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Student Voices from Namibia

Gloria Jepchumba Kurere

I am a senior Human Biology Health and Society Major, Global Health minor, from the small village of Mogotio in Kenya. My main interest is in the formulation, implementation, and evaluation of health policies; and after I graduate I hope to work somewhere in Africa. The opportunity to intern at Polytechnic of Namibia was perfect for me because of the chance for both professional development and total cultural immersion—allowing me to learn about social, cultural, economic, and political aspects of Namibia.


My Experience

At Polytechnic, I worked with the Department of Communication, putting together the first issue of their Science Journal. Given my interest in Public Health and the approaching end to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), my job was to compile a progress report on the country’s achievements and shortfalls in that respect.

I also wrote a piece on Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD); during my visit there was an ongoing outbreak that caused quite a scare to the Beef industry due to the possibility of restriction by European markets. The other challenge was controlling the outbreak. I visited abattoirs and talked to state veterinarians to better understand control mechanisms and stakeholder perspectives. I also visited the Namibian Institute of Pathology, where many of the country’s clinical tests were conducted, to shadow clinicians. I spent time in the HIV viral load-testing department, where I surveyed technicians on viral load testing protocol and adherence.


Before leaving for Namibia I was not sure what to expect. My advance reading seemed to focus on the beauty and culture of the country, but I hoped to build relationships across cultures and to grow personally and professionally while learning and also contributing. I was anxious about fitting in and being socially capable, and I wondered what my host family would expect from me. As an African girl in a mostly patriarchal culture, I assumed I would be expected to uphold the ideal—wake up earlier than everyone else, do housework, and be humble and respectful. Nonetheless I took comfort knowing that my religion, culture, family upbringing, and personal beliefs would guide my experience and help me navigate expectations and new situations.


I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of my cultural expectations and assumptions were unmet. I had expected the streets of Windhoek to be like those of Nairobi—noisy, busy, dusty, and chaotic. However, my home stay was extremely modern and the family highly educated. On the other hand there were many things that turned out just as I had expected, for example the warm African hospitality, which I experienced even before my arrival. After a friendly argument with the Passport Control Officer in Johannesburg about African Union politics, the officer bade me goodbye, calling me “my lady” in a respectful, affectionate tone. This warm hospitality continued throughout my time in Namibia.


I was very lucky that my home stay “mother”— who was older, a mother of three, and a professional—really accepted me and seemed to treat me as an equal. She took me everywhere she went, introducing me to her whole family, and we talked about everything from personal experience to professional life. I liked best when we went to Katutura, a former settlement area for blacks, to meet her friends, who would spend hours gossiping and talking in Herero. Even though I did not understand anything being said, I really enjoyed being there and experiencing their camaraderie and sense of family, which was unlike anything I had ever seen.


I believe that my time in Namibia has made me a more thoughtful and appreciative person. Most importantly, I learned the value of thinking beyond one’s immediate physical, cultural, and intellectual environment. Personal learning is a never-ending process, because there are multiple outlooks that can build on, change, or make us better appreciate our current perspectives. Additionally, I learned to live in the moment and value experience. Knowing that I would be in Windhoek for only a short time and that I might not have the chance to go back made me really value my time and be extra sensitive to the people around me. Seeing as life is much the same in different places, we are constantly progressing and changing; and I think this is a philosophy that I can apply to all my life experiences.