Until recently, 27-year-old Richelle Furness had no idea that Namibia existed. It was only when she applied to work as a Peace Corps volunteer that she learned about the country, which is now dear to her.
In fact, the young woman who was named Iyaloo, (which translates as ‘Thank you’ in Oshiwambo) by women in the Five Rand informal settlement, already considers herself a Namibian-American.
“Before I came to Namibia, to be honest, I had never heard of Namibia and I thought it was pronounced Nambia. And, so I googled it and I saw the sand dunes, the Himba (ovaHimba) ladies and I was like ‘oh yes, this is where I wanna be.’ This is amazing,” said the free-spirited Furness, who works at a community centre at Five Rand informal settlement.
Every year, the American government sends a group of Peace Corps volunteers to assist Namibia with much-needed skills in areas such as health, education, business and community development.
As a matter of fact, the volunteers’ presence in Namibia dates back to a request made in 1990 by then Prime Minister Dr Hage Geingob for the service of Peace Corps volunteers.
The aim of the volunteer service was to help educate the new nation of Namibia, said American Ambassador to Namibia Thomas Daughton during the swearing-in ceremony of the 44th group of Peace Corps volunteers last week.
Currently, there are 160 Peace Corps volunteers deployed in 13 of the country’s regions. Only Khomas Region is excluded from this.
The 53 Peace Corps volunteers – including Furness – who were sworn in at Okahandja last week underwent ten weeks of intensive pre-service training. Most have since been deployed to various parts of the country.
The Peace Corps prepared the volunteers for what to expect, explained Furness, whose home is in Florida (USA). However, she says she was “over-prepared”, because she was pleasantly surprised to see the level of development in Namibia.
“It’s one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen in my life. Where I grew up its very flat but here it’s very hilly and there are animals. It’s a very beautiful country with beautiful people,” she said, adding that she has thoughts of extending her contract in two years when it expires.
As would be expected of a person visiting a new place, Furness had some culturally shocking experiences with the way meals are prepared here. “The food is absolutely delicious, but ah, maybe I have never seen the preparation of food before,” she remarked.
Other than that, it was obvious from the way she spoke that her experience so far is amazing and every day is a learning experience. Furness spends most of her time at the community centre in Five Rand informal settlement, where she works.
Here, she has not only had the opportunity to experience the way people live, but she has somehow become a part of it and wants to leave a lasting legacy in the Five Rand community.
Furness has been working with the ‘Work of Our Hands’ project, which is run by a group of women in the settlement, who produce handmade jewelry for profit.
“My main project is marketing. Unfortunately, we only have one market, which is the craft centre in Windhoek. Currently the women do not have marketing skills and because that is something I specialise in, I help them to get new markets,” she says.
Her ultimate goal is to get the craftswomen into the tourism sector by getting them “larger jobs”, as well as getting their produce into the American market.
Furthermore, working with young people is something she is equally passionate about. Furness shared that there are a number of programmes and activities lined up for the youth of Five Rand at the centre.
“We just want the kids to have something pro-active to do,” she added. She is well versed in the fields of business management and youth development.
“I chose to join Peace Corps, because of the mission that they have. Their mission is sustainability. It’s not just about handing out, but they are sustaining communities around the world,” said Furness.
She says she wants to teach people how to fish for themselves in order to be self-sustainable: “My desire in coming here was to be able to teach others business skills and when I found out about Peace Corps and Namibia and the need for small medium enterprise, that was it.”
One of Furness’ most remarkable experiences in Namibia so far was her visit to the Omusati Region, where she attended a wedding. “Oh my goodness, I absolutely love the north,” she exclaimed.
The fact that Namibian weddings go on for more than one day in most cases is amazing, she said. It is during her experience at that wedding that she observed how hardworking Namibians can be.
“I love the work of our hands, literally,” said Furness, sharing her experience of pounding mahangu. The beauty of the wedding got her thinking: “This is how I wanna get married”, she said, as she reminisced on the wedding she attended recently.
New Era also caught up with 43-year-old Jamille Shuler, whose aim is to make a positive impact on the country’s Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector. Shuler, who also refers to herself as a Namibian-American, says local people often think she is indigenous (Tswana) until she opens her mouth.
“The people here think I’m Tswana if I do not open my mouth,” says the equally free-spirited Shuler. “I have to speak really slowly, because of my accent,” she adds.
Shuler has mastered a little bit of Afrikaans though. “I’m trying to immerse myself in the Namibian culture”, she says after saying a few words in Afrikaans.
She says she is a lover of meat and in fact, loves kapana. While in Namibia, Shuler says she will learn how to cook pap and fat cakes. “The best pap I have had was with my host family,” she says, while expressing gratitude for the way her host family accepted her into their home.
She has more than 20 years of experience in business and has been working with SMEs during her stay in Namibia. She arrived here in April.
Shuler, who hails from Decatur, Georgia is responsible, among others things, for sharing expertise with SMEs in Okahandja and the surrounding areas.