Travelling to Namibia was a life-changing experience for Jennifer Bailey.
It helped make the University of Waterloo student realize she wanted to attend Brock instead.
Bailey, who will start her third year of public health in September, knew she wanted to study here after taking part in Brock Abroad: Namibia. It’s a program that sends students, staff, alumni and others to the southwest African nation to volunteer and learn about life there.
She first participated in Brock Abroad in 2014, applied to return in 2015, then decided to transfer to the University entirely.
“I have always been interested in international issues, but was limited to learning from lectures and textbooks,” Bailey says. “Travelling to Namibia gave me the opportunity to experience local culture and community development first hand.”
Bailey joined 16 others for 23 days this spring to volunteer and learn about the culture of Namibia.
One of the program’s goals is to have participants identify and understand the challenges and opportunities faced in the host community, and how they relate to their community at home in Canada. Bailey returned longing for the social interactions she had while away.
“One of the reasons I fell in love with Namibia was the strong sense of community,” she recalls. “Upon returning to Canada, I found that busy schedules and a more individualistic culture made me really miss the social cohesion in Namibia. This has motivated me to volunteer locally and appreciate time with friends and family.”
Since 2007, 170 students and Brock community members have participated in Brock Abroad: Namibia to volunteer with grassroots organizations.
“It’s through the vehicle of volunteering and visiting these places that participants learn,” said Christina Bosilo, manager, international learning programs in Brock International Services. “The hope is that students remain engaged in their local community after having this incredible international experience.”
While there, participants also visited landmarks including Spitzkoppe, Soussvlei and Etosha National Park, and the National Museum to learn more about the country’s fight for independence and life during apartheid.
Before leaving, students learn about Namibia and Brock’s involvement with various Namibian community partners. Local fundraisers are also held with proceeds used used to help individual organizations achieve their goals.
Money raised this year was used to purchase an on-site washing machine for one organization’s centre.
Student Megan McFarland returned to Canada with any preconceived notions about Namibia shattered. McFarland, in her third-year of concurrent education headed to Namibia expecting the worst for the southwest African nation’s people but found otherwise.
“I had this idea that the children in Namibia were suffering and needed volunteers to come over to help them,” she says. “When I arrived over there it was the exact opposite,” she recalls. “The children I had the privilege of working with and teaching were extremely resilient.”
Bailey also learned the Namibia program is about more than educating and providing resources. It’s about international and intercultural understanding.
“Although I experienced a great cultural difference, the experience emphasized the idea that different is not less,” she says. “The cultural understanding I gained in Namibia has already helped me to communicate across chasms in culture, both locally and abroad.”