013_Penduka, and a little help from my friends

Post Title: 013_Penduka, and a little help from my friends
Written Date: 10 Dec 2015
Posted Date: 11 Dec 2015

First a little about Penduka, then a request – an important one – at the bottom of this post.

Penduka is big, complex, and an honor to work with. Penduka Village is at Lat -22.526440(S), Lon 17.015542(W). Look it up on Google Earth by entering “Penduca Craft” (it is misspelled in Google, but that will find it). It is on the shoreline of the Goreangab Dam Reservoir, one of the drinking water sources for Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.

Penduka_Google Earth

The little silver square at the bottom left is the roof of my home. The big square(ish) building houses a restaurant, kitchen, terrace, dormitory for 7 women that live here, a large conference room, a workroom for batik (I’ll show you that in a later blog), a room where about 15 women sew using up to date Singer industrial machines just given to us by the Namibian Government, two kilns and a room where pottery is made and hand decorated, a little bit of office space, and a store room for inventory. On the roof on the right of that big building you will see two sets of solar arrays – insufficient, and donated by (I think) the Spanish government, but welcomed. Our electricity bills are enormous mostly due to ineffective three phase power distribution lines that just grew, unplanned, as the site grew over the years. It can be fixed, but it will cost – and we don’t have the money. The greyish roof in the middle left to right and slightly below center vertically is a room where deaf women make glass beads out of recycled bottles, and where 35 women from the surrounding community (Katutura) and about 150 women from the rural areas around Oshiwarongo (about 2 hours north of Windhoek) gather periodically to deliver embroidery work they do on a piecework basis. Penduka employs 31 women who work here regularly (24 of whom are bussed in and back every day from the community), and four men who are the guards and grounds keepers, and all four of them live here. And I live here.

It’s not exactly your “hut in the bush”, but it is resoundingly African. Not the African I took for granted with roaring lions, elephants, giraffes and water buffalo wandering around but the very real Africa of today, including highly venomous snakes! In the six months I’ve been here I’ve killed two Puff Adders and helped capture a 1.6 meter Black Neck Zebra Cobra (spitting cobra). Not unusual for Namibia. And it is incredibly beautiful. Here is a shot of my house from the water.

Bottle House from the water

The building on the left is my house, and you can see the bigger production/restaurant building through the trees on the right side. This is about 1/4 of the waterfront.

The purpose of Penduka is to support low income, underprivileged women in Namibia with a priority for helping disabled women. Of the 31 women who work here, seven are deaf. Yes, I’m learning some sign language. It’s the only way to communicate with them!

Penduka is a registered welfare organization and a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) – for sure one of the oldest, possibly the oldest, such organization in the Republic of Namibia, which is 25 years old as an independent country this year. Penduka is 23 years old, and for the past several years have been barely scraping along due to lack of good internal management. That’s why they requested a Peace Corps Volunteer, and got me. I am honored to be here, and totally and completely overwhelmed with the work.

When I got here, I did the normal thing of making lists of “stuff” that needed to be done. So let’s look at the business that goes on here. The hospitality section runs a restaurant with full kitchen, six “rondelles” or guest lodges, five “backpacker lounges” with five beds each and external toilet/shower facilities, a convention center, and cultural dancing for tour groups. The Penduka Village Artisans are the women that produce batik, embroidery, sewing, pottery and bead work. The Hospitality section also runs a brand-new “pedal boat” business (we just got the boats donated last month by the Turkish Embassy) that we’re still trying to get going, a large garden that was just restarted two months ago from being dormant, and a poultry house/egg farm with currently about 100 layers, but they are starting to die off and get unproductive. You’ll see more on the egg farm at the bottom of this posting – please make sure you check it out.

Just last week, we were approved to be the first installation of an “Aquaponics” facility that has been in development by the Finnish Government through an NGO “Fish Farmers of Namibia”.  We will be raising Talapia fish in a 1 cubic meter tank, using the water to flood seven or eight 1 meter square gardens filled with gravel and/or charcoal where the algae and bacteria convert the fish water nutrients into nutrients useable by vegetables (spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, etc.) and the water flowing through the gardens is recycled through the fish tank. We will use the vegetables in the restaurant, maybe sell some of them, and use/sell the fish periodically for food when they are replenished by fingerlings (baby fish). We will also have a “domestic” unit that is one cubic meter total, and has the vegetable garden on top, the fish growing below, and is designed to be in someone’s back yard, providing food for a family or a neighborhood. The community around here is very, very poor and nutrition is a real problem. This project is entirely funded for installation, and when it is completed in early January we will start running it to develop the bacteria, and then start raising vegetables probably in early March. This is a VERY exciting project. We will train people, hopefully find funding to distribute “domestic” units, and supply food to the Katutura community.

Aquaponics_4 Dec 2015

Aquaponics just starting installation. The entire setup will be under shade netting.

The culture here can be frustrating if your goal is to get something done. The people here are also frustrated by it. But things just simply don’t work as well – why? That may be the subject of a future blog. I certainly don’t understand it although I do have a few theories that I think account for a good portion of the effect, and well-meaning people in country and from abroad have been trying to make some impact on it for hundreds of years. I doubt if I’ll have a good way to describe it to you, or to try and fix it (the mistake a lot of people have made). But I came to the conclusion after a few months that the most I can possibly do is to help the women who need to run this place start to develop some new skills at the top, and THEY can try to train and help the rest of the organization because they understand the culture, and communications, much better than I can.

So – essentially I am a mentor. We picked four women who “get it”, and know they don’t have the training or skills, but want to develop them. They are getting better and better – running meetings, understanding schedules, and doing the basic stuff the leaders and managers do. But they still don’t understand percentages well, have trouble with what I consider basic math (averages, multiplication, and “per unit” measurements), and it gets worse with the women in the Artisan section. Their skills are fantastic, and they are smart, but their understanding of basic life and financial skills is astoundingly low or missing entirely. It is an enormous challenge.

I have nothing but respect for the Peace Corps system of Development – one person at a time, from the inside. We are encouraged to the point of being required to develop relationships, to get to be part of the community, and to make whatever skills and education we have available to the local folks so THEY can make the difference. It’s great, it’s slow, and it’s enormously rewarding and effective in the long run. It is, indeed, “The hardest job you will ever love.” I am so very happy here, and so very overworked, and in tears with frustration some evenings, and giddy with small successes on occasion. I enjoy this more than anything I’ve done – ever – I think. (Although flying fighters was pretty fun, as was acting. I can honestly say this is the first business job I’ve really just plain enjoyed.)

So if it’s this big, and does so much, what’s the problem?

Over the past many years, the managers here have been brought in, were often not Namibian, and were often either incompetent or larcenous, or both. Or well-meaning but just did stuff themselves instead of really trying to teach the women how to do it and make it sustainable. Frankly I have a lot of empathy for that – it is very, very difficult to change a culture. As a result, the last General Manager (several years ago), for instance, left taking all of the poultry farm expertise with him, together with a lot of equipment, information, and knowledge. Not good. And left the rest of the organization in relative tatters.

Also, for similar reasons the “training” mission has fallen by the wayside, and the mission/vision of Penduka has become muddy and not clear at all. And it shows in the organization. Last week I did a Vision/Mission training session for the senior managers, and they provided very good response. They have some idea why it is important for everyone to see the same forward vision, at least partially. It’s a start.

Penduka has been operating on a shoestring for the past few years, and struggling to make payroll. And the women here earn just barely over subsistence level income for Katutura, which has one of the lowest income averages in Namibia, which has one of the lowest income averages in the world. There are some very wealthy people here, but Namibia also has one of the highest income disparity measurements in the world (although believe it or not, the United States is catching up! Not opinion, fact.). And some of the poorest work here. And they are fantastic people, but I’m already at four pages in this blog, and will have to come back to this topic.

I was raised by a clergyman, spent my early years in churches in very rich and very poor areas of the South, and I had no idea what it was like to be really poor. That is changing, here. One of the greatest things in my life is becoming accepted as a “family member”, the only “Tate” (pron: “Taa te” where te is like the ta in table. It means man, father) in this family of women. In the past six months I’ve started to become accepted – a member of the family – and it is amazing. Theft and hitting up the American for money is widespread in Namibia, but not here at Penduka. In six months, I have had one, only one, employee who has asked me for anything. The people here will go out of their way to pay back a very small amount when I purchase something for them at the pharmacy or store while I’m in town. And theft here at Penduka is unknown at least internally. We have an environment where we can, and are, making a difference in women’s lives, and trying to set them up for success and self-confidence. And they are helping as best as they know how.

My project over the next three weeks (during the Christmas break – I’m staying right here) is to come up with a business plan for a 3-5 year concept for Penduka that has been informally accepted by the Board of Trustees and the Founder, and the General Manager here.

Now that we have a plan, I am asking for some help from anyone reading this blog. Just a little bit right now while we take small steps to success.

THE POULTRY RESTART PROJECT – We need to add 150 new chicks and a little equipment to our poultry operations here to make them self-sustaining. After that the poultry farm will make a little bit of profit, but also be able to feed people here and in Katutura with fresh eggs (including me!) and selling chickens for meat twice a year. Once we get this going, it will cycle, be sustainable, and will no longer require financial help.

Can you please help out the women of Penduka by helping us fund this poultry restart project? It’s not much money, and you can donate through the U.S. Peace Corps Web site https://donate.peacecorps.gov/donate, select “PROJECTS AND FUNDS“ in the middle of the page, and search me out by name, or by country (Namibia). The direct link to my project is https://donate.peacecorps.gov/donate/project/village-egg-farm-restart/#amount-form.  We don’t get the money until the amount requested from donors (hopefully you!) is raised, which is only $488.89 in US Dollars, so be generous if you can. The Penduka community is supplying $245.19 (33.4%) of the total amount of $734.08 needed. This is N$9,910 Namibian Dollars – a LOT of money in Namibia!

We need to buy and start raising the chicks very quickly to catch the seasons right, and to replace the aging hens that are currently laying. Their egg production rate is dropping, and new chicks don’t start laying for at least six weeks after we get them.

100% of this goes directly to the project, and 100% of the profits of Penduka goes to the women who work here. NOTHING is paid to the Board of Trustees (they are all Namibian, active, and unpaid volunteers), and the Board owns 100% of Penduka. It is corruption free. I am very, very lucky to have this unusual assignment in Namibia.

So please – visit https://donate.peacecorps.gov/donate/project/village-egg-farm-restart/#amount-form and contribute whatever you can. I promise I’ll post pictures of gobs of really cute little chicks peeping all over the place before we steal their eggs and eat them. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

More blogs soon. There is just so much to talk about.




8 thoughts on “013_Penduka, and a little help from my friends

  1. H I was a VSO living at Penduka and the house you say you stayed n was hand built by myself with help from certain members of the community in collection of recycled bottles

  2. REALLY enjoyed this one, Andy! I am contributing to the cause, too. Talked to Jeff today and he will chip in as well. I’ll see who else we can get on board.

    1. Hi SIs! Thank you, I look forward to seeing the ribbon keep moving up towards the goal! And thank you for forwarding the link to friends. This is an amazing place, and we’re trying to keep it afloat, and then to grow!

      1. Hi Gail and Dean. I just got your email, and I am SOOO sorry! I did see this comment, and have distinct memories of replying here in the comment section, but it isn’t there, and isn’t in drafts. I obviously messed up something! It wasn’t a long reply, but it was, at least, an acknowledgement. i deeply regret if you felt ignored – you weren’t. Of course it turns out you didn’t have any way to know that. Sheesh – my bad I guess. Although I’m baffled.

        My internet capabilities here are often really bad, and it is possible I hit “post” just about the time the internet crapped out, and I didn’t wait to see if it had even been saved in drafts. At any rate, again, I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened.

        I had just posted a “Thank You” to everyone when I saw your email.


  3. Great news! So glad you love your work. I just donated to your project. Let me know if you need anything else. I finally retired Oct. 30 and am still trying to adjust. You would enjoy Mark, a new member of the Book Club. I hope you take at least a little time off during the holidays! You will work more efficiently if you take time to rest and relax. Happy Holidays! Myra

    1. Myra – thank you SOOOO much! With any luck we can meet the goal and then the Peace Corps transfers the money to us so we can get the chicks. Please feel free to forward the link and/or WITWIA.COM to your friends. Glad to hear the Book Club is cranking along! Maybe I can SKYPE in some time? It will be 4:30 AM here, but I’m perfectly happy to get up and get on line. Andy.

      1. Most of my friends have their own businesses and have been having problems surviving the last few years, but I will mention the project to a few friends who are still working in the legal field. I will try to figure out how to send the info on your project to the Book Club current members, and ask about SKYPE. We are back to the 4th Wed. next month and are reading The Book Thief. Marilyn hasn’t made it to a meeting since she moved down south, but still manages the Meetup site for us. We miss you both! Take care. Myra

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