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Designing a Research Study on Family Care in Namibia: ethnicities, geographies, and practicalities

My name is Janet Ananias, and I am the Country Lead of the Namibian research team for the Family Caregiving of Older Persons in Southern Africa programme. In case you don’t know, Namibia, covers 824 116 km2  and is about twice the size of Germany and about 70% of the size of South Africa. Despite the size of the country there are just over 2.5 million people in the country making it one of lowest population densities in the world. In practical terms this means you have to travel vast distances often in very warm and arid lands before you reach a town. Moreover, there are 11 different ethnic groups and about 13 different languages. Whilst English is the official language in Namibia, only a small percentage speak it as a home language. The most common language spoken is Oshiwambo and the most widely understood language is Afrikaans. Given this rich diversity and geographical landscape, I hope to highlight some of the key issues we encountered in the establishment of our project in the Namibian context.

Namibian Research Team Photo

One of the most crucial considerations I had to consider is what kind of research team do we need to be able to undertake this work. I thought it important to have some interdisciplinary expertise from social work, sociology and psychology. Given the sensitivity required while working in family settings and with older persons, I also wanted to work with colleagues who have some experience in working with older persons. As we consider the ways in which the population is ageing, I also wanted to support some younger, emerging scholars who can continue to lead this work over the coming decades. A further essential requirement to consider with regards to the composition of the research team was the researchers’ ability to be able to communicate in a particular local Namibian language.

Map of research sites in Namibia:

Planning a research study in a country rich in cultural and geographical uniqueness necessitates careful consideration. As much as one is curious to gain an understanding of family caregiving in all settings and contexts, one must, unfortunately, make certain decisions when considering the resources available. Namibia’s harsh climatic conditions and paucity of water as a resource in most parts of the country is leading to natural disasters such as droughts, with older people being among the most vulnerable. The most significant feature of the selection is the participants’ regional representation. With the Khomas region having Namibia’s capital city and a more diverse representation of ethnic groups, it is a logical choice to include the Khomas region among the three regions to be studied. It is also vital to consider allocating a reasonable number of participants to the area of the country with the biggest concentration of elderly people.  The Oshana region, located about 600 kilometers north of Namibia, is amongst the four regions with the highest concentration of older persons in Namibia and is included in the study. But the socio- economic circumstances of older persons is an essential factor influencing the quality of family care provided to older persons. This prompted us to select the Kavango East region, approximately 700 kilometers north-east of Windhoek, an area that is one of the poorest in the country, in order to gain a better understanding of family caregiving despite extreme socio-economic hardships.

Care practices and the everyday lives of older people differ radically across space. The majority of older people in Namibia live in rural areas. As a result, only two urban sites in the Khomas region, namely Khomasdal and Samora Machel constituency, were selected. Baumgartsbrunn, a piece of land which was owned by a commercial farmer, but became a settlement farm in the Khomas region, Epya-Eshona village in the Oshana region, and Muroro village in the Kavango East region were chosen as rural locations for the study.

A crucial feature related to working with communities and to gain cooperation from communities in Namibia is the support from the Governor and Councilors as political office bearers. These leaders are public figures and trusted members of their communities and important stakeholders for working with and understanding different community settings. Family caregiving of older persons takes place in the privacy of the homes of participants, and thus is not easily accessible. Hence, it is not only the meetings with political leaders but also meeting traditional authorities that are crucial for understanding the ways in which communities are structured and governed.  In the three regions where the study is undertaken, we have engaged in meetings with the traditional authorities in each of the regions. Recalling our recent meeting with the members of a traditional authority from the Khomas region, I was struck by the insight of one of the members of the traditional authority into the rights of older people.  The conversation on older persons from the perspective of different stakeholders is an important way of gaining insight into the different narratives and discourses on care for older persons.

This blog is in conversation with our Research Study, released in October 2023 and written by Janet Ananias 

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