Sunday, December 19, 2010

Working in Omuthiya

So...LOTS has happened since I last wrote. The first few weeks at site have been exciting and lots has happened with the new library. The 10 computers in the computer lab are all set up and the materials from the old library have been transferred over to this building. After LOTS of obnoxious phone calls on my part, an electrician and the internet technician came on the same day to work together to get us connected to the web. Now, community members will be able to use the internet for FREE when the library is finally open (although when that will be is unclear...and might not be for awhile). It also took FOREVER to shelve all the books that we already had even though the materials only fill three of our MANY shelves (our library is big - two floors!). The result is kind of a sad, lop-sided looking library.

I’ve been corresponding with a volunteer who will arrive when the new group of health volunteers comes in February, Neil, and mentioned to him how pathetic looking all of the empty shelves were. He jumped at the chance to help and has been running a book drive out of North
Carolina, where he lives, to gather books and materials for the library in Omuthiya. SO many people have been coming to the library to check it out even though it’s a bit of a walk off the main road. They all seem really excited and can’t wait for it to be open. Due to security, we aren’t allowed to let anyone use the materials in the library, but as people have been coming, I’ve asked them to write down what types of books and materials they’d like to see here. (I’ve also been asking them to write down their information if they are interested in taking computer classes when the library opens and we already have a full page of people who have expressed interest!) I passed the materials list along to Neil in North Carolina and he has been working his
butt off. What started as a small supply drive for the holiday season with the goal of collecting 10 boxes of books has exploded. So far, over 40 boxes of books have been collected and the drive is still going strong. Neil estimates that there are about 1,000 books worth $4,000 US dollars including atlases, dictionaries, encyclopedias, teacher resources, college textbooks, and K-12 textbooks. So many different organizations and entities are involved: the local Gold’s Gym, ECU AmeriCorps, the local NBC affiliate, several local schools, the local library and the local college bookstore to name a few. It’s been amazing to see how Neil has rallied his community to help ours here in Omuthiya and I can’t wait to see the results.

The one issue is getting all of the stuff that he’s collected shipped over here. It’s going to be VERY expensive and there’s also VAT tax that costs an additional 15% of the value of what is entering the country. I’ve been trying to figure out the logistics of shipping which has been (and probably will continue to be) a slow, frustrating process, but hopefully we can figure something out before Neil leaves to come to Namibia in February. Any ideas from anyone at home?

I am really excited about the opening of the library. As I said before, people inquire all the time about when it will open and it’s really tough to have to turn them away (by instruction of my boss) when I know there are so many great resources available to them here. One day, I saw two of the learners (what Namibians call students) who live on my homestead in town and invited them to come check out the library. They were astounded when they walked in. They both immediately picked up books and magazines, plopped on the floor and started flipping through totally enthralled. It made me feel really good about what I've been doing and really excited about getting the place up and running.

I’ve also been helping my supervisor work on a 5-year plan for all of the libraries in our region. I attended the meeting where the plan was presented and was pretty excited because I felt like the Ministry of Education employees were actually listening to me. It will be cool if/when the things that I helped to plan will actually be carried out.

Additionally, I met a local teacher at the event that Meme and Tate took me to where Namibia's first lady was speaking. He teaches English and I think is also the HOD (Head of Department) for English at the school in my village. I get the feeling that he is a real go-getter and I was excited to meet him at the event. A few weeks later, he called me to say that he had acquired a donated set of Scrabble and asked if I would be able to come help teach his English class how to play the game. Teaching those kids Scrabble was REALLY fun. They were SO enthusiastic about it would 11th grade American students be enthusiastic about Scrabble? I don't think so...) and were also pretty excited about improving their English. The circuit inspector (the person who is in charge of all the local schools in our circuit, or district) heard about what we were doing and was so excited about the idea that he asked us to teach all of the local principals about Scrabble. So this local teacher and I presented what we did at the circuit principals' meeting to about 40 principals in the area. It was exciting. I also gave my contact information to the principals to tell them I'd love to come help at their schools. I already got a call from one who needs help with the computers at her school so hopefully I will be starting that project after everyone returns from the holidays in January.

LOTS more has happened since I last wrote but I will stop here for now. This week I will be headed down to Swakopmund, which is a coastal town here in Namibia, for 10 days of camping on the beach and to celebrate Christmas and New Years with my fellow volunteers. I hope to get Chinese food and see a movie on Christmas because both of those things are available in Swakop! The entire area of Swakopmund is supposed to be beautiful: one of the few places in the world where the desert meets the ocean and home to the biggest sand dune in the world. We may also take a road trip up the coast for a few days and who knows what other adventures we’ll find while we’re there (skydiving, duneboarding, four-wheelin', bungee-jumping…)? I CAN’T WAIT!

P.S. Sorry no photos on this blog. I'm not typing from my own computer! I'll upload some photos of the library and the kids playing Scrabble ASAP!


  1. You go, girl! Great work!
    Sounds like I could take some networking lessons from you!

    Have a great vacation.
    Cousin Amy

  2. Very nice, Julie!! Reading your entries is so exciting and motivating. I hope y' all had a great time at the beach.

  3. Hey, Julie. I am setting up a fundraiser app on my Facebook page via Paypal. The goal will be to encourage and motivate many people to donate just a little and spread the word. I have a premier account, so everyone can donate regardless if they have a Paypal account.