One morning a week we have the privilege of working with FHS (www.familyofhopeservices.org). This NGO is located in the poorest part of the city in what is called the “informal settlements” of Hakahana & Havana. Approximately 100,000 people live in these informal settlements & squatter camps. FHS has a motto “Restoring Hope, Empowering Families”.
This non-profit welfare organization commenced a decade ago when the founder saw the huge need within the community. Poverty & desperation were very evident but little was being done to assist those who lived there.
“Shantytown” is perhaps the best way to describe these informal settlements, which continually grow as rural folks leave their land to look for a better life in the city. Unfortunately this better life is usually not found.
FHS commenced in 2003 with 18 children but now supports 450 children of which some 250 receive a mid day meal six days a week. The organization seeks to provide for the basic needs of many families. This includes health care, a feeding program, protection of vulnerable children, education, counseling & teaching income generating activities. FHS also has a child sponsorship program where hundreds of children are under direct sponsorship of caring patrons. A bike workshop assists in the generation of income. Second hand & pre-loved bikes are shipped from a supporter in Canada where they are restored in the workshop & then sold.
The feeding program (lunch) gets underway. This photo shows some of the early arrivals receiving their meals.
We have spent some time out at the community facility meeting the staff, volunteers & some of the children. There is a strong Christian presence within the team & weekly team meetings commence with Bible Study. On one occasion we played board games with a small group of children who took great delight in meeting the white strangers & displaying their skills in whatever board game was on offer. These children are from the poorest part of town & many need assistance with their schooling in addition to meeting their basic living requirements.
Kate watching over the board games tournament
A few weeks back we attended the final day of a three day workshop for community leaders / health workers. There were about 35 people in attendance (95% female) & we were treated as honoured guests. This was the first time we drove deep into the squatter camps & saw firsthand the living conditions people endured.
Homes are simple tin shacks with bits tacked on here & there. We saw people urinating in the street as sanitation is poor throughout the community. There are some communal toilets however it is about one toilet to every 20 homes. The same is true for water points. There is no electricity so it is very dark in the evenings. The local council has erected some floodlights in some parts to assist in the evenings.
The bike workshop
Tenants pay rent to the council & if the rent is not paid then the shack can be physically moved to the very outskirts of the settlement or ultimately bulldozed. We also saw a tent school erected as no permanent school has yet to be constructed. It was in the mid thirties on the day we visited so one can only imagine what the temperature must be like for the students in the heat of the day.
At the workshop a representative from Legal Services spoke about the importance of Namibian citizens obtaining a birth certificate & how to go about doing this. Unfortunately many babies are born & their births go unregistered! There are many & varied reasons for this, & one of the roles of FHS is to empower the community to know their rights & know how to go about obtaining them. Not having a birth certificate is a breach of human rights & many complications follow as a child gets older if they do not have one. At the workshop we heard the story of a 71 year old man who recently received his Birth Certificate for the fist time!
There are Government services available in Namibia to assist needy individuals & families however the average citizen does not know this, & even if they did would not know how to go about applying for them (assuming of course their education was sufficient to complete the required paperwork & they had a birth certificate to formally identify themselves).
FHS has its office in the local community hall
The workshop also discussed teenage pregnancy which is a becoming a national issue. 15% of Namibian girls aged 15 to 19 already have a child. In one regional area, there were 68 pregnancies in six schools in nine months in 2007. Of course there are many flow on effects to teenage pregnancy, especially the ongoing education of the mother. Statistically speaking, a child born out of wedlock to a teenage mother will have a very difficult life ahead of them.
The workshop concluded with an African celebration lunch as the workers left to return to their communities empowered to pass on their knowledge. Unfortunately our involvement in this workshop was a last minute decision & we did not have our camera with us to share some of these visuals. Hopefully another opportunity will avail.
Our involvement with FHS at present sees us compiling a booklet, which will assist the community in knowing what Governments Grants are available, what the qualifying criteria are & how to go about obtaining them.
In all of the four projects we are currently working on there are needy people who are doing it tough. Our involvement with FHS however has confronted us as we have now seen firsthand the poverty that exists even in this relatively modern African city. The shantytowns of Hakahana & Havana are a far cry from suburban Sydney & we pray the God would use us in whatever capacity He can to make a small difference in a difficult place. Please visit the FHS website to gain a better understanding of the important work being undertaken by this organization.
Photo taken from community centre of local suroundings