025_Back from Vacation, and matching donations now possible!

Written: 26 March 2017
Posted: 26 March 2017

Last night (Saturday), I returned from a nine day vacation in the Kunene Region (used to be called Kaokoland) of Namibia – North West corner of Namibia, next to Angola, and just east of the Skeleton Coast. It was serious four wheel drive country, and this was definitely not your usual tourist jaunt! We were in the heartland of the Himba people, the tribe that adheres to their customs more closely than any other tribal affiliation in Namibia. Fascinating! I’m going to make a post on that trip, with photos, soon.

For now, I wanted to let everyone know that a friend of mine has offered to make matching donations for new donations until the grant to start the Sustainable Poultry Project is filled! Thank you so much, “J”.

We need to raise another US $2,000 or so to complete the grant, so if you haven’t already contributed, please consider doing it now! You will need to let me know via personal email, or on this blog with a comment, so the exceptionally generous donor can match your contribution. Your donation will be doubled! 

I feel a little like NPR! But we really need your help. Also you could mention this to people you know who might be willing to contribute anything! I’d LOVE to complete the grant in time to announce it Thursday evening this week when Penduka is hosting the American Ambassador, the Turkish Ambassador, the Governor of Khomas Region, and the Mayor of Windhoek with the entire Municipality Council! The Thursday event is a big deal!

Go to https://donate.peacecorps.gov/donate/project/sustainable-poultry-project/, or use this link to DONATE, or tell people to go to www.peacecorps.gov/donate and search out the project under my name, or under “Namibia” (Sustainable Poultry Project).

100% of all donations go directly to the project, I am personally responsible to the Peace Corps for grant accountability, and when this is done the programs for eggs and broiler chicks are self-sustaining; never needing another grant to keep producing eggs and meat for the community around Penduka Village, and making a profit for Penduka Trust. 

Penduka helps empower women and their communities to improve their own lives. Please help us fulfill this mission statement.





024_Penduka’s Sustainable Poultry Program

Written: 15 March 2017
Posted: 16 March 2017

See a video of Penduka, and my work here, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15ck5vSuwOs.

“Penduka helps empower women and their communities to improve their own lives.”

That is the Penduka Trust mission statement, and Penduka Village needs your help in this mission. The village management is starting a broiler chicken program (meat chickens, as opposed to layers for eggs) and they need the equipment and initial day old chicks to get it going.

Once it is started, the program is FULLY SUSTAINABLE! It will provide income for Penduka Village, and protein for the Katutura community (one of the lowest incomes areas in Namibia, and THE lowest income area in Windhoek), indefinitely – probably for years, maybe decades. No further funding will be required – ever! The Peace Corps is running a donation site that ensures 100% of the money goes to the project with no administration fees.

Over the past year, the women have proven their ability to run a successful poultry operation. We have 109 of the original 150 chicks received one year ago (there were a few “learning experiences”!). They are very healthy, and producing eggs profitably! Egg production rates are around 4.7 eggs/layer/week even six months into their egg producing lives.That is very good!

The laying hens as of 14 March 2017
Layers at 1 year old_P2260003

Liina with one day’s egg harvest.
Liina with a bucket of eggs

The village needs US $3,500 to add to the US $1,500 they have already raised or contributed locally. Contributions can be made at the Peace Corps donations web site for this project. There is no fear of the money going to any other purpose or individual.

Care for the Layers and Broilers is the responsibility of Fillipus Iita, one of the two men of the 30 employees of the village, and over 200+ women that depend on Penduka for their livings for themselves and their families. Fillipus takes care of all poultry and grounds maintenance. He lives here at Penduka.

Fillipus Iita

A monthly Poultry Program Financial Review is run by Liina Shikongo, Sr. Manager for Hospitality. We just started that review process, and it was a requirement that it be successfully started before we went out for this grant.

Liina in her first financial review! Now it happens monthly.
liina at monthly layer profitability review

The program will produce 100 new broilers every two weeks starting about two months after the first chicks are received. Markets near Penduka have agreed to carry some of the slaughtered birds, and some will be sold, live, on the streets of Katutura outside of Penduka. The birds will also supply the needs of the tourist restaurant at Penduka, and some will be sold to the women that work here. We don’t give them away to the women; this is as part of the mission to empower women to take care of themselves – not to just expect handouts.

The village already purchased, with part of their contribution, the next 160 layers. Those chicks are just over one week old.

New Chicks, one day old, on the day of delivery.
Chicks being delivered

The cages that will be purchased with your help look like this. There is plenty of room for broilers, and they are raised organically with no hormones or chemicals other than a one-time inoculation against diseases when they are a few weeks old. The cages have a five year warranty, and are expected to last more than 20 years.

Cages from the inside – a chick’s eye view!

Please make a contribution of whatever you can afford. 100% of it goes to the project and there is no misuse of funds.With 20 more contributions of $100 we can fund this project quickly, but any size contribution is welcomed.

I will post updates to the project on this blog at key events (such as the cages being received and assembled, the first batch of broiler chicks, the first time all four cages are full (six weeks into the program) and the first group of broilers ready for market, plus a time or two in between. You will also see the layer chicks as they grow. It takes them 22 weeks to start laying, and they are just over one week old now.

Liina with one-week old chicks
Liina with new chicks

Just click “Follow” on the lower right of this screen and you’ll get an email of new blog posts when I make them. No other advertising or bother – just an email of the update blogs.

Unless you post anonymously (which is possible), I will get a list of donors and will ensure you get a note of thanks from Kauna Simon, the General Manager of Penduka Village.

Kauna Simon, General Manager of Penduka

Penduka was founded in 1992, and is the oldest continuously operating NGO in Namibia. The Deed of Trust for the registered Trust is to support low-income and disadvantaged women, with an emphasis on women with disabilities, who would otherwise have difficulty finding employment, learn self-respect and be able to earn an income on their own with a small business, or to be employed by other organizations in Namibia.

Penduka fell on very hard times about 10 years ago and was in danger of failing 2-3 years ago, but are in “recovery” with Namibian women managing the village for the first time in its history, and a lot of help is learning how to manage! We have a web shop at PENDUKA.COM and you can see the products made here.

Please donate anything you can! The women are doing a great job of being responsible and making a living for themselves. Their salaries and payments for the piece work done by 180+ women are paid ONLY from revenues they generate – they get nothing from grants or donations, which are used exclusively to start new income generating projects.

Feel free to write if you have questions. Also PLEASE spread the word to your friends or organizations that may be able to help fill this grant! You can tell people to go to www.peacecorps.gov/donate, and search the project either under “Namibia”, or under my name: Andrew Garrison. The project name is “Sustainable Poultry Project“.

Thank you!




023-Just like everywhere, sometimes it’s sad.

Written: 3 March 2017
Posted: 4 March 2017

I have a relative who disagrees with me when I say my experience is that every person, regardless of culture or country, is, at a fundamental level, the same.  But I still maintain that is true. Sure, sometimes you have to look really deeply to see past the cultures, religious beliefs, personal characteristics, and other “stuff” to see the similarities, but they are there. We all just have different ways of dealing with life.

And death. The similarities are easier to see when tragedy and grief are involved, somehow.

Wednesday evening of last week, the son of one of the women here at Penduka was murdered. Thursday morning I went with the women here to her home. It’s not the same everywhere in the USA of course, but in the world I grew up in grief was contained. There was some veneer of control at least, and usually a deep surface obscuring the raw emotion below.

My father was a minister/pastor, and at funerals and such events he was always the one with words that were expected to be spoken. I never got to know him as an adult, he passed away many, many years ago. I have always been sad to realize my memories of him are of being intellectually compassionate, but not ever being able to just “connect” with him or my mother. Somehow he, and she, seemed able to do that with the people in his congregations, but I don’t recall being part of that kind of emotional connectedness within the family.When I tell that to my friends here, they have a hard time understanding it. Family, community, is integral to their existence in a way I am just barely beginning to comprehend. And when a close part of that existence is suddenly taken away …

Lydia, the mother, was more openly suffering from agonizing grief than anyone I’ve ever been around, or even known about. Maybe it was just the first time for me to be around someone that open with their grief but it is more common than I have personally experienced in my own cultural life. So I can’t say it is something unique to Namibians, or Africans, or any particular group. But the rawness of “experience” I see around me every day here has impacted me deeply. There was absolutely no attempt to contain the grief, and those who love her were there strictly for support as she did what she had to do – virtually fall apart emotionally, losing awareness of physical circumstances, appearance, or any semblance of control for at least a few hours on Thursday morning. Wailing and weeping not as a ritual show, but as the expression of the unbelievable pain she was feeling. And the family was just … there. Holding her, just being with her. I have never seen such raw emotion and grief in a human being. I think it would be impossible to be in the presence of such honesty and exposed vulnerability and not be moved to tears. I had absolutely no idea how to be of “use”, and more importantly I realized the most, and best, thing possible was to just be there. I’ve known that about supporting someone for a long time – but not like I understood it Thursday morning.

Later, I was standing in her kitchen listening to her colleagues from work, over 20 women and one man other than me, sitting and standing in the living room singing hymns and just being there. Even from another room, simply being in the presence of the grief the mother was feeling. As I looked at the faces of these women I have grown to know, and to love, in the past 21 months, I saw them each move from quiet awareness, through tears of sadness, to recovery and back again as their own thoughts moved through their consciousness. I could see them imagining their own families, their own children (for me, my daughter), their own frailties, and their own lives somehow being in the position that Lydia was in. Some of the women are in their 20s, some in their 60s, and all ages in between. Each in their own thoughts, flowing in a stream through whatever feeling was engulfing them in their own experience of the mother’s grief. The hymns were all in Oshiwambo, and I only understood a random word or two, but I understood the meanings clearly.

Even without the language, and with a totally different background, skin color, gender, and family situation, I was part of them in a way that I can’t describe. I learn so much from seeing the people here just experience living honestly. It was in stark opposition to the reality of the work world in which I know most of them almost exclusively. Some of them can be bitingly petty in their complaining about work, or each other, or Penduka Management, or any of the other things that people invariably manifest in real life. They are just like people anywhere – different in different situations.

For some reason, I found myself noting the specific conditions of the kitchen, which was really an alcove off of the “living room” – the main room in the house of three rooms. Unlike every other home within a 100-200 meter radius, this home had brick walls. The roof/ceiling was zinc plated corrugated sheet metal, but every other home was entirely made of those same metal sheets – walls, roof/ceiling … everything. Lydia (the mother) had worked hard her entire life and managed to save enough to have a really nice place to live compared to her neighbors. The faux-wood linoleum counters were worn through to white, and cut through as only decades can accomplish by occasionally letting the knife go too far in cutting the meat, or the bread. Only family living can do that to a kitchen. The walls had been painted countless times and in places had chipped so you could see layer on layer of old paint. The joints between the walls and deep corrugations of the ceiling/roof were filled with plaster, or grout, or caulking, that had broken out in places. I knew that what she experienced when it rained was the same as in my home – the sound of every rain drop hitting the roof that is only 2 or 3 millimeters from the ceiling since they were both the same sheet of metal. And when it rained hard (as it is now, as I write this), the sound is loud to the point you can’t hear someone talking next to you. The floor was an uneasy combination of poured concrete, tile, and linoleum that was uneven from the result of years of repairs as inexpensively as possible. The stamped metal sink, like the sink in my home, was the same as in almost every home I have seen here – utilitarian and highly functional. Many homes don’t even have a sink. All the washing is done in a pail outside by the community water faucet. Lydia even has running water in a single spigot over the sink – a luxury in Katutura.

Yet everything was clean – the kind of worn clean that comes from daily care. Even though poor, these people take pride in their homes and in the way they live their lives.

At one point, one of the family members walked around with a picture of the deceased son and let everyone look at, and hold, the image of her son Lydia kept on the wall in her room. It was very moving.

I had no idea what the expectations were for the cultural rituals when we showed up. I simply appeared at the home, and the women, my friends from Penduka and the family members, gently showed me what was expected in as loving a way as I have ever experienced, and often without sharing a common language. The expectations of a man’s behavior are usually very different from the expectations of a woman. Apparently not so in this kind of situation. I have rarely felt so accepted in spite of my differences as in this home of sadness.

The experience of living with a community in an entirely different culture, becoming part of it to whatever degree is possible, is one of the most valuable things a Peace Corps Volunteer can ever experience. I’m sure it varies by community, by individual, and by geography and culture. But at its core, there is so much to be learned.

If I can look back and feel like I’ve been able to give to this community even 10% of what I’ve gotten from them, I will feel fortunate, and useful.

Thursday morning was a very important memory and experience in two years’ worth of valuable experiences. I am in tears as I relive it for these inadequate notes, and I will always be immensely grateful for the opportunity to experience being welcomed into it by Lydia and her community and family.


It is almost anticlimactic to the story, but I felt you needed to have some experience of the Katutura community.


Each of these shelters/homes is made entirely of corrugated zinc coated metal. Over 200,000 people live in these homes, and a very small percentage of them have water in the home, electricity, or even indoor toilets. Most homes in Katutura share a pit latrine for a group of homes in the area. The houses go as far as the eye can see – this is a very, very small percentage of them. And this is within 1 kilometer of the entrance to Penduka where I live. I’ve been going up and down the streets for so long, almost always in taxis, that some of the residents have begun to recognize me and wave when I drive by.Grey hair and a white face are unusual here, and people notice, particularly the children.


022-Nearing the end?

Written: 26 February 2017
Posted:   26 February 2017

I’m writing now, after so long, because my NEXT post (within a day or two) will ask you for your help for Penduka Village. It’s a big deal for Penduka. And I feel terribly guilty asking without giving. So …

In only three and a half months my group (#41) finishes our two year on site commitment and everybody in the group except me heads home. There are 23 of us left, I think. Eight went home early for lots of different reasons, including not wanting to but being forced to return by a health issue. A couple of us will stay for a few more months, up to six for one volunteer, but I plan to be here at least another year, probably two or more, or longer. I don’t yet know if I’ll be here at Penduka or move to another site. That decision won’t be made until May after we get to know the new group of volunteers arriving to “replace” my group. And my extension is not “for certain” yet. The Country Director for Peace Corps Namibia has to approve my request to extend, and it’s been delayed a few times for one reason or another.

Every day here at Penduka is a challenge in one way or another. I haven’t travelled much, partly because I’ve travelled a LOT in many places of the world in the past 45 years and I’m mostly interested in people and cultures, and there is plenty of that right here in Windhoek. Also, there isn’t someone I can travel with, personally, and I’m not a “group travel” type. I also feel that Penduka has been best served by my being around. As an older volunteer, the part of Peace Corps Service that is absolutely valid – giving people an opportunity to see parts of the world they may never have the opportunity to see again – is less important to me than the opportunity to use some of the decades of life experience I have to try and contribute something to people I have grown to love and admire.

Like virtually anything one admires, there is also a less positive side to life here. Some of what I see here in Namibia, and at Penduka, is fundamentally disturbing to me. The people in Namibia – not all but many or most – seem not to have the drive to “get ahead”, to better their lives. Discussions as to “why that is” go on for weeks, months, years, and there is no clear answer from anyone. Some of the causes listed by all of us striving to understand include: colonialism, a history of Apartheid, village/tribal histories and customs, largely rural backgrounds, the heat, the vast openness of a country twice the size of California with only about 2.4 million people (California has over 39 million – 32.5 times the population density), one of the largest income disparities (gaps) in the world, the fact that “all Africans are that way” (not an uncommon thought, but too general for my taste), and on, and on, and on. And I have to laugh (instead of crying) when I remember one person that suggested it was because of the way “Africans carry babies on their backs and the babies spend years only seeing about two inches in front of their faces.” They were serious. Sigh.

I don’t have a special outlook, and won’t explore it now, but that lack of drive, and what I see to be a general low ability to deal in concepts, is part of what Peace Corps tries to impact in the only way I have come to believe is possible – in day to day living with people, getting to know them, and maybe – just maybe – affecting one or two of them.

With the advantage of almost a couple of years of getting to know 31 people pretty well, a few of them very well, and making literally hundreds of acquaintances, I’ve been able to see that it is manifestly unreasonable to ask someone to change a lifetime of habits to move towards something they have absolutely no experience of. Penduka means “Wake Up” – and that’s what the founders of Penduka have been working for since it was founded. Opening someone’s mind is terribly difficult, as we all (or at least most of us) know. Here at Penduka, due to poor management practices for at least 10 years, the “culture” of the organization/village has become one that is very common in Namibia: distrust, assuming the worst, and thinking “management” is lying. That, combined with a sense of entitlement to just being given a decent living, not realizing it can be earned with individual effort, is the most serious and at times destructive problem here at Penduka specifically, and in Namibia as a whole. My time here has been an effort to try and do something about that, as have all of the other PCVs here.

I often think about what I would say to a group of older people at a recruiting event if I was a speaker at the event. This is likely to happen when I get back to the USA even temporarily. I have come to the conclusion that it is literally impossible to give anyone a summary picture of the 24 hour a day, two year, experience of living here  Of course that is true of living almost anywhere else. I do think the combination of poverty, cultural differences and government realities makes it more difficult here than in many places. But Namibia is probably easier to adjust to than most other African countries. At least that’s what I’m told by people who have been living and working in Africa for three or four decades or more.

But I’m told by PCVs that have returned that re-adjusting to the USA is much harder than adjusting to being here. And that seems to be true for any of the 68 countries Peace Corps works in. I can believe it.

Last week, the third (only three!) tour group I’ve seen at Penduka from the United States came through. We have 6-10 groups a week through here mostly from Europe. The tour guide (Sawa) asks for me ever since his first US tour group almost two years ago. It was fun talking to people without an accent! And being able to just talk without concentrating on being succinct and deliberate in pronunciation takes a little adjusting in itself! But I thought about my daydreams of presenting to potential recruits. And it translated very well to the tour group.

I have a little advice for those of you in the USA who will welcome home a returned volunteer at some point. Give up trying to get a “whole” personal experience vicariously through your returned volunteer, and forgive them if they seem to drift off into thought and seem like they are struggling. The way of life over here is so dramatically different in so many ways there simply is no context for getting a quick (and accurate) “fix” on what it’s like. Sure, bits and pieces can be described if the person is really good at writing, or speaking, and the listener is really good at listening. But the totality? Experiencing some of the personal changes and experiences that came over two years from a 10 minute, or 10 hour, talk? I don’t think it can be done.

So – this time, no pictures. And I’m going to post this purely so I can get something posted and break my literary drought! Sheesh – Oct 30 was my last post? All I can say is that my life here is all consuming, more than anything I’ve ever done. Sure, I’m not great at writing or staying in touch anyway. And my sincere apologies to the many of you who haven’t heard from me personally in WAY too long. But I’m going to try and contact you soon.

I love it here, and it is very, very hard.

And a personal note to my daugher: I have your snake skin for your belt. Killed, skinned and tanned by your dad. It is beautiful. Now I just have to figure out how to get it to you!


021 “My name is Eva, and I am asking for your help.”

Written: 30 October 2016
Posted:  30 October 2016


I have realized recently that probably the greatest single reason I don’t post more entries is that there is always SO much to say! I’m afraid to get started because I want to include it all, and it’s overwhelming.

I don’t seem to be the personality that wants to write, to “put it out there”, as a requirement of my existence. So, even with so much good to say and so many reasonable thoughts, I don’t write at all.

The experiences I have here in Africa, and in the Peace Corps, while not earthshaking in importance, need to be shared with those of you who aren’t in a foreign country trying to establish a life while trying to make a little bit of positive difference with the people I live with. I’m sorry I don’t share more. I spend hours in deep thought about what is happening here – to the people of Namibia, to me, and to my colleagues here.

My normal reaction is to apologize for having the audacity (hubris?) to assume what I say is worth paying attention to.  Or to apologize for not writing more. Hmmm – where is the point, exactly where I don’t have to apologize for anything on either side? Probably doesn’t exist.

Peace Corps life, for me here in Penduka, is unique. But then every Peace Corps assignment is unique. Currently there are about 160 PCVs in Namibia. There were 31 people in my group. Seven of us terminated service early for a variety of reasons, and there are 24 of us left scattered around Namibia. My group arrived here in April 2015 – about 19 months ago out of a 26 month commitment. And we have recently started to talk about our COS conference – “Completion Of Service” – the time we all get together just before our commitment is over in June 2017. How could it have been so long? It literally seems like I got here a few weeks ago. I already know I am extending if the PC permits it, and a number of my group are also considering it.

The latest significant event in my service was this afternoon. It isn’t unusual to have one or two events per day that could easily stick in memory, or that provokes serious thought. What’s different is that I’m going to write about this one – just this one, and get something posted.

This afternoon (a Sunday), one of the women that works here (Emily) asked me in very broken English if I could talk with her daughter (Eva)  who is trying to find a job. Eva is a beautiful and seemingly very smart 25 year old woman with a three year old son and a University Degree in Human Resources Management that she completed in late September, 2016 – one month ago. Emily is a very poor, underprivileged, woman that works in the sewing department. Chances are she lives in a shed made from zinc roof panels hammered together to form a shelter with rugs or sheets hanging from the walls and ceiling to make it a little less “metal” and perhaps to protect from some of the heat. Most of the women here live in this type of shack with a rug over dirt floors, no electricity, no sewage facilities other than a neighborhood  outhouse, and no running water other than a community spigot that serves multiple families. And they raise their families. And they, and their families, are very good people.

Somehow this woman, from conditions of poverty, has encouraged her daughter and made it possible for her to graduate from university. My understanding of these people is so inadequate, and my respect for them is so high. I wish I had words to describe the humility I learn daily in my work here.

Eva speaks very good English, is clearly thoughtful, and very easy to talk to. She contacted me, among others, just to talk and see if I can help her find a job. She was self-confident without being brash, respectful without being supplicating, and I so desperately want to help her if I can.

For me, the fundamentally most difficult part of Peace Corps service is the inability to do anything about so much. And I have it much better here at Penduka than many PCVs do. I can, and do, celebrate getting a solar power installation here that will likely save them over N$10,000 per month, having a role in getting grants from the Khomas Region Governor that made it possible to build a shade net greenhouse, buy 20 new tables for the restaurant, recover/re-varnish 25 chairs in the restaurant, put running water and electricity in the Aquaponics garden, and in fact getting the Aquaponics garden donated by the Finnish Embassy almost a year ago. Also, with your help, getting a small grant to start the poultry/egg farm. (It is doing very, very well – I’ll send a full report on it soon.)  And there are many examples of success here that I cherish. I do know I’m making some difference. The things I list in this paragraph are in my skills set – getting things, getting money, grant requests, networking, business analysis – that kind of “stuff”.

It is so much harder to effect a change in the people, to help them find the “spark” that will allow them to keep moving forward when we go. How do I facilitate a cultural shift that will celebrate their learning the power of being pro-active, of mobilizing themselves and their community to accomplish something that helps them all, to expand their world outside of what they know now? “The mission of Penduka is to help empower women and their communities to improve their own lives.” Daily, I live with the fear that when I do leave Penduka, months or years from now, things will slip back the same as they have for decades before me. Of course there will be some of that, but it MUST get, and STAY, a little better or the women here will continue to slip backwards as they have in the past.

Unemployment here is over 35%, some say over 40%. The income disparity rich to poor is one of the worse in the world. And a young woman is reaching out for help. There is so much that sometimes overwhelms me with the desperation of not knowing what to do to help the person, or even worse knowing there is nothing I can do about some things.