Saturday, March 21, 2009

Africa Family Update from Namibia: Desert Dash and Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN)

I have not been to Africa, yet!

Someday soon, I hope to visit my cousin, Stephanie Posner, who lives in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, with her husband, Vincent Shaw. Located directly north of South Africa on the Atlantic coast, Namibia is famous for its colorful sand dunes and magnificent desert flowers.

Immense sand dune. Photo from Namibian Tourism Board.

Both Stephanie and Vincent are avid bicyclists - hitting the road for recreational rides and races when they are not working hard in the country's battle against HIV/AIDS. Stephanie is Chief of Party for PACT, which manages grants from USAID to Namibian non-governmental organizations involved in the programs dealing with HIV/AIDS. Vincent is finishing his doctorate in Medical Informatics plus consulting in Nigeria, Zambia, and South Africa.

They both enjoyed (survived) the challenge of the endurance mountain bike race, the Desert Dash in Namibia. The relay of 340-km, 24-hour event bills itself as a "fight between human and nature, body and mind. It's a wild beast that lures you, challenges you and allows only a few to stay on its back." If this tempts you, the 5th annual Desert Dash happens December 18-19, 2009 and reg opens in August.

Desert Dash photo from their website.

Stephanie's brother, Alexander, visited Namibia from May to September, 2008. During his four and a half months there, he lived with Stephanie and Vincent while he volunteered at the Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN). The organization rehabilitates donated bicycles from abroad for low cost transportation and for bicycle-powered ambulances in Namibian villages.

According to their website their mission statement is:

MISSION STATEMENT
BEN Namibia aims to empower disadvantaged Namibians through provision of sustainable transport and bicycle-related income generation opportunities.

VISION
To be a recognized leader on bicycles for development in Namibia.

OBJECTIVES

  1. Provision of affordable and sustainable transport to disadvantaged people.
  2. Provision of bicycle-related sustainable income generation opportunities.
  3. Promotion cycling as a healthy, affordable, sustainable and dignified means of transport.
  4. Advocacy for improved sustainable transport infrastructure in Windhoek.
  5. Promotion of knowledge sharing and networking amongst the global ‘bicycles for development’ movement, with an emphasis on sub-Saharan Africa.
BEN in Namibia has a sister organization in Cape Town, South Africa - also called Bicycling Empowerment Network.

Red marker shows Windhoek, Namibia in Africa. Source: Google Maps.

THE MISSION OF BEN in South Africa, according to their website, is poverty alleviation through the promotion of the use of the bicycle in all of its forms, in order to:
• enhance low-cost non-motorised transport
• improve health by linking exercise and mobility.

In collaboration with local and international partners, BEN facilitates:
• the transportation of bicycles from Europe, the Americas and Asia to Southern Africa
• the establishment of bicycle workshop projects
• distribution of these bicycles to strategically selected groups of recipients
• the planning and introduction of bicycle user paths and integrated linking networks.


In the afternoons, Alex volunteered by teaching and mentoring of 7 and 8 year old children at Catholic Action Agency (CAA); these children had been traumatized by loss of parents to HIV/AIDS and loved Alex’s warmth.

I am proud of my family's work in Africa! Special thanks to my uncle, Larry Posner, who provided the well-written information for this update! Larry and Corinna live in Washington, D.C.

While I intend to visit my cousin in Africa, a closer-to-home goal is to see Stephanie's other brother, Nico Posner, who lives in the Bay Area with his wife, Laurie Posner and their two beautiful girls!