Last week was a crazy one for me in Luderitz! Since the end of last month, I have been meeting regularly with the social workers here at the hospital in Luderitz, working out ways we can collaborate on various projects. Though I’m placed with the Ministry of Youth, I’m still a community health volunteer officially – so what better place to get involved with health projects than, well, the Ministry of Health?
We have several plans for future projects and collaborations, but this past week we implemented our first project together: a week of activism against substance abuse. Like too many places, Luderitz suffers from the abuse of alcohol and drugs by some of its citizens. This leads to cycles of violence, mental illness, long term health problems, and many other issues. And even under the best circumstances, alcohol often creates gnawing financial difficulties for many families, as household heads spend money that should be used on education or food on one more beer.
Further, alcohol contributes to other problems in Namibia, as intoxicated individuals are less likely to use a condom, in spite of the wide availability of free condoms throughout much of Namibia.
The Week – What Did We Do?
The Week of Activism program for the past week was suggested by my colleague Praise, one of the social workers at the hospital in Luderitz. Praise is an incredibly intelligent and motivated social worker – and more importantly, he has the perfect heart for his line of work. Praise and I discussed a few goals we had for our week of activism – first, we wanted to target youth in a long-term way through the creation of new TADAH (Teenagers Against Drug Abuse and HIV) groups in our local schools. Second, we wanted to forge relationships with youth and professionals in Aus and Rosh Pinah, 2 distant communities served by the hospital in Luderitz. And third, we wanted to begin conversations with alcohol suppliers in Luderitz – not to threaten their business, but to encourage them to take responsibility to prevent excessive drinking and to report violent drinkers to the police.
Monday – On Monday, we visited the 2 secondary schools in Luderitz and had conversations with principals and life skills teachers. We discussed the importance not only of bringing these messages to students, which these schools are already doing quite well, but of creating opportunities for students to share these messages among one another, and with the broader community as well, through our TADAH groups. The meetings were successful, and this week I will have exploratory meeting with the youth of both schools to see where they would like to take their TADAH groups!
Tuesday – Was the same as Monday, except we took the message to 2 primary schools. We also have exploratory meetings with these schools taking place, though they will occur at a later date.
Wednesday – On Wednesday, we drove about an hour and a half to Aus, the nearest city to Luderitz. Aus is a remote community with a small health clinic and youth center, but with few in-town resources in terms of social work or after school youth activities. For this first visit, Praise and I presented to roughly 40 youth in grades 6 and 7, and also discussed with teachers how we might collaborate in the future.
Thursday – On Thursday, we drove nearly 3 hours to Rosh Pinah, a mining town close to the South African border. Here, we presented to nearly 80 secondary students on the effects of drinking alcohol at a young age and strategies to say no. For this presentation, we also collaborated with the Rosh Pinah police, who discussed the dangers of various drugs to the youth. This presentation was especially rewarding, as afterward a handful of the students, as well as one of the teachers, thanked us for our presentation and asked us to come again sometime.
Friday – On Friday, we got our boots dusty and visited bars in Area 7, one of the poor, corrugated-iron shack communities in Luderitz. The bars, called Shebeens, are notorious for often selling alcohol on credit to already poor communities, in spite of the fact that this practice is illegal. In total, we had conversations with 13 bar owners, reminding them of the laws of Namibia, encouraging them not to sell to minors, and giving them the numbers of police officers to call should violent customers come to their business. In addition, we supplied about 1500 free condoms total, in hopes of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STIs.
Overall, the bar owners were quite friendly to us, and were very open about many of the problems which they encounter. I can’t say for sure whether or not they will be true to what they told us, but at the very least we have confronted them with the problem, and the responsibility they have to reduce these issues as much as they can.
When you combine this busy schedule with a World Cup in full swing, you can imagine the kind of week I had! But truly, I hope there are many more like this one – small actions, big smiles, and important conversations. What else could a Peace Corps volunteer ask for?