The Namibia Red Cross Society (NRCS) recently bade farewell to its secretary general Dorkas Kapembe-Haiduwa who had been at the helm of the organisation since 2008. New Era (NE)’s Alvine Kapitako spoke to the former secretary general whose tenure ended on December 31 last year, on her time as head of the NRCS.
NE: The mandate of the NRCS is to alleviate human suffering. What are the society’s areas of focus in alleviating human suffering and how were you able to contribute to this as the SG of NRCS?
Dorkas Kapembe-Haiduwa (DKH): “Alleviating human suffering is a broad aspect and in the Namibia Red Cross Society we have four strategic areas on how we address human suffering.
Two areas are programme specific and one area is mobilising the communities to participate and then there is an area where you mobilise partners to come on board.
But, then there is also the leg of supporting. As secretary general, I was the head of management and in order for the donors to trust a specific organisation they need to have confidence in that particular organisation.
So, my major role was to make sure that the systems are in place and they are running smoothly. That is mainly the role that I had played. In communities we need to make sure that the volunteers are in place. I had to make sure that we have enough human resources and we have enough structures that are supporting these. Mainly for me it was just to align these structures around that support, to support the communities.”
NE: What made your mission difficult as SG of the NRCS?
DKH: “I would say that heading a donor funded organisation the challenge would always be the resources. To make sure that you have enough resources to carry out your mandate.
As a business student what you do is you study to make profit and all the books that you read are mostly about running a profit organisation. When you are running a non-profit organisation you apply those principles within the non-profit organisation – it’s only that your profit is not money.
Your profit is the support that is running through to the beneficiaries, the number of people that are accessing that support and so forth. So, my colleagues in the private sector would have a budget that is funded and in a non-profit sector you have a budget that you still look for money to execute it.”
NE: Share with us some of your achievements during your time as SG of the NRCS?
DKH: “Without blowing my own horn (laughs) I think that the achievements are obvious. I would like to think that we have been visible, especially in disasters. I remember when I arrived in 2008 I was hardly a month in the office then it was floods … those major floods.
So, Namibia Red Cross Society was able to mobilise the resources both financially, human and material and to access the people who were affected.
This has been like that over the years. I would think that the relationship with the government has improved. We have strived to really work with the government. We always go to the government and ask them how we can support the government. We sometimes go and tell them of our achievements by delivering our reports, to the extent that the government’s confidence in the nation society has rose and we have started getting a subvention from government.
We support government in disaster management – when there is a disaster we are always on board and we are members of the national disaster risk management committee that is chaired by the Secretary to Cabinet. And also in health some of our major projects are in health, including TB, malaria, HIV/AIDS. We work closely with the government in these areas.
And we are carrying a great load of those community-based activities in health. There are a lot of individual achievements and also organisational achievements.
I think during my tenure we had successfully kept the corporate governance going and we have seen the change of chairs. I started off with tate kulu Andima Toiva ya Toivo who handed over to Professor Peter Katjavivi who handed over to Advocate Bience Gawanas.”
NE: Volunteers are the backbone of the NRCS. From your experience what are Namibians’ attitude towards volunteerism and do they understand what it means to volunteer?
DKH: “I always think when we say Namibians I’m also included (laughs). Namibians … it depends where you are and what you are talking about when it comes to volunteerism. With the evolution of the economy things have changed and we can see clearly that the spirit of volunteerism is fading. However, people want to use the economic force that they have to reach others. There is a spirit of wanting to help but moving my body to go and help can be difficult.
So, they move probably their resources, that’s why when we have campaigns, especially when we had the one on radio, a lot of people pledged to support us financially.
But if you say we have an activity and we need support of volunteers you would find that people, especially those who are working, are not able to come, even if it’s on a Saturday.
Sometimes it surprises us how overwhelming people want to volunteer. When we had the ‘Can shake’ campaign in July last year most companies came on board. However, there is still a need to mobilise the communities to volunteer.
In rural areas it’s much easier because people are supporting each other and to them it’s a privilege to organise themselves under the umbrella of the Red Cross because it irons out their differences and they just focus on humanity – they are not focused on their differences which could also be their strength.
And, even though we have seen such volunteerism happening in the rural areas the scale is not as large we would like to see. I’m sure if this spirit continues a lot of people will volunteer and help their own communities because what is happening is that we have vulnerabilities within our communities and we can resolve these vulnerabilities ourselves as members of those communities.
But, if we organise ourselves in such a way that we are under the Red Cross it’s even better because we would be supporting structures that are behind this great force that can help our communities to develop. It is very important for us to volunteer. If we were to pay for the work that the volunteers do we would not manage. Communities are built through volunteerism, we have seen that, and countries are built through volunteerism, we have seen that. Even people who went to fight and came back at independence did it voluntarily.
So volunteerism is very much important. Community leaders see the difference in the cases where there were no volunteers. In terms of health, the health-seeking behaviours of people where there are volunteers and where there are no volunteers is different.”
NE: Do Namibians understand what the Red Cross is all about and how did you contribute to ensuring that Namibians have knowledge about the NRCS?
DKH: “I’m just thinking how I came to the Red Cross. I also did not really understand the Red Cross very well. That is always where I benchmark whether Namibians have knowledge of the society.
And we also did a study on the understanding of the Red Cross within Namibian communities is very poor. There is an international part of the Red Cross and then there is a national part of the Red Cross. Many times, this understanding is not there. So people are viewing us as a rich organisation and that only the whites will volunteer and if not whites the international people will volunteer, which is not true. We have a national part of the Red Cross and the lack of participation by the Namibian population within the Red Cross also hampers opportunities for Namibians at the international level.
There is an International Federation of the Red Cross and then there is the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society and then there is the International Committee of the Red Cross.
They employ tons and tons of people. How many Namibians are there? So that understanding that is not there hampers the participation of Namibians in the international Red Cross because they do not participate in the National Red Cross.
We have a subscription of junior (from six years) members of the Red Cross because this is a membership organisation. So at school level you can participate in activities of the Red Cross and make a difference in your community or at different communities.
Last year we embarked on a campaign in all media but it was more visible on social media.
And we know that the youth use social media a lot.
So we have tried to reach them through these platforms. We have done different communication campaigns especially when we are launching appeals to Namibians to help those who need help. But we know there is a huge opportunity for us to do more in this area.”
NE: You rely on donations and funds for the organisation to carry out your mandate. Is that enough to sustain the organisation or is there a need for more stakeholders to come on board?
DKH: “There is always a need for more stakeholders to come on board. I must say that the international part where we get a lot of support is overwhelmed by a lot of humanitarian crises.
So, because we get most of our support from international organisations, we need more local support, especially our corporate stakeholders.
We have corporate membership where we have corporates that can become members of the NRCS and when they become members then we work together.
But there are local organisations on board and during the drought campaign we really have seen that the media played a great role, especially when we teamed up with Radio Wave and Radio Cosmos. It really made a difference in mobilising the communities to support.”
NE: Did Namibia’s classification as a middle-income country affect the NRCS like it did most NGO’s?
DKH: “The country’s classification played a role as well and there are partners that are no longer on board. These are partners such as Germany Red Cross Society. They just tell us that Namibia is no longer there (in need of donors) and as we move forward most of the international organisations such as other societies that used to help us, when they review their work they can see that it’s very difficult to mobilise resources for Namibia.
Hence most of the time they tell us that they would not continue to work with us because they need to attend to less developed countries.”
NE: You have had the privilege of travelling extensively throughout the country and beyond. From your experience and assessment what are the contrasts in terms of challenges faced by Namibians in different parts of the country and how did that impact on your work?
DKH: “Yes I travelled a lot and in contrast there are huge differences between different parts of the country. Some are because of the climatic conditions in those areas and some of them are because of the opportunities they have.
And in contrast I would think that the south for instance and the north … let me compare the south – //Karas to Kavango and Zambezi. The Kavango and Zambezi have opportunities to rivers and our main activities there are gardens.
Gardening would put them in a different level of livelihood compared to the south for instance. And in the same contrast the population in Zambezi is low but they live close to each other and so it’s easy to carry out a project there because to the donors it makes a difference in the dollar.
While it’s very expensive in the south to carry out an activity because the people are sparsely populated.
So, it would take you a while to go to the next place where there are people. So it becomes very difficult because you are seen as concentrating more on one area but the donors are more attracted to where the cost of carrying out that particular activity is lesser than the other one.”
NE: The NRCS was visible in the Kunene and other northern regions in terms of assisting affected communities affected by the drought. What measures did the NRCS put in place in order to be proactive in carrying out the mandate with regard to the drought?
DKH: “As much as we do respond, disaster management has different facades. You have the prevention, response, you have the mitigation and the preparedness. So, most of the time when we want funding to prevent that it does not become very attractive because donors want to see things happening before they release funds.
But our wish of prevention and mitigation is also good because you want the people to be able to bounce back. We call it resilience building.
We cannot control nature (for a disaster to occur) but what we can control is the preparedness of the people in order to build their resilience to bounce back when they are hit by a disaster. What we want to do really is to work with government in prevention and mitigation by building the resilience of the people.”
NE: Are there areas where you would like the government and NRCS to work closely together?
DKH: “We have successfully applied for a bid in climate change adaptation and I think we want to align ourselves to climate change activities because we feel that NRCS has the capacity to implement programmes and not really projects in that area.
We are already in livelihood and we want to believe that livelihood is where human beings can be assisted to increase that resilience. On the other hand we want to work with the government more on this part.
We are serving the same communities and if we can work hand in hand in a way perhaps the government can consider the NRCS as implementing partner in some of the initiatives that they are doing, whether it’s disaster risk reduction or livelihood or any part of disaster management.
I think it’s going to make a difference in preparedness and also in terms of response to disasters.
The NRCS has the capacity to mobilise resources, especially because we are community based. We can reach communities and it’s our belief that if we have the resources … if the government can give us the resources we will be able to reach more people and to do a better job than what we are doing.
At this point in time we are receiving a subvention from the government but that subvention might not even be necessary if the government can have us as implementing partners in disaster and health.
In health we have first aid and I know there is an outcry in Namibia on road accidents. So, with first aid and if we can equip NRCS with that ability to train all the drivers in first aid it would be really something that would help the pre-hospital care (before accident victim is transported to hospital). If all drivers have first aid skills it could save people’s lives.”
NE: What issues do you want the new SG to tackle?
DKH: “What I would say is just for her to continue where I left off. Organisations are evolving all the time and I have confidence in her to continue where I have left off and even improve on what I have started.”
NE: Finally, what legacy did you leave with the NRCS and how do you plan on using your skills to serve Namibia?
DKH: “I’m leaving behind an organisation that is solid and ready to embark upon any humanitarian issue in this country.
I still believe in humanitarian work and I also believe in a well-run organisation, so I think I want to plough back in terms of corporate governance and other areas of organisational development and business development.
I think I have gained a lot of expertise in international relations and diplomacy.”