The growing world in which we live, with all its complex social issues, demands that we take initiatives and do so responsibly. Through innovation and creativity, today’s young people can find platforms to explore their own ideas, which develop into social ventures that, in some way or another, begin to address some of the key issues we face each day.
Israel Gawiseb is a young man who, like many in Namibia, has encountered a fair share of obstacles, and decided to face his reality with a simple, smart idea.
We had the opportunity to interview him and find out a bit more about his unobtrusive yet consequential journey.
Could you start by telling us about yourself and your origins?
I am Israel, and I was born in a Namibian town called Khorixas.
Very early in my life, I developed a passion and diligence for my educational journey. Having skipped grades 7 and 8, I became one of my school’s best students, thanks to the good results I could achieve in exams. Living in a town of approximately 7,000 inhabitants, I was mostly raised by my Father and my Sisters, who played, and still play, an important part in defining who I am.
How would you describe your country, in social aspects? What are the basic livelihoods of Namibians?
Namibia is very similar to South Africa. After the German occupation, Namibia became annexed to South Africa, something like South Africa’s “extra province”, so there are many cultural similarities, and we have a symbiotic economic relationship with South Africa that continues.
Like many African countries, our main food is based on maize meal, and we Namibians love meat! Since our country is mostly made out of a vast desert, we can’t always grow crops, and naturally, people turn to meat – which is why many vegetarians find the country challenging at first.
We still suffer from tribalism and its lasting effects, maybe a legacy of colonial masters who used local differences to divide people. Thankfully, Namibia is growing into a much more united country.
Can you recall a moment in time that you identified the social issue which you would choose to tackle? What happened, how did you react?
Having come from a small town, I had a very narrow view of the world, with science as the only valuable field of study. I remember graduating from high school, along with 80-plus colleagues, of whom only five qualified for university, and only four were able to afford to pursue their studies. Reaching university, I realized I could have a much richer experience that went beyond just focusing on getting a degree. Very quickly I did my best to get involved, taking leadership roles such as class and department representative, joining active societies on campus, and when my confidence was strong enough, I decided to run for the Students’ Representative Council. (SRC) I ran twice. And both times, I got rejected.
As if this wasn’t enough, a friend who recognized my potential came to me and told me that the reason I had not been elected was because of my ethnic group. In Namibia, I have Damara heritage, also one of the country’s smaller tribes. Damaras are seen as complacent and are often suppressed, so people did not believe in my ability to succeed because of the stereotypes they had.
I decided to change that perception, not only by being successful myself, but by starting a venture that would empower all those whose skills and abilities were unrecognized.
What were some key experiences/skills/lessons that you learnt in your youth that are valuable to you now?
There are countless lessons one can learn in one’s youth that will surely last a lifetime. But there is a specific lesson I took from my father.
My father has always been a hard-worker, and a caring man, who always cared for others. Growing up in a rural town, I attended the country’s worst schools, with a ranking below the 600th worst school in Namibia, and I always asked myself why my father allowed me to have this experience in the education system.
Whenever I had homework, my father told me to do more. If my assignment was to do Activity 1, he would encourage me to do Activities 2 and 3, and not to wait for a teacher to dictate my pace.
This simple, constant advice inspired me to take ownership of my own academic journey, and I saw it come true in the life of one of my university roommates, coincidentally, ranked as one of the best university students in the country, who went far beyond what lecturers expected of him.
But the question remained, why would my father put me in a bad school from the start?
Today I know the answer: so that I would figure out exactly what I needed to change.
- Describe your social venture and how or why it tackles the social issues you are passionate about.
First, it’s important to clarify that social ventures need to be focused on sustainability, to change the mindset of charity-driven ideas.
I’m personally passionate about education. Our Namibian system is extremely broken. An example is that, last year, out of 80 students who wrote the grade 10 exams, only 6 passed to grade 11. That means that 74 students either repeated the year or left school.
Namibia has many schools, but they are all experiencing the same reality, to the point that the government has issued mandates for teachers to accept positions in rural areas, because they would otherwise not invest in them.
Dynamus Institute is a means to address just this, not by replacing the system, but by supplementing it. We work with tutors who work on a voluntary basis, to strengthen the education careers of scholars, by providing them with opportunities for in-depth engagement with their curriculum, as well as investing in their personal growth.
Who has been a surprising supporter of your venture, and do you believe in alternative means of seeking support?
My friends and family are at the top of the list, but something interesting has happened that has been a constant source of motivation for me.
I applied for the YALI program, and in the process, I was able to meet many promising young people from my town, Khorixas. I was surprised to find that so many young people were pushing for great social projects in my town, and during the ride back from the interviews, we had powerful conversations about the actions we each would like to take to make our town a bit better. The idea of the Khorixas Youth Activists was born, as an invitation for us to meet regularly and discuss the progress of our individual projects. This quickly turned into a solid foundation for collaborative efforts and joint events.
We have successfully organized a quiz with a turn-out of more than 200 school children, and are now organizing a career fair for high school students.
I’ve learnt that, in order to succeed, one needs to be curious and bold in garnering support. I’m looking at Embassies that have specific goals respecting social issues, as well as grants. Through friends and Peace Corps volunteers, Dynamus Institute has received a generous sponsorship of 50 books in diverse disciplines, and I am also investing in our crowd funding, the “Build a School in Rural Khorixas” campaign.
What are your plans for the future?
The future looks hopeful, with the first priority being the registration of Dynamus Institute, so that we can operate in neighboring small towns and eventually branch into the bigger ones in Namibia. Secondly, we are working to get some property so that we can build our institute, as at the moment we are mobile. In the next three years, we hope to reach out to more school children in Khorixas, getting all of them enrolled in our program to ensure future academic success, and to avoid some of the obstacles we have been facing as young people in Namibia.
This is an example of someone who has not allowed his circumstances to dictate his present and future, and is doing the best he can to secure the futures of those who unfortunately do not always find the outlets, or the autonomy, to pursue their passions. It is a world of limitations, but also a world where young people are increasingly designing a more open space for opportunity and personal growth, and this is the case of Israel Gawiseb.