Penduka: the report
With a 24-hour bus ride we're crossing our last border, our last frontier. Although South-Africa and Namibia used to be one country until 1990 (Namibia was a colony of South-Africa), yet this border is an important transition for us. Where South-Africa at times has been very Western, we identify Namibia more with the African standard that we're used to for the last 4,5 months.
Namibia is a good illustration of the diversity among the various states in Africa. Like many other countries in southern Africa, but in contrast to countries in Central and Northern Africa, Namibia's economy is rising. That the general level of prosperity is higher here than in other countries becomes clear when we head to our final project on Wednesday morning. Penduka, a society-wide development project in Katutara, is located 10 minutes outside the center of the capital Windhoek. However, the township of Katutara is more developed than many suburban areas we have visited over the last 5 months. The people living in Katutara are absolutely not without problems, as we learn later, but the overall standard seems to be relatively high compared to other countries. During our visit to Penduka this observation will appear more often.
In the morning we are welcomed by Christien Roos. Christien has been in Namibia for over 30 years, co-founded and built Penduka from the ground up. The project has a long history.
Before Penduka was founded in 1992 Christien worked in Namibia for quite some time already. As a 20-year-old occupational therapist, she traveled to Africa full of energy and ideals. God only knew she would never leave. During her first job at an organization that works with people with disabilities, Christien gained some important experiences. The women she treated always fitted a similar picture: little or no education, therefore little chance on a job and a handicap that further reduced these opportunities. After five years with this organization Christien had an even clearer picture of the kind of work she wanted to continue doing: Providing a framework within which women were taught certain skills with which the could earn an living.
For some time Christien did this work for the local government. Over time the work felt more like image-building for the mayor than empowerment of women. Christien decided to start her own organisation, largely with the team she worked with in the municipality. Penduka (which means "Wake up") was established and some farms started giving training courses on a small scale. Through relations in the Netherlands Penduka raised 10,000 guilders, enough to start-off and run the organization. They bought a car, rented an office and with only a few machines Penduka started selling blankets. Step by step the organisation grew. The program was expanded, the training was expanded and there was support from the Norwegian embassy. From these investments new machines were purchased and full-time salaries were paid.
In 1992 Penduka moved to Brakwater, a great location full of possibilities, where the organization expanded quickly. Four years later Penduka settled in its current location, on the former grounds of a German Yacht Club. Now, in 2015, Penduka is close to officially acquiring the land from the local government.
Today Penduka grew into a large, broad project that has much impact in the community of Katurara. During the tour around the beautiful complex on the outskirts of the Goreangab-dam, we can see how diverse the work of Penduka is. The brand Penduka has a huge collection of textile products that are produced by hand by the women of Katatura. In addition there is all kinds of handmade jewelry. For this production, which supports hundreds of women in Katatura with an income, Penduka supplies raw materials and training. Off the sales the salaries of the women are paid. Apart from the product line there is also Penduka hospitality. On the beautiful complex of cabins, houses and dorms tourists from Windhoek have a wonderful place to spend some time. The housekeeping, restaurant and services needed to keep dozens of people here are all in place. Lastly, Penduka also has a medical branch that treats and provides aftercare for hundreds of HIV / AIDS and tuberculosis patients. Moreover, after they recuperate the people can sustain their future livelihoods through a job within Penduka. The medical branch is independently funded by the World Fund, and might be split from the Penduka organisation soon. To us its very impressive how many different branches are covered by the project.
Penduka has some very strong points that make her a special project. First, the broad framework allows one to not just bet on one horse, which makes the project as a whole more stable. Additionally Penduka is purposely designed as a 'trust', which means that ultimately the local community runs the project as much as possible, independent of outside interference. As founder Christien definitely plays an important role in the affairs of the organization, but the locals are empowered wherever possible to independently run the project. Penduka belongs to the people, they say here. Significant in this regard is that Christien not even has a position on the board of Penduka, but that she only has an advisory role. Then Penduka has a very significant advantage over many development projects: there is money earned. The products and services ensure that Penduka's organization has a stable financial basis to build on. The project is not constantly dependent on uncertain donations and gifts. Making money is often seen as something dirty in the development sector, but the reality is that a stable income generation is often the basis for successful social development. The benefit that Penduka hereby also has, is that there are plenty of possibilities for growth. There is a lot of demand for the products and new global markets are being explored, including Asia. In addition there is huge potential in the hospitality department. When Penduka succeeds in attracting more people to its complex and in creating a name for itself, the sky just might be the limit.
Of course there are still some challenges remaining for Penduka. Continuity is always a challenge, and there will always be a variation in the demand for the products. Moreover, the hospitality department has a big challenge to get more people to the complex at a constant level. Finally, for the long term it is of course important that the board of the organization remains in good hands.
At the end of our journey Penduka is a project that demonstrates an extreme. Penduka is a development which fits well into In2Afrika's philosophy of small-scale, local development, but is clearly more advanced than other projects that we have experienced. The project shows how a good, stable economic base will take you a long way. At its peak, more than 600 women from Katurara earned an income through Penduka, either fulltime or parttime. Simultaneously Penduka also shows that development work is never finished. A successful project will run into its own problems. People get used to a certain successes and a certain luxury, so everyone must be kept with both feet on the ground. Moreover it is one thing to be successful, but it is a whole other challenge to stay successful. Therefore, for Penduka the biggest challenge might be to maintain the high standard that currently exists and to expand where possible. For the latter, we see nothing but great opportunities.
Perhaps there is an important lesson in our last project. With a development project you're never finished, you're not working towards a final goal. When conditions become too comfortable laziness easily kicks in, and therefore a certain level of challenge and tension must always be maintained. Luckily, we won't run out of challenges any time soon.