as I spend more time here.  So please do not take this post as the final word on any of the things that I mention.  This is only meant as a brief introduction to what is going.  For a more in depth look, I encourage you to visit the official NTA website: www.nta.com.na

The Current Dilemma

            Right now is a very critical time in Namibia’s relatively short history.  One of the biggest problems that has developed over the past few years is the huge number of grade 10 dropouts: over 30,000 in the past 2 years alone.  This number is staggering, especially when you consider that the country has just over 2 million residents.  To make matters worse, Namibia’s current education system will not allow these students back into schools once they have left.  What results is a huge number of teenagers who are walking around with very few marketable skills; a population that is unattractive to potential employers in a country that already is faced with huge unemployment rates.  Unemployment is especially high in the 18-25 age group: an astronomical 65%.

            The government has taken notice and is currently pushing through legislation that attempts to reform the Namibian school system as to lessen the amount of (basically) uneducated youngsters on the streets.  This is where the NTA comes in…


            The NTA was founded with the goal of formalizing and centralizing training, assessment, and certification among fields that fall under a “vocational” classification.  They aim to serve as the body that will be in charge of standardizing the training of these professionals throughout the country.  The goal of this process is to make sure that there is national recognition of someone’s qualification so that employers will be able to know what skills their potential employees posses.  For example, a bricklayer with a “Level 1” certification will have a certain set of skills while a “Level 4” employee will have more advanced skills. 

            One of the main charges for the NTA, as far as I can tell, is to revitalize vocational education in Namibia.  Like in many parts of the US, this vital training for future professionals has fallen by the wayside as the push for “college” has taken center stage.  Unfortunately, these technical tracks (masonry, auto mechanic, hair dresser, metal worker, etc.) will often catch the interest of students who are not interested in continuing into college.  The hope is that the implementation of this new, standardized curriculum in the vocational areas will help inflate the number of trained candidates in these fields, all of  which will become increasingly important as Namibia’s economy continues to grow.  Most of the areas of training correspond perfectly with specific area of growth: tourism (hospitality management, construction trades to build infrastructure) and mining.

            It will take a long time to be able to fully build up these schools and training facilities though, and in the mean time, the NTA is currently trying to find partners who will take in these Grade 10 dropouts and begin training them for the level 1 competency rating.  The nice part about the program, especially on the lower levels, is that they are based around a 10th grade level of education – the level 1 bricklayer track, for instance, relies on basic math and science and will continue to teach those same academic skills(albeit, in a very practical way).  As students progress up the qualification levels, they will encounter higher and higher level problem solving that remains very practical in their field of expertise.  Again, the hope is to give these Grade 10 dropouts some certification (like a diploma) that will make them marketable to potential employees.

            Some other notes: 1. The NTA is also very committed to insuring gender equality and is pushing for trainee registration in non-traditional gender areas.  For instance: females are encouraged to join the mechanic and bricklayer tracks, while men are encouraged into needlework, etc.  2. Another core part of the training (in all fields, as far as I can tell) is a push for entrepreneurship, so that students can become business savvy.

            All in all I think that these solutions certainly hold some potential (though they also involve an increased bureaucraticization…) and I am excited to see how this standardization (that I dread in most applications) can help with the development of a strong national vocational training system.  I am sure there will be more to come…

The Habitat Center             This has certainly been a highlight so far, and it shows the very exciting possibilities of the development sector.  It also adheres to one principle that, I feel, holds the key to successful development (anywhere in the world): it is all based locally – everything is run (as far as I know) by Namibians. The complex itself is a collection of buildings that are eventually going to be turned into a vocational education center (school).  The coolest part, at least from my point of view, is that all the buildings are built using alternative construction materials: sandbags, tires, cut up oil drums, compressed earth walls, adobe etc.  Not only do the look really incredible, but they also show the possibilities for low-cost housing that is both environmentally friendly, cheap, and relies on local resources (ie, dirt, rocks, sand, and in rural areas, hay).

            It is the kind of development that makes me wonder why there isn’t more of a push for this type of building in the US: it is structurally sound, provides natural insulation, and can still be fitted with all the modern convinces that we have come to expect (electricity, plumbing, etc).  Although the site (and the future of these alternative building materials in relation to low cost housing in rural Namibia) is very exciting, the developmental training is equally as inspiring.  This habitat development is rather unique in that the complex is paid for by the government and is handled by a local contractor.  This means that there are paid workmen who are on the site everyday working on the building.  But along with these professional workers, there is a group of about 30 students who are both taking part in the NTA piloted “Level 1” bricklayer class and also working for pay as members of the contractor’s team.  The students are split between locals from Windhoek who already have jobs with the contractor and are there to build up their skills, and youngsters from other regions of the country who are there to learn the necessary bricklayer skills (along with these alternative building methods) and bring them back to their region.  Again this is really exciting since these students are not only learning (for free as far as I know) valuable trade skills, but they are also expected to become leaders in their local communities when they come back.

            The course itself is a 10 week program, and besides bricklaying and other construction skills, it also includes lessons on HIV/AIDS awareness, construction safety, and entrepreneurship.  As I mentioned earlier, this is one of the official NTA pilot programs for their “Level 1” certification, and is the model that will eventually get used all over the country.  I have been especially impressed by the amount of practical work that the students do; usually they spend 4 hours learning theory in the classroom and then, from 11 – 5:30 are working on the site.  Sometimes they are just put to work doing different tasks that the contractor needs, but most of the time they are with their instructors, demonstrating the learned theory on the site.  It serves as an invaluable learning tool I am sure.

            Like I said, this is just a pilot program, and, unfortunately, I am not sure how realistic it is to expect that this exact model (morning: classroom learning, afternoon: practical work while getting paid) will be able to continue on a widespread basis since I cant see being able to work hand in hand with a contractor on such a large scale project in the future.  But the core for productive learning is certainly there; the Level 1 certification course certainly seems like it can provide an excellent foundation for training in the bricklaying field.  If all the instructors are as good as the ones that we have here in Katutura, there is a good chance that there can be a big step up in the quality (and sheer # of students) of vocational education in the country.


Recommended Reading

            Well thanks for reading this.  Hopefully it gives a little bit more background to what is going on in Namibia, especially the possibilities that are being presented in the development sector.  I hope to have some more information “meat and potatoes” up in the future about some other developments.  While I have your attention (and the blogging limelight, haha), may I recommend reading William Easterly’s White Man’s Burden, especially if you find yourself interested in development work.  It offers a good counter argument to the more widely publicized The End of Poverty (by Jeffery Sachs), which I guess you should probably read too if you are interested in the field.  Without trying to show my bias too much(too late!), reading both of them together should give you a good starting point to forming your own opinion on the future of international development.  If you have read either of them and want someone to discuss them with (or you have some recommendations for me…I currently really want to read Africa Unchained), please send me an email (mnbeare@gmail.com)!  I look forward to the discussion…maybe it can help me organize my thoughts about their theories vs. what I am seeing here in Namibia.  Hope everything is going well stateside for everyone.  Send me emails with any updates if possible.  Holler.



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Hello from Windhoek

So I have been gone for about 3 weeks now and have been able to experience a lot of different things. I have been working with the Namibian Training Authority (NTA) in their office in Khomasdal for about a week now. I hope to have some more information on the NTA and what I am doing up a little later – I am still trying to grasp everything myself. My first post, however, is really just going to be an advertisement for traveling to Namibia…

Although ultimately I am here to work with the NTA, I decided that I would “ease into things” with a little safari-type thing beforehand. I started out my journey with a few nights by myself in Cape Town, South Africa. I was there for 3 days, and I really do wish that I could have spent some more time there. Cape Town, justifiably, is always mentioned as one of the prettiest cities in the world. I couldn’t agree more – the whole city is dominated by Table Mountain National Park, a series of peaks and plateaus that are normally covered by a “tablecloth” of clouds. It really is quite incredible, being surrounded by these majestic mountains on one side and plenty of beaches and the (cold) Atlantic on the other. I was lucky enough to actually catch Table Mountain on a nice day my last day in the city, which, of course meant that I decided to climb it by myself starting at 2 in the afternoon. It probably wasn’t the smartest idea, but I was able to make it up in pretty good time and was rewarded by a 360 degree view of the Cape.

My first few days I spent on the beach getting a really awkward sunburn (those who know me will see when I come back, you can tell where I forgot to sunscreen), walking around and exploring the city, and on an organized tour to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. Like I said, there was plenty more I wish I would have had time for, but the good news is that I have already made up mental notes for a second trip back.

Once the tour started I was grouped with 16 others on a gigantic bus. Everyone was really nice, and we actually made friends pretty quickly. Although it was nice to be on an organized tour (especially since this is the first time I have ever been out of the country), when I come back I will certainly chose to either drive myself or take local transportation – they give you much more freedom to be able to get out and explore the strange, alien(ating?) environment. Anyway, back to the trip: Namibia is fairly unique in that most of it seems to be desert. The strangest thing, to me at least, was despite the generally dry conditions, how much variation there is in the landscape: every 50-100 km the scenery changed, revealing a different but equally beautiful desolation (and I mean that in the best sense possible.) Some highlights:

• Fish River Canyon: This is the second largest canyon in the world. Unlike the Grand Canyon, however, it is not overrun with tourists. In fact there is hardly any infrastructure there, even though we were able to stay at a really nice campsite pretty close to the canyon. It is something that I would definitely recommend seeing – I would like to take the 5 day hike through it, but, unfortunately it is closed until May (it is just too hot).

• Sussousvlei: This is the place, in the middle of the Namib Desert (the oldest desert in the world), where there are the largest sand dunes in the world. They are absolutely mind-blowing – the dunes can reach 350 m tall and are an indescribable pastel red-orange. Our group got up early enough to be able to watch the sunrise on top of Dune 45, which is the one that most people end up climbing (its not easy, especially if you are racing to catch the sunrise). It was an experience that I will not forget anytime soon…absolutely amazing.

• Swakopmund – This is Namibia’s beach resort town. It’s a pretty cool place and the first city that we had come to since leaving Cape Town. Accordingly, we decided to go out the first night. It was pretty fun and it ended with me attending a “real Namibian beach party” with some of the tour group and some guys we met at the bar…yeah, haha. The next morning was filled with all kind of exciting activities. It started with me going sandboarding, which is basically sledding on the sand dunes. It was a lot of fun: we reached speeds of 75 km/h, which is probably around 40-50 mph, while laying face first on a sheet of luaun. After that I went SKYDIVING! I don’t know why I decided to do it, it has never really been something I wanted to do, but, I somehow was able to talk myself and 6 others from the group into doing it. It was pretty crazy and a lot of fun, I still cant completely believe that I did it (and no, it wasn’t that scary).

• Etosha National Park – This is probably Namibia’s premier game park. Since it is summer and the rainy season (very rainy), we did not get to see all the animals that were in the park, but we did see a ton of springbok, zebra, ostrich and oryx’ like 250 giraffes, some warthogs, kudu, and even 8 lions. Who-hoo! It was very cool, obviously much better than any zoo. Just watching the animal’s behaviors in a natural environment was fascinating. We also got to see two giraffes “fighting” which is pretty comical…

So basically it was a great time. Camping in the desert is always awesome, as are the Southern Hemisphere stars. If you are thinking about traveling to Namibia I would certainly recommend it; there really is a lot to do as long as you don’t mind driving long distances. Even if you don’t like camping, Namibia seems to have a number of very nice lodges set up in these remote areas. I was even quite surprised by the campgrounds – almost all of them had a swimming pool, store, and bar.

Right now I am living in the Kleine Kuppe area of Windhoek while splitting my working time between the NTA offices in Khomasdal and the training center in Katatura. The training center is really quite amazing in itself – it is the home to some experimentation with alternative building methods, all which are quite exciting because of their low environmental impact, affordability, and use of local resources. I hope to write more about this soon. Thanks for reading this post and putting up with my limited resource of adjectives. Hopefully I will be posting more frequently now that I am settling into one place. If you have any questions or would just like to talk PLEASE email me (mnbeare@gmail.com) – I always look forward to news from back home. -Michael

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