Driving back through the stunning Waterberg region of central Namibia on Friday afternoon, it struck me what a broad range of British activities I had been involved with during the week.
I travelled out of Windhoek for the day to visit two groups of young British students working on school community projects with UK educational expedition company World Challenge. It was a great opportunity to see what they were up to and get a taste of the challenges in the rural education sector.
I was joined by our new British Council country director, Dr Becky Ndjozo-Ojo. Dr Becky is a former Namibian Deputy Education Minister, and an ideal guide for such a venture. She is also Herero (dominant tribe of the area) and was able to fill me in on the rich history of the area, which saw a major turning point in the country’s colonial history. It was in the foothills of the Waterberg Plateau that the Herero people lost their last and most major battle against the German colonial forces at the beginning of the last century and retreated from the area eastward to what is now Botswana.
Back in the present day, the British students were battling with their first taste of camping in Africa, and basic brick-laying and decorating.
Our first stop was to visit a team of 15-17 year old pupils from Blackheath High School and Leeds West Academy, who were constructing a kindergarten to house some 30 local children. They were living under canvas and working on the site for a week before heading on to trek up the Skeleton Coast collecting litter. All the young British volunteers had funded their trip themselves through an array of inventive fund-raising activities. It was back-breaking work but everyone was in remarkably good spirits. They were all excited to be building something from ground level to remain as a permanent structure. The pupils from the newly completed inner city Leeds academy were particularly struck by the parallel with their own newbuild school.
Some 5km east of Okarara, we met up with a similarly aged team from Our Lady of Sion School in Worthing, who were renovating class rooms at Waterberg Junior Secondary School. It was the first time the buildings had been properly renovated since their construction in 1974. The school’s headmaster was delighted at the energetic young British assistance and told us they were “truly making history”. The British pupils were enjoying being local celebrities, and the before and after evidence of their hard work was remarkable. Several confessed to being shocked at how little the school had in terms of equipment and even basic furniture. The experience had really opened their eyes to the need for basic supplies and inspired them to start thinking of ways to continue their engagement with the school and country after their return home.Back in Windhoek that night, I met up with two senior British police officers from the UK’s prestigious International Training Academy at Bramshill. They had just spent two weeks working with the Namibian Police Force (NAMPOL) on a part High Commission-funded programme to advise on local police training needs. I was delighted to discover that their visit marked the start of a programme of ongoing activities.
Earlier in the week, I met with the Namibian National Olympic Committee to explore ways of working in partnership to enhance our sporting links and maximise the opportunity of the forthcoming London 2012 Olympic Games. My work is made easier by Namibia’s proud history of sporting excellence. The country boasts internationally renowned athletes, like the great Frank Fredericks, who recently laid the final piece of turf in the now completed Olympic stadium with Lord Sebastian Coe. We are working on a special Olympic page to add to our UKinNamibia website to capture this activity.
I also met with a number of British business interests, ranging from a FTSE 250 mining company investigating fresh opportunities in the local mining sector, to an established London-listed mining giant, who briefed me on developments in their specialist market. I conducted two oath swearing ceremonies to grant British nationality to new members of the UK community here. Then, with the CEO of a local distributer, I discussed ways of using our buildings in Windhoek as a venue to launch a new range for a major British brand. We need to ensure that all our assets are creatively deployed to support our commercial diplomacy goals. Later, at my children’s school’s sports day, I bumped into some British parents working in a mix of local enterprises, including travel/tourism, and discussed resurrecting a British Business Group to help support UK interests in Namibia.
So this week my UK-Namibian activities have spanned the education, security, consular, sporting, tourist and commercial sectors. But I am conscious that this is probably just scratching the surface of British involvement in this vast country.
I am keen to learn more about the wealth of UK links and activities here – and, in an effort to capture and log UK involvement more effectively, we have just started a UK mapping exercise. So if you are involved in or know of any existing or potential British ventures in Namibia, do let us know. We would like to literally and figuratively put this on our map – and build up a more detailed picture of the UK in Namibia.
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