Archive for April, 2008

Ok, maybe it is not that triumphant, but at least it is a return.  I guess I should make an excuse for my prolonged absence: I have been busy traveling with work recently.  Its actually been a very good experience – I have gotten to see a lot more of the country.  But before I get into my travelogue, I guess I will have to give you some background information on the organization that I am currently working the most closely with, the Community Skills Development Foundation (COSDEF).


COSDEF is the overarching governing body of individual Community Skills Development Centers.  Basically the whole organization is run by a Board of Directors who decides what direction the organization should go.  Included in the board are people involved with the Rossing Foundation, local business people, and the current Prime Minister, who was one of the founding members of the organization when he was posted as the Minister of Education.  As I have found out having the Prime Minister on your board of directors does wonders for the progress of the organization.

            Below the board of directors is the COSDEF support unit, officially the only people employed by the board, whose job it is to make sure that the vision of the board is implemented in the various centers.  The support unit consists of three members, all of whom spend an incredible amount of time and energy trying to support their various staffs at the local COSDECS.

            The Cosdecs are technically independent entities from the main body; they are each run by a local board of directors who is in charge of maintaining the center.  This board consists of elected members of the community who have been nominated as community representatives after a town hall style meeting.  I find this model to be very innovative and, theoretically, very beneficial because the community is in charge of all decisions (though this still remains fairly theoretical at this point).  There are currently 6 Cosdecs throughout Namibia: Tsumeb, Ondangwa, Rundu, Opuwo, Swakopmund, and Otjiwarongo.  There is also the Cosdef Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) center in Tsumeb that only operates business training classes.  Each of these centers employs a Head of Center and a group of instructors based on what classes are taught there.

            All classes offered are dependant on the needs of the region.  For instance since Swakopmund is a high volume tourist area, the goal is to turn the Swakopmund COSDEC into a large hospitality training center.  In the past few years there have been a wide variety of courses offered throughout Namibia based on local needs: arts and crafts, brickmaking/laying, building maintenance, coffin making, computer skills, cooking and catering, hospitality, jam making, knitting, leather tanning and production, metalwork, needlework, office administration, recycled paper making, solar stove production, welding, and woodwork.  All of these are centered on a “learn to earn” model which combines technical skills with linkage model training as to promote the trainees to use their skills to earn their own income, either through entrepreneurship or by using the skills to gain employment.  The courses also vary in length, though most of them tend to be year long programs.

I am finding the Cosdec model to be very innovative in a number of ways: they use tracer studies to figure out where to place new cosdecs and determine course offerings and/or market saturation.  They do follow up studies to see how their trainees have fared since graduating the class. They not only involve linkage model training, but also have mandatory job attachments which allow the students to take their training into the field with an established company or with one of the Cosdec production units.

These production units offer a very interesting model as well; since each center receives a majority of it funding through the ministry of education (85%), they are forced to earn 15% of their training income.  They can find community donors to help, but most centers employ the use of “production units” to subsidize their incomes.  These take former students (or current enrollees) and force them to use their skills to earn money for themselves and the cosdec.  Some examples: in Ondangwa, the food preparation class operates a restaurant in which they can serve the dishes that they are learning how to prepare.  In some centers they act as contractors and bid on local bricklaying and plastering projects.

Some of the most exciting possibilities, however, lie in some of the newer production units –  in Rundu they are beginning to produce bio-sand water filters to give out in communities that have been effected by the enormous rains in the North which have resulted in water contamination and Cholera outbreaks.  In Tsumeb they are beginning a leather production unit that is aiming to produce two lines of products; one that has been co-funded by the French embassy (with the help of a French designer, nonetheless), the up market African Tan line (which has been insisted upon by the French partners), and the other a locally designed and produced Cosdef line, which will be made using locally produced leather.  In Ondangwa they are looking to start a production unit that will sell recycled glass in which old beer and wine bottles will be recycled into drinking glasses, vases, and other glass products. This process is especially exciting to me because not only are they recycling glass bottles that are otherwise being thrown out,  but the process actually uses only 35% of the energy that is needed for more traditional glass recycling. It doesn’t hurt that the products all look really cool an the money will go directly to the Namibians who are producing them.

And this is where Promote Africa is hoping to step in…we would like to use our website to sell these unique products to consumers in the US and around the world.  But we will see what happens here…


So that’s news from the COSDEF front, but I guess I might as well give everyone a little glimpse as to where I have been traveling to these past few weeks.

1.                          Ondangwa – This is in the north, which is where 50% of the Namibian population lives.  It is a lively area with lots of bars (shabeens) lining the road (most of which have some unusual and imaginative names).  When I went it was still extremely flooded, which was certainly not good for businesses and homes, though it was good for local fisherman who took to the water in search of fish.  I found this kind of strange since the pools which they were fishing in were only temporarily full of rain water, but apparently there is a kind of fish that can stay buried in sand for like 10 years and then come out when there is enough water.  How strange and incredible is that!?  Anyway, there were plenty of fish for sale by the side of the road.  That’s the moral of that story.

2.                          Opuwo – This is in mountains in the far southwest of the country.  It is truly a beautiful area that is unlike the other environs that I have experienced in Namibia.  On the way, we stopped at Ruacana Falls on the border between Namibia and Angola (actually in the no mans land between the two, which is also something kind of strange to think about…).  It was completely full with all the rain and was really beautiful, I am actually kind of surprised that there is not more mention of it made when talking about Namibia.  Anyway, we went to see to the expansion of the Opuwo Cosdec, which is exciting in itself.  But Opuwo is also kind of unique because it is home to a sizable Himba population.  The Himba’s are a really incredible group since they have been one of the few who completely rejected western missionaries.  I will encourage you wikipedia them if you want to learn more…

3.                          Victoria Falls – yeah, this one wasn’t with work.  I met with a Danish volunteer and we decided to take the long Easter weekend and go into Zambia to visit one of the natural wonders of the world.  It definitely lives up to the hype.  It was a really great experience since we decided to backpack through Zambia to get there, which meant that we would take public transport, which is certainly an experience.  I learned what people meant when they said “Africa Time” (our bus that we were told would leave at noon, did not leave until 3:30), helped our bus drivers smuggle beer from Namibia into Zambia, and got to meet a lot of people in the Zambian border town of Shesheke.  The falls themselves were really an entire sensory experience, they wern’t something that is just easily captured on film (not that experience ever can be).  We were lucky enough to come on a full moon, which means that we got to be treated to a rare “moonbow” which is when the mist from the falls is illuminated by the moon into a big rainbow.  Absolutely incredible experience!  The falls were mightily impressive during the day too…I left soaked, metaphorically deafened by the roar of the millions of gallons of Zambezi River falling 100+ meters, and awed by their beauty and the amount of rainbows I had seen (including one that was close enough to touch and one that made a full circle….woah!).  So yeah, I would recommend it.  The way home was made an adventure as well as our smuggling friends left too late for us to cross the border, which meant that we spent the night in the bus in the middle of Shesheke.  Although I woke up with over 70 mosquito bites (!), it was really interesting to see what a real Zambian town was like, untouched by tourism.  I really liked it a lot…awesome trip (even if it wasn’t very restful).


So I guess that’s about it.  Hopefully I will write again soon (or at least not take a month off again.)  Hope everyone is doing well in the states.  If anyone is interested in reading a really good novel about Sudan, might I suggest Dave Eggers’ “What is the What”.  I just read it and its very good.  Ok, thanks for reading…




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