Our two ASA interns Eva and Anna spent the last three months in Germany with Welwitschia. Before starting with the South phase in Namibia, they summarise their activities, experiences and thoughts for you. Thank you, Eva and Anna, for your great engagement! We are looking forward to working with you in Namibia!
In Germany, the African continent seems far away. Referring to the media the African countries are heaven for wildlife, but not a nice place for people: poverty, hunger, epidemics and crises characterize their daily lives. Plenty of bad news and documentaries about the “wild continent” are reaching people in Germany – and provide an incomplete picture and often misconceptions. And although we share with some countries a common history, our knowledge about them is sometimes very low.
As a German-Namibian tandem at the project Welwitschia – Bildungsinitiative für Namibia e.V. we, Eva Shitaatala and Anna-Paloma Sasse, held public lectures and workshops in different types of schools and different grade levels, in which we were dealing with exactly this topic of existing images about Namibia as an example for an African country, but also speaking about the political and educational situation today, and Namibia’s colonial past.
Workshops in schools
The confrontation with the German colonial past is not taking place in all schools in Germany. But as a look in the newspaper shows, the German-Namibian relation is nothing that is only connected to the past but also to current issues. Nevertheless, how much do German students actually know about the country? With this question we have entered into our workshops and have consistently gotten a similar picture: We know “little” or even “nothing”. But when we then asked what their image about Namibia is, the students made numerous statements which we collected on the blackboard to summarize them to a “general” image. Especially with younger learners the statements can be assigned to a “typical” poor image about the continent where children do not go to school, people do not have electricity and where people live in houses without doors and suffering of hunger.
The concept of our workshops aimed to diversify the image of Namibia in Germany, as well as clarify the historical and the current relationship between Germany and Namibia. We did not want to tell the students that their image might be wrong, but rather show them that it might be incomplete. In a short presentation at the beginning of each workshop we showed the diversity of Namibia which included talks about poverty and other issues the country faced. With the interactive conception of the workshops we enable the students to become aware of the one-sided image that arrives in Germany and let them think about what impact this could have on our daily lives.
The students were often surprised to learn something about Namibia which they could not imagine before and found it exciting to get information about the country where so many remains of the German colonial era can be found still today. And despite the challenge to follow the 90-minute workshop in English, the students showed a lot of interest – even if the language was sometimes a hindrance to conduct a lively discussion.
Welwitschia – Education Initiative for Namibia supports young Namibians on their education and career. But how does the educational situation in Namibia look like? Since independence, the country is trying a lot to overcome the negative impacts of the Bantu Education and invested a lot in their education system. In various presentations at universities and public institutions we were giving a review on Namibia’s history, an overview of the country`s achievements, but also about the existing challenges. Further, we were also talking about how to handle stereotypes in educational work, about the political system in Namibia or the German-Namibian relation.
An important part of the ASA program are the seminars, which we were attending twice for six days with about 60 other ASA participants.
A key issue in preparation for the upcoming time abroad is to learn about global power structures, and connected to this to enable the ASA participants to reflect their own position in the global structure – especially as a white person. This topic was strongly related to structural racism (not to be equated with right-wing extremism) and different issues that are connected to discrimination and privileges. At the same time, the seminars gave space for own learning experience and connecting with other participants from the global north and south.
As an international tandem, our goal was to work together on an eye-level, to complement each other and learn from each other. Although the intensive time together was not always easy, we reached that goal and were able to handle difficulties and solve problems. Besides working together, we also learned a lot from each other personally while traveling, discussing different topics, cooking, or laughing together – and become friends.
But not only on a personal level was the intercultural team an enrichment for Welwitschia. In the workshops and presentations it was very valuable that not only someone from Germany was talking about Namibia, but someone could report from their own country and answer questions at firsthand, whereby the workshops got a different emphasis. One question from a student that remained in our mind: “How do you feel when we think wrong things about your country?”
Because Welwitschia – Education Initiative Namibia is a very young and still relatively unknown organization depending on voluntary work and because Namibia is a very specific topic with only little interest in general, there were some issues during our North Phase: It was difficult to get appointments in schools, and we were required to rely on personal contacts to teachers and only a few listeners were attending our presentations.
Also on the personal level, not everything ran smoothly. But in the sense of the ASA program as a learning program, we were able to cope with all emerging difficulties by having an open communication – and difficulties were turning into valuable learning experiences.
We are now looking forward to the South phase where we will incorporate our experiences from Germany in Namibia.