03 August 2020 | Tourismus

Fountain for the Youth

The glider pilot community of Bitterwasser is the main supporter of the Hoachanas Children’s Fund of Angelika Gleich.

By Chloe Durr

The previously thriving tourism industry of Namibia has been hit hard by the current global COVID-19-pandemic. Borders are likely to remain closed for the foreseeable future and lodges, tour operators and related businesses have had to batten down the hatches by either retrenching staff or closing for an indefinite period. It is particularly painful to see the impact of job losses on the rural communities of Namibia, whose subsistence existence had already been severely impacted by the many years of drought, thus leaving income derived from tourism-related enterprise as the only alternative.

On a recent trip to the South of Namibia, Tourismus Namibia visited the small settlement of Hoachanas (Hoaxa-!Nas) which lies on the fringe of the Kalahari Desert. The current 3 500 inhabitants live in poverty. The grazing grounds are bone dry, job opportunities are scarce, malnourishment is a constant reality and basic sanitation is non-existent. Increased job losses due to COVID-19 have added to the high unemployment figure and hope for the future seems as dry as the original Hoachanas fountain that lies fallow in the dust. If it wasn't for the unwavering support of the Hoachanas Children’s Fund, the cycle of poverty and hopelessness would continue to spiral out of control.

Inhabited since 1965, Hoachanas was discovered by a wandering tribe of the Khalikhaun (Nama - “Red Nation”) battling the harsh desert elements in search for water. One day, the traditionally nomadic farmers decided to follow one of their dogs, which had returned home from a hunt with wet fur. The loyal hound led them to a fountain in the desert and so the Hoaxa-!Nas settlement came to be. In 1853 Nama Chief Oasib brought a German Missionary, Franz Heinrich Vollmer of the Rhenish Mission, to his tribe and by 1857 the foundation stone of the Rhenish Mission Church was laid. It is the second oldest church in Namibia and continues to be the heartbeat of the Hoachanas community.

Since its inception in the year 2000, the founder of the Hoachanas Children’s Fund (HCF), Angelika Gleich, has dedicated her life to the children and community of Hoachanas. The school started with just 10 sponsored students and has grown to accommodate over 300 learners - many of whom will go on to complete matric. Learners with aptitude now have the opportunity, to further obtain a university degree or vocational training.

The HCF operates like a well run family, with a hierarchy of projects geared towards optimal childhood development and improved lifeskills. Their motto, “helping people to help themselves” through education, enables the children and young adults of Hoachanas to work towards a self-determined future, financial empowerment and relief from poverty. Through sponsorships, donations and fundraisers mostly derived through the Bitterwasser Lodge and Flying Centre (international gliding community of Farm Hoachanas), education is free for the children of Hoachanas. The distribution of mandatory school uniforms, books, stationery and toiletries is thus taken care of. HCF also enables at least one sponsored meal a day to help with the ever increasing malnutrition problem.

Against All Odds
We were fortunate enough to meet with Wesley Kauena, a former “Godchild” (sponsored student) of HCF, who completed his education and grew up guided by the values instilled in him through HCF and the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Wesley is a shining example of the power of education, hard work and dedication. Despite being born into a life of poverty in the Hoachanas community, Wesley has become one of HCF’s project managers, giving back bucket-loads of dedicated energy and time to the foundation that changed his own life. Wesley works hand in hand with Angelika to identify needs and oversee projects within the community.

After taking us on a tour of the school and the settlement, he introduced us to members of the community, who invited us into their homes - the harsh reality of their impoverishment. Makeshift tin shacks house upwards of 13 children, who are all reliant on their grandmother-guardians' meager state pensions. HIV-Aids and alcoholism continue to ravage the community. The Youth Project, one of the many HCF initiatives, is geared towards giving the children of Hoachanas a sense of purpose by encouraging passions through music, soccer leagues and choirs.

Wesley showed us the shack where he spent his childhood, single-handedly parenting his cousins and siblings from the age of ten, where he played in the dust of the shebeen-lined main road, and the distance he had to walk to fetch water. Abandoned children are common in Hoachanas, so it was pleasing to meet one of his younger cousins, who is now a teacher at the P.J. Taitsaib Combined School.

"Helping People Help Themselves"
“The Hoachanas Ark” was established in 2008 to help the orphaned and abandoned children. It holds a pride of place on the main road as a sanctuary offering after-school care, a warm meal and emergency shelter for children in need. The Ark also facilitates education through Namcol by offering education support to improve grades, guiding the youth to reach their personal goals, teaching sustainable farming methods, and assistinf the community in building waterless toilets. The HCF identifies itself with the mantra of “teaching a man to fish, so that he will never go hungry again”.

It is impossible to ignore the significant and long-lasting impact of growing up in poverty, a sad reality for one in three children in Namibia. Keeping one's head above water in the Kalahari desert is a sad and visually identifiable reality, but having had the opportunity to witness the success of the education system in Hoachanas, and that through the eyes of a man, whose life was transformed by a single opportunity, is something to behold. The online testimonials of past and present learners are testament to a foundation that is truly dedicated to the upliftment of the Hoachanas community through “helping people to help themselves”, lessons that will remain useful under the current COVID-19 crisis.

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