This past week we embarked on our final community trip before we depart for Cape Town in. On this trip to Southern Namibia the focus was on our development class; specifically community-based natural resource management and “sustainable” development. We stayed at various campsites, some run by the community and others by the private sector. We also paid a visit to the heart of a community initiative to sell Namibian crafts and painted the walls of a secondary school under renovation along with some of its students. Overall, it was an incredible three days that were full of fun and, as true of any development class, full of questions. While we ruminated over the pros and cons of Namibia’s community-based natural resource management initiatives, our reflections on the trip also fostered some bigger questions that have seemed to permeate the entirety of our experiences with CGE thus far.
The paramount question on our minds that kept resurfacing throughout the weekend was the concept of definition, as in who ultimately defines the things that inform the way development occurs, and the way we live in general. This has been a recurring theme throughout the program as we study things like globalization, colonization, need, and identity. However, this weekend we were able to put it into direct context with what we were experiencing. For example, we first discussed how even defining “sustainable” in terms of development could have such a variety of meanings; it depends on the lens of the individual and what is valued under certain circumstances. For example, at the Brukkaros Community Campsite and the school we visited in Berseba, it was evident that the emphasis was placed on advances that would help to preserve community and education. However, we also visited the Gibeon Folk Arts Center which not only centered on sustaining community, but also on preserving culture through art and the livelihood of the artists who worked there. Our final stop was the Gondwana Kalahari Anib Lodge where the focus was primarily on environment and resources (as it was situated in a National Park) as well as economy through tourism. These different perspectives encouraged us to discern what is most crucial to be sustainable and how that influences the overall development for Namibia in particular.
Another matter that arose yet again on this trip was the land issue troubling Namibia. This is a conflict that has emerged a number of times in several of our classes and it involves the question of whether a redistribution of lands to native Namibian tribes is an appropriate and necessary step towards reconciliation in a post-colonial era. However, as was revealed to us on this trip, the dilemma goes much deeper than it’s already complex nature. When considering this, we were faced again with the concepts of definition and perspective. Who best decides how to respect the land? During our time in the South we did witness action to respect the land by conserving it and its resources; that is, in fact, exactly what the Gondwana Kalahari Anib Lodge intended to do. However, we had to wonder if the best way to respect the land is indeed to return it to those who it was wrongfully taken from under the colonial and apartheid regimes. We concluded that it depends on whom you ask and we were certainly in no position to decide.
Finally, the enigma of definition took on a more subjective arrangement when we considered the ideal of success. While we have often viewed this throughout the course in terms of broad scale national development markers, we came to realize it could be as personal as selling a craft, painting a school, or climbing a mountain. For example, at the Gibeon Folk Arts Center we spoke with the five craftswomen who head up the entire project. In speaking with them we learned that they only see about 5% of the profits gained by their crafts, further remarking that it is just “not enough”. If one were to consider this from an economic perspective he/she would most likely classify this project as being unsuccessful because the women are not making enough profit for themselves to completely sustain the livelihoods of themselves and their families. However, if one were to define success in terms of employment and empowerment, this is no doubt a highly successful project.
At the school we painted in Berseba with the kids, we learned from Petrus, a former educator at the school and chairperson of the Brukkaros Community Campsite, that it had been shut down due to an inability to pay for the astronomical water bill. To the members of the Berseba Community, success was not immediately defined by the number of students going to top universities or the number of championships won in the local sports league, but rather by acquiring basic necessities and getting their buildings in top shape for reopening once those needs are attained.
To us over these three days success came in many forms. It came with climbing several kilometers to the top of Brukkaros Mountain, the mountain that our campsite was built into in Berseba. It was a treacherous hike but the breathtaking view from the top was the most success many of us have felt in some time. Success also came not with the answers we did not formulate, but rather the questions we so genuinely acknowledged on our trip. We look forward to the future of our trip, which will surely only bring more questions such as these, but hopefully continue to provide us with the tools and knowledge necessary to productively and justly consider them.