Popya with Natalia Halweendo

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Hearing of my success with the Chevening scholarship application was one of those moments I will never forget. Mainly, for two reasons – I remember thinking that it is all finally coming together, my long-held dream of furthering my studies after a not so successful attempt at doing an MA at UNAM, but then also pained at the prospect of having to resign from my job as the director at LifeLine/ChildLine (LL/CL).

You see, I got the email bearing great news on the afternoon of 31 May 2016, and I was to commence duty the very next day in my new portfolio; a position that I deemed the pinnacle of my career at the time.

At LL/CL I started out as an associate facilitator, then became a project officer, a curriculum developer and later, the counselling programme manager. My ethos was always 110% dedication and hard work. Working with like-minded colleagues and with excellent supervisors in this dynamic environment, and with the nature of our work addressing such an important need in society, there was no shortage of inspiration to always give your best.

Still, I was humbled when I was appointed as the national director. At 30, being at the helm of such a well-lauded and vibrant organisation was indeed a daunting task, even more so with receding funding and uncertainty about the organisation’s sustainability.

I drew inspiration from those before me and would seek out their wise counsel regularly. Also, I cannot recall reading so much on management processes – from donor fund administration to HR practice. Sixteen-hour workdays soon became my new normal. The support I received was nothing short of amazing, and I remain grateful for the opportunity to lead and to work with my dedicated colleagues.

Chevening scholarships place high emphasis on leadership and networking skills and harnessing these to improve development outcomes in different countries. This spoke directly to my desire to make a difference in society and I could not help but get excited on fulfilling my ambition of doing a Masters in International Social Development.

On the other hand, being promoted meant I could make this difference in more strategic ways and this was in line with my career aspirations. The fact that these two goals are not mutually exclusive and yet seemed to be coming all at once was a source of endless thoughts and uncertainty.

That I got the scholarship results on the eve of starting in my new position was really bittersweet; what a really difficult decision to make!

I consulted widely about what to do: family, friends, my supervisor and even the Chevening secretariat. I took a retreat to reflect and pray over the impending decision. I had mixed responses and this did not make it easier, but time was fast running out, as I had to accept the offer within a month. I had to dig deep and to answer for myself what I really wanted to do and how I want to charter the course of my life.

After a lot of reflection I chose to pursue my studies, as such an excellent opportunity may not present itself again. As soon as I had made up my mind, various events seemed to also confirm my decision, and I was finally at peace with it. In the same month that I took up the directorship, I had to submit my resignation to allow for the three months’ notice period required.

My Chevening journey started last September after registering for the MA in International Social Development at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, which has an excellent reputation for development studies and is currently ranked overall at number 12 on the UK league tables. This is no mean feat!

Arriving one beautiful summer afternoon, I was struck by the lush green campus and was very happy to have settled on UEA. This impression was further strengthened on meeting other development students and other Chevenors in various fields. The faculty staff was extremely welcoming and helpful, and were intent on making the students’ experience worthwhile. This is something I truly appreciate, especially on those days when it all just seemed too much and deadlines loomed in quick succession.

Attending the Chevening orientation in London last October will remain one of the most memorable days of my life – the gathering of 1,900 students from all over the world was absolutely phenomenal. Realising that I was one of those, and a successful candidate from 40,000+ applications from the world over, was simply moving. It was then that the prestige of this scholarship dawned on me; distinguished personalities from British academia, political life and even the royal house were at hand on the day to inspire our Chevening journey.

And what a journey it has been! Chevening opens up so many opportunities throughout the year of study to see British life in its many dimensions and get to know the many cultures from all over the world through its scholars, as well. I have built friendships that I believe will last for many years to come and through which I could create and strengthen further networks for the development of my country.

My studies have definitely opened my mind to looking at things anew, to critically analyse the development discourse and structures in Africa and in Namibia in particular. I hope to be able to contribute meaningfully to these when I return home – hopefully in promoting social justice through participation of those affected by the vast inequalities the country is grappling with.

Despite the challenges, Namibia has a bright future, and with the right attitude and improved service delivery in all spheres, we can all do our bit towards the country’s development goals.

The Chevening farewell ceremony will be held in July (where has the time flown to?) and looking back, I am truly grateful for this opportunity to study abroad. It has been a steep learning curve, but it has contributed to my self-confidence, enriched my worldview, and makes me believe that with courage, determination and a leap of faith anything is possible. I am just getting started!

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