Author: Gwyneth Hoeksema
Location: Windhoek, Namibia
This semester, we have a couple students doing internships at some important organizations around Windhoek. The two organizations that I am going to discuss today have had a great impact on the community and continue to try and better the world for marginalized groups in Namibia. Two of our students are working at Out-Right Namibia while I am working at Sister Namibia.
Out-Right Namibia works with members of the LGBTQ+ community in and around Windhoek, trying to provide necessary resources and support. Although this is not my internship, I find the work they are doing to be incredibly important for marginalized members of the community. They deserve to be discussed and recognized for their work helping members of the LGBTQ+ community in Namibia. Members of my cohort, Isaac, Hailey, Gillian, and I went to a community meeting hosted by ORN on Friday and we witnessed some of their work in action. The meeting was mainly to answer any pressing questions that community members had about how the organization was either helping or hurting them. I thought that this was an excellent opportunity to get informed as an outsider about local events, policies, and problems that are occurring in Windhoek. One problem that was addressed by community members was the lack of a community feeling when at ORN. However, ORN-lead staff emphasized that in the past, people have taken advantage of ORN’s open door policies, which is why there are stricter rules for being at the organization during hours of operation, like the requirement to schedule meetings. I think this is necessary in any business because in the end, if ORN is not somehwhat organized then they will not be able to get work done efficiently. Community members also complained that this has created a less welcoming environment with an increased focus on business. ORN-lead staff combated this by emphasizing that although ORN is a business, they are still committed to encouraging hospitality to the community. I think this is a tricky distinction, for one because ORN should want to be a safe space for their community members. But also, ORN is still required to get things done for those members. So, they have to be welcoming but they also have to keep working. After all, ORN is not a social club. I liked hearing about all of these things though, because I would like to work in a non-profit someday. Hearing about the do’s and don’ts of running a non-profit was very valuable to learn. The gathering was very personable and I felt that everyone got to ask the pressing questions that they came with. It was fantastic to see an organization actively trying to hear what the community had to say and trying to improve themselves. This meeting made me hopeful that the LGBTQ+ community in Namibia has people who are actively trying to make their lives better, which is incredibly important because Namibia does not have very accepting policies regarding their LGBTQ+ citizens.
My organization is also impactful as it provides helpful information and encourages women to actively make their lives better. Sister Namibia is formally defined as a feminist organization, so they work to inform women about their bodies, mental health, what it means to be a woman, and much more. They produce a quarterly magazine that is distributed all throughout Namibia. My supervisor explained to me that feminism is a Western word that does not have a specific or one-word translation in most of the languages spoken in Namibia. This Western influence often turns people off to the organization because they don’t want Western thought to change or alter their African culture. So, one of the things the organization does is try to define what feminism means in an African context. This can be a difficult process because defining feminism also means defining toxic masculinity. Which is another difficult explanation because you have to discuss regressive behavior, like whistling at a girl from your car, and why that is not appropriate and should not be tolerated. Specifically in Namibia, there is a rape problem in which men often take advantage of women to assert their dominance. Because of this toxic situation, Sister Namibia hosts events to discuss things like this on Saturdays. They have gone to universities and other organizations to try and break down those barriers. Talking with other women and girls, but also men, to educate them on these issues. I find all of this work so fantastic. If women are not educated to appreciate their ideas, thoughts, bodies, etc. then they will never be able to appreciate their wonderful lives.
Sister Namibia also focuses on other women’s issues, like discussions about pregnancy and how to prevent it, as well as other things like reminding women to associate positive thoughts with their menstrual cycle, instead of feeling ashamed of it. Sister Namibia has even produced and tries to distribute reusable pads, called SisterPADS, to prevent young girls from missing school because of their menstruation cycle. The reusability of the pads also helps low-income households because continually buying feminine products is very expensive. I have been incredibly impressed with the work that this organization does. This coming Saturday is a panel on women’s rights at the University of Namibia which I think will be meaningful to listen to. I appreciate being able to understand how women in Namibia think about feminism compared with how I think about it.
So far, I have also been given good work to do, which I appreciate even though I am a brand-new intern. I am working on a short opinion piece about my experience with mental health issues from an American college student’s perspective. I am excited to provide insight into how Valpo has addressed mental health among their students, and hopefully there will be women and other students who read it who can connect to it. Sister Namibia’s goals of forwarding women’s rights and educating the public on how women should be treated is fantastic. As a woman, I resonate with the message they are putting out to Namibian women and girls. Overall, both Out-Right and Sister Namibia are important organizations and I am dedicated to keeping up with both of them even after I leave because I think they are doing such good work!