3 December 2018

Namibia: Okahandja's Mother Teresa Feeds 200 Children

When a five-year-old girl with her baby brother in tow knocked at Christina Swartbooi's door in the middle of the night asking for food, she knew she had to do something, not only for them, but even more for her community as well.

Residing in the dusty informal settlement of Vergenoeg on the outskirts of Okahandja, Swartbooi launched a once-a-day feeding programme for needy children in her community whose parents cannot afford to feed them, and there are many such children in her community.

As its name - Vergenoeg - implies, which means far enough, the settlement is quite a drive from the central business district of Okahandja, and when The Namibian visited Swartbooi's place last week, it was an hour after lunch.

Swartbooi stays in a big iron zinc shack which doubles as a classroom. The shack was crowded, but Swartbooi appeared comfortable with her "extended family".

About 150 children were hanging around singing and playing, while some, including Swartbooi's three children, were complaining that they had not received anything as the food was not enough to go around.

"They had rice and potato soup, but this was not enough for them all", Swartbooi explained to the news crew.

Looking around, she said she was not sure what she would cook for them the next day as she barely had enough food left in her storeroom.

Just then, her second-born came into the room to report that 46 children did not get any food, and her youngest son cut in: "Mommy, I didn't get food also."

"We are always eating last baba, and you know it, so let's wait," she said as she reached out for her wallet and gave him N$20 to buy juice at the nearest shop.

"Get some juice. We will see what we can give the children. Take these sweets while you wait for food," she urged as the boy ran off to the corner shop.

On any given day, Swartbooi told The Namibian, she feeds up to 200 children from the community.

"I am a pre-primary school teacher. I use this kindergarten to raise funds for the feeding programme. This is why I opened it in the first place," she explained.

The mother of six said she has lived in the area for eight years, and witnessed how unemployment and poverty ravaged the lives of the people to a level that sank her heart.

"When that little girl asked for food in the middle of the night, it was a wake-up call for me," she added.

"I knew I had to do something for these children because she was not the only one in need. There were more out there who went to bed hungry. I had to do something to help them," Swartbooi continued.

It was upon this understanding and compassion for children that she opened a soup kitchen for the needy children in her community earlier this year.

She gets a N$150 grant per child per month, and has 10 registered at her pre-school, while the Amitofo Care Centre, about 10 kilometres from the town, donates food for one meal a week.

She does not only feed the children, but parents who bring their children for lunch also get a share of the meal.

One of the parents said Swartbooi's initiative had taken so much weight off her shoulders.

"It is of big help for me as a single and unemployed mother of the three I bring here every day for a meal," said Eveline Kastoor.

Another parent said they have a huge family comprising her sister, niece, brother and their 10 children.

"We are all unemployed, and we bring all these children here every day for food. This is an extraordinary thing that the aunty is doing for us, and it's such a huge relief," said Christine Baadge.

Martha Geingos, a social worker at Amitofo, told The Namibian that their centre is committed to helping people with initiatives like Swartbooi's.

"We are a donor-funded organisation. We get help from other countries, so we help small initiatives in need like Swaartbooi's one, and we also help children, even if they do not attend school here," noted Geingos.

With food almost running out, Swartbooi said although she does not know where she will get more supplies, she will never give up on the children.

"It is not fair for any child to go hungry, and even if I cannot afford or don't know where I am getting more food, I cannot give up on them," she said with conviction.

"Seeing them walk back home with happy faces and full bellies gives me the satisfaction and courage to carry on because it is worth it," she beamed as she escorted the news crew to the gate.

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