Seems I barely had time to get things done in Namibia before the dreaded COVID-19 virus forced me and Peace Corps Volunteers worldwide to come home. I think I’m luckier than most, I got to see my primary projects to completion and even had time to get a secondary project off the ground. I also was able to be in Namibia for almost 3 years. That, in itself, is something to crow about.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts you’ll know that one of my projects was getting a solar power system setup for a groups of miners and their families. The system provides power to their workshop so that they can run the tools they need to process the stones they mine. The system also provides power to recharge batteries the miners can take back to their homes to power lights and small appliances, it avails ample power for a community refrigerator so that they can buy and store fresh meats and vegetables, and it provides power for security lighting for their market. I was also able to get roadside signs installed to alert travelers of the market well before they reach it, which should increase visitor traffic once tourism starts back up. There are about 50 families that will benefit from the project and I can’t tell you how happy I am that it was completed before I had to leave.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 happened which pretty much shut down the country. If you think we have it bad imagine you earn your living digging semi-precious stones out of an arid desert. Your family lives there too. Water has to be trucked in. The land is too harsh to garden so you must buy what you need to eat and live from stores 20 or more kilometers away. You can make a living mining these stones, but you are solely dependent on tourists. Now imagine that suddenly there are no more tourists and you begin to see the plight of the miners and so many of their countrymen. I continue to get some reports from colleagues in Namibia and some stories are hard to hear. I remain hopeful that the situation will improve quickly.
As I mentioned, Peace Corps Volunteers worldwide were sent home. I can’t imagine how hard it was for the director of the Peace Corps, Dr. Jospehine Olsen, to make that call, but it was the right call to make. As the seriousness of COVID-19 became increasingly apparent around the world and countries, and more significantly, travel companies began to restrict flights going into and out of known infected areas, travel option became fewer. While we felt relatively safe in Namibia, getting a bit over 120 volunteers home in the event of an emergency was becoming mounting challenge. While many of us wanted to see our efforts in Namibia through to the end, leaving when we did was the best choice.
It happened quickly. Many of us didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to our friends with whom we’ve lived and worked beside for so long. And there isn’t enough words to express the gratitude to the staff at Peace Corps Namibia for getting the volunteers home safe and sound. It was a huge effort to find flights and out-process 120+ in a matter of a few days, an effort that normally takes several weeks.
Here’s a video I put together of our evacuation.
So, I’ve been back in the States for 4 weeks now. So much has changed. More on this in my next post, and I promise it will be soon. Until then…