Tag Archives: COSDEC

Our Peace Corps flat

When we learned we would be placed in Rundu, Namibia by Peace Corps, we were excited to see what our new home would be like. Luckily we didn’t have to wait long because our “shadowing” site was Rundu. Shadowing is a chance for Peace Corps trainees to get out into the field and observe and learn from currently-serving Peace Corps Volunteers.

Unlike everyone else in our group, we went for shadowing to the town where we would spend our service. I was happy because we got a sneak preview of our flat and also met with the colleagues with whom we would work for the next two years. In a great collaboration between our two host organizations, Noordgrens Secondary School supplied the flat where we would stay, and COSDEC Tukurenu provided housewares, a bed and some other furniture items. COSDEC trainees also painted the inside of the flat before we moved in as part of their practical training.

flat outside

The view outside from the door of our flat. The plants visible are a lonely basil plant on the left along with my attempts at landscaping that our puppy has mostly dug up by this point. The unfinished reed fence makes a great laundry line! Pigeons love to roost in the abandoned bus garage in the background.

Our flat was originally a bathhouse/locker room when the school was private and then was converted into teacher housing, so it is a bit quirky. The school did some work before we moved in to make the flat more livable like walling off a bedroom in what had been the living room area. They even put tile in the bathroom! The school also built a braai  (grill/barbecue) stand out of concrete that visible in the photo above.

You enter our flat through a metal gate and wooden door and then walk down a newly-partitioned hallway to our living room. Our guest bed makes it nice when we host other Peace Corps Volunteers and friends. This room is also known as our Peace Corps daughter’s bedroom. She is our most frequent guest.

flat living room

Our guest bed/day bed from Noordgrens and our other small sofa courtesy of COSDEC.

We have more furniture than most volunteers because of the combined host organization contributions. Once my replacement gets to site in mid-June, the COSDEC-owned furniture will be used to furnish their flat.

flat bedroom

Our bedroom is spacious and we even have matching nightstands! I took our mosquito net down to clean it and snapped this photo. Usually it is always hanging from the ceiling around our bed.

These photos were all taken with my wide-angle lens so the rooms look a bit bigger than they actually are. Still, our flat is a great size for two people, and we are lucky to have things like electricity and indoor plumbing! We do have to wash our clothes by hand and most of our windows don’t have screens so we have numerous insect visitors.  We also have had frogs in the toilet.

Peace Corps did provide us with a roll of lightweight screen for the windows, but the style of Namibian windows, with a latch inside and with windows that open out makes it impractical to install in the larger windows. We do use our screens on the bedroom windows and combined with our bed net and fan, we haven’t had too many issues with mosquitoes.

flat kitchen

Lisa welcomes you to our kitchen!

Many education and health volunteers in Namibia live in huts either with a family on a homestead or on the school/clinic grounds. You can have a situation where a volunteer has to fetch water from a borehole (well) but has wifi access in their hut. Everyone’s site is a bit different. Up until a week ago, we were the only “town” volunteers in Rundu without hot water, but thanks to some major renovations to the flat next door, we now can take warm showers! It is a nice treat for the last three months at site.

flat kitchen

Opposite view of our kitchen showing our water filter, stove and refrigerator. We struggled with an old fridge for six months before it finally died. It made us realize how much you actually don’t need to refrigerate (milk, butter, leftovers are fine for one day, etc.).

flat bathroom

Our bathroom with separate doors for the shower and toilet. The jerrycans under the sink are the back-up if we lose power and water, but luckily we have only had a day here and there without power (which eventually leads to the water also stopping) since we arrived.

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Recycling when there is no recycling program. Part 2: aluminum cans

alcohol stove in action

Our power was out earlier today, so the alcohol stove came in very useful even in our relatively modern flat. The empty steel food cans are being used just as a tripod for the pot of water. As a disclaimer, the stoves should not be used in an enclosed space indoors, but we had windows open and used the alcohol can right on our stove top.

Due to the long distances between towns and the low overall population density, it is not cost-efficient to implement recycling programs in the far reaches of Namibia. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Rundu, Kavango East Region, it was difficult to see all of the aluminum cans and other recyclables scattered in trash piles all over town, when there is such economic potential. In my first post on recycling, I highlighted some uses for glass bottles.

As a hiker and backpacker (trekker), I was familiar with alcohol stoves made from aluminum cans, but never tried one until our friend Ryan made one for us as a gift. His stove is featured in the photo above and, as Ryan is an engineer, it is pretty advanced for this genre of stoves. I was looking for a technique to make these can stoves not requiring as many materials or tools and found this great tutorial on YouTube.

alcohol can stove

Test run of the easy-to-make alcohol stove.

The other nice thing about the stoves in the YouTube video is that the pot can go directly on the stove itself so you don’t need a separate pot stand, but elevating it a bit would probably be more efficient. A windscreen is also definitely recommended for these types of stoves. I’m going to research making a windscreen out of aluminum cans cut into strips as shown below. I’m hoping to run a short course sometime next month at COSDEC to demonstrate how to make these stoves.

aluminum can rectangle

Aluminum can cut into a rectangle for potential use.

These can stoves are also great because the fuel is just denatured alcohol or methanol (sold sometimes as HEET), which is available all over the world in hardware stores, grocery stores or pharmacies. The fuel burns cleanly, especially if your stove is well-made and produces nice blue flames.

methylated-spirits

Here in Namibia, alcohol that can be used in these can stoves is sold as “methylated spirits.”

This Instructables link has an interesting idea to use aluminium can rectangles as roofing shingles. I’m not going to attempt aluminum smelting in my remaining time in Namibia, but I think it would really have potential especially since the molten aluminum can be cast in sand (of which there is plenty here). Here is an example of how to make an aluminum foundry. Here is another good post on how to cast a bowl out of molten aluminum.

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Three months to go!

Our Peace Corps Service in Namibia has now entered its final three months with our Close of Service date scheduled to be July 17. It is hard to believe time has gone so fast. We would normally be departing in September, but due to changes in Peace Corps Namibia intakes to combine Health and CED (Community Economic Development) volunteers, most of the CED volunteers from Group 38 get to depart two months early.

kavango river sunset

We will miss sharing sunsets and sun-downers with our friends at Kavango River Lodge. This view is just a short walk from our flat.

We are looking forward to traveling and returning to all of the comforts of life in a developed country, but we are sad to leave friends and colleagues behind (as well as the animals of Rundu). You may have noticed that we have been much better bloggers lately. We realize that time is against us and have been working hard to try to capture as many highlights and activities as possible to share a record of our experiences here.

josh with trainee

A COSDEC trainee from my latest entrepreneurship class. I’ll miss this guy!

It is a good time to reflect back on more than a year-and-a-half of service and figure out some of our post-Peace Corps plans, which includes a pretty big trip around Africa and Southeast Asia! It has been a challenging two years for us personally as well as for the greater Peace Corps Namibia community. Two volunteers died during our service here, which is very tragic for their families and rare for a post to have to face.

I definitely learned a good deal about a very different culture and business environment. Personally, it has given me the courage to start my own business someday soon, since I have worked with Namibians who lack basic business knowledge and who have to work through much more adversity than I would with all of my resources in the U.S. They are able to start businesses and make them succeed in a place where 50% of the population lives on less than $2 a day.

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COSDEC Handover Ceremony

This post is a bit belated but represented an important day in my service: the official handover ceremony between the Millennium Challenge Account – Namibia and COSDEF/COSDEC on 8 October 2014. COSDEC Tukurenu in Rundu was honored to be the host of this event which featured dignitaries from Namibian local, regional and national government as well as diplomats from the United States.

COSDEC-gate
COSDEC stands for the Community Skills Development Centre. Our mandate is to train out-of-school youth and other community members in trades so they can find employment or start their own businesses. COSDEF is our foundation and central office in Swakopmund.

From the MCA-N wesbite:
The MCA Namibia Compact, providing grant funding for public investments in Education, Tourism and Agriculture (livestock and indigenous natural products),was signed on 28 July 2008 between the Republic of Namibia and the US Government, acting through the MCCAn amount of US$304.5 million will be available for development in the target sectors, over and above current Government allocations and assistance from other development partners.

The Goal of Namibia’s MCA Compact is to reduce poverty through economic growth in the Education, Tourism and Agriculture sectors.

trainees-line

Some of our trainees line up to welcome the guests.

A major beneficiary of this donation was COSDEC/CODEF. Many COSDECs around Namibia received brand new centres, including the centre in Rundu. Other centres received additional training facilities, tools and equipment. Since moving to the new facility and receiving equipment, COSDEC Tukurenu has doubled the number of trades offered to eight. It has also allowed us to serve more trainees in our existing courses. As an example, we increased the number of office administration students from 40 to 80.

ms-kafuro-with-plaque

On the right is COSDEC Tukurenu Centre Manager Clemence Kafuro holding the MCA plaque that is now viewed by all visitors as they enter our administrative building.

All of the centre managers from the various COSDECs around the country attended the ceremony. Other dignitaries attending included COSDEF founder and Chairman Hon. Nahas Angula (He is also the former Prime Minister and Education Minister) and U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires, John Kowalski.

COSDEC-head-table

The VIP table and other attendees of the ceremony.

COSDEC choir

The COSDEC choir performed original music at the ceremony.

cultural-performance

Cultural performance group in traditional Kavango dress.

josh-with-mca-and-charge

From left, a representative from MCA-N, U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires John Kowalski and U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer Joshua Shusko.

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What Josh does in Namibia

Apparently many people don’t know what I do here as a Peace Corps volunteer in Namibia.

Today I will reveal the mystery. First, even though it might seem that way from my past posts, I don’t just take trips to fun places. We have been lucky enough to see many of the beautiful landscapes of Namibia in the past year-and-a-half, but much more often I am in the office.

I work for COSDEC Tukurenu, a vocational training centre located in Rundu, Namibia. COSDEC stands for Community Skills Development Centre and there are about eight similar centres across Namibia. Thanks to a grant from MCA Namibia, a large brand new facility was completed just before I joined the team in September 2013, and this new centre has allowed us to expand our number of courses from four when I started to eight in our most recent intake this month.

I am a CED (Community Economic Development) volunteer and our overall CED goals in Namibia have to do with training people in business and financial literacy skills. At COSDEC, I have the opportunity to work with many trainees who might go on to start their own businesses because there are not enough jobs in the formal sector. Youth unemployment is very high at 41% (2013 Namibia Labour Force Survey PDF file).

Many of my job duties, especially early on, were to assist the centre with the new management and reporting systems that were put into place ahead of the large investment from MCA-N. I helped with budgets, quarterly reports, the centre business plan, policies and procedures, etc.

At the same time, I was part of conducting some community needs assessments, both in town and in rural villages, to determine the skills training needs. Based on the very low level of knowledge and high demand for business skills, I created a curriculum and conducted an entrepreneurship course last May. The new centre features an annex called the Business Development Centre where we can conduct business courses and provide career services to our graduates. Here are some photos from the May 2014 entrepreneurship class.

classroom

class photo

Since that class, I have also conducted business trainings in rural areas, using a translator to help me get across the key concepts. I’ll talk about the groups I trained and more about that program in future posts.

Last week, I got to play the role of math teacher as I conducted a two hour numeracy course with all of our trainees. My COSDEC centre manager, Ms. Kafuro, co-taught with me for some of the classes as her schedule allowed. Here she is in action. She was much better at teaching the metric system than me!

numeracy class

For some of our students, this class was very basic and review, but as we are a community skills development centre, our classes are open to many in the community who did not advance very far in the public school system here. Many Namibians lack the math skills needed to operate a business or even to be productive in a technical trade such as joinery.

More about what I do in future posts…

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