Stunningly gorgeous yet humble and sweet? Check. Passionate about what she does? Check. Hilarious quirks and sense of humour? Check.
Ladies and gentlemen, we’d like to introduce you to Abinaya (or Abi for short), our 4th roommate, fellow University of Toronto intern, and friend. She is going into her 4th year of Women and Gender Studies and spent her time in Namibia interning at the Namibian Women’s Health Network. Abi’s not afraid to be herself, which is such a refreshing quality in a person. She added a really fun element to our house dynamic, and it was so great living with her and getting to know her this summer!
Below is a picture of Abi soaking up the Swakopmund sunset (photo courtesy of Lizz).
Before you read Abi’s final reflection and get a sense of some of the amazing work she and Kate did at the Namibia Women’s Health Network, check out the picture of this Sri Lankan beauty getting ready to show her Namibian pride at the Namibia vs. Kenya soccer game we went to! Photo and pretty-professional-looking face paint courtesy of Lizz. Another added bonus to this photograph: if any of you weren’t sure where in Africa Namibia is located, check out Abi’s cheek – it’s the country in yellow!
“With a background in constantly learning about marginalized communities and the effects of inequality, there have been numerous times when I had to close my books and go to sleep because I didn’t want to think about it. I did not want racism to exist, I did not want to learn about the affects of colonialism, I did not want to know the economic and social disparities. To be honest, before this internship, I have had doubts of whether I really believed in social advocacy, but after three months of making amazing lifelong friends and working with powerful, inspirational people, I come to realize that there is a community just for me, even if its half way around the world. We share the same passion and that for me shows solidarity. Namibia has truly inspired me to believe in my dreams, and as much as I close my books at the end of the night because I feel hopeless, I know that the next morning, I will go back to educating myself about the effects of inequality. This is what I am most passionate about and I am going to continue working towards equity, in one form or another.”
These were my final words at the Final Forum last week, words I couldn’t finish because my emotions overcame me. Looking back at the ten weeks spent in Namibia, a myriad of emotions arise within me. I’m not sure if I should be jumping up and down because of the amazing experience I had here, or be saddened that this internship has come to an end. Soon I will be heading over to Toronto – to a life that I have always been accustomed to. It was a week filled with goodbyes at NWHN. Franzi Sommer, an intern from Germany who was volunteering here for a year left Tuesday. Aivy, one of the closest friends I have made in Namibia went back to visit her family in Zimbabwe and Beverley, a friend I got to know more than I had ever expected, an intern from Kenya left to South Africa.
The office was quieter than usual in our last week. I can recall my first day walking into the NWHN office with Aaron Y. and Kate and being introduced to the NWHN family. I was a “deer in headlights,” but was also filled with absolute energy. August felt so far in the distance, but now looking back, it went by so fast – too fast for me.
When I left Toronto in May, there were a lot of things I left behind. To be honest, I was relieved to leave it behind – kind of like getting away. The idea of going back home now seems strange. In the past three months I have adjusted myself to a life in Namibia, waking up every morning to go to work, coming home and spending my time with the other interns and my colleagues’ families. In the last three months, I have grown to be a better person. I have become more confident and stronger – stronger than what other people give me credit for, than I think I give myself credit for. I now feel like I can take control of my life, and it has been so long since I felt this way.
I have learned about HIV and AIDS in a way that transcends academic lenses. I had the opportunity to work with Mama Jeni, a truly inspiring woman. I worked with UNAIDS, and appreciated and acknowledged the impact they are making in society even though I was skeptical at first. I was able to have dialogues with many young men and women about topics of transactional sex, sex work, self-esteem amongst youth and poverty. I feel privileged and glad that I am educated about this constantly in school, but to experience it firsthand is definitely a precious experience on its own.
I don’t like good byes. The more I think about it, I know why I don’t want to go back to Toronto aside from leaving behind Windhoek and my friends. Every day when I woke up in Windhoek, I knew I had something amazing waiting for me. I would walk in one day and would be told to go into informal settlements and assist in teaching English to HIV positive mothers, prepare a document for the United Nations, or gather activists and supporters in Windhoek and worldwide for the Forced Sterilisation Campaign. My 8am to 5pm work days felt short. There were so many things to do in such little time – and I enjoyed every second. I enjoyed coming home everyday to my roommates and telling them about every new project Kate and I were working on. Going to work everyday felt like being home away from home – my colleagues and I pushed each other to perform our best, bluntly critiqued each other when we weren’t doing our best and most of all, we were always there to support each other. Now going back to Toronto, I’m afraid I won’t find a positive and safe place to do the same work I was doing at NWHN. Windhoek, and NWHN, became a home for me. Thus, going back to Toronto, I feel dislocated, nervous that I won’t be able to find a niche where I can flourish in the same way.
Though I am not much of a believer of the adage that “things happen for a reason”, I came to feel somewhat differently on my twenty-two hour bus ride to Cape Town. As Namibia faded away into the horizon, I truly felt that everything had fallen in its rightful place. Sometimes I feel like people say this to make themselves feel better, but to be honest – it feels so right to say it. I was brought to the Namibian Women’s Health Network for a reason and it has made me a kinder, more intelligent and humble person. When I went to Kenya at the age of eighteen, I left as a cynical person. I did not know if international development actually worked. I did not find it in me to volunteer abroad again. Now being twenty-one, and coming home from Namibia, I am more confident in what I want to achieve and what I am passionate about. I know what my passion is, I have a better idea of what makes me happy. NHWN has played an integral part in that. These past ten weeks have made an impact on my life more than words can ever describe. It has been a tremendous blessing to have worked with NWHN this summer, and I know from the depths of my being that I would go back to working with NWHN in a heartbeat.
– Abinaya Balasubramaniam