A Plea for Help from the Streets

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Members of Stand Together, a welfare organisation for poor women who have turned into sex workers and street children has made an impassioned appeal to the government to help them get off the streets. The women, the majority of whom have been driven to the streets because of poverty, last week said the streets were no longer safe and they wanted assistance from the government in the form of projects from which they would generate some income. Of the 1 200 single mothers of Stand Together, who live off the proceeds of the streets, 75 percent of them are HIV positive, according to Father Klein Hitpas Herman, a Roman Catholic priest who has dedicated the last 10 years to helping them with food supplies, housing and counselling. Last week, some representatives of the organisation called on the government and other organisations to help the women find decent sources of income. “The government must do something to help us for we want to stand on our own. We are hungry for work,” said Hannelie van Wyk. Although it is not the first time the women have been in the news to express their plight, they feel that the government, donor organizations and members of parliament do not know what they are going through. Due to their illiteracy, they are greeted with “Kapena ilonga” at most companies where they seek work. The only place that does not require certificates and curriculum vitae is the street where many have sought solace. “We want MPs to know about us, that if there is anything to be given out, we should get a share as well,” they said. Being HIV positive, some of them wonder why money meant for HIV/AIDS sufferers does not get to the organisation. Indeed, the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus did not know about the organisation when approached last week Its chairperson, Lucia Basson said the caucus did not know about Stand Together and that it needed someone to bring this to their attention. The Council of Churches in Namibia’s Secretary General, Phillip Strydom said the council would reach out to the women but that at the moment there was no project to support them. Reverend Strydom said although a representative of the Roman Catholic Church was involved, “It looks like a personal commitment”. Last year, after New Era wrote about the worsening HIV situation among the women, the then Ministry of Women Affairs and Child Welfare said it would investigate and intervene. Last week however, New Era learnt that the ministry was looking into their plight although it could not say what exactly was being done. The women wonder why assistance has not been forthcoming especially when there is money from donor organisations to help people suffering from HIV and AIDS. “Millions of dollars are given to HIV and TB. Where does this money go when others like us are suffering? When the money goes to certain projects, who is benefiting from these projects,” wondered Sekeline Swarts. Like all other people, sex workers have municipal bills and school fees to pay. They have school books to buy and also children to feed, things that send most of them to the harsh streets of Windhoek, where they say some have been killed or contracted the deadly HIV virus. Hanelie Van Wyk, another sex worker said even though most of them have changed and others wanted to change their lifestyles, when need arises the streets still offer a solution. “I can tell someone that I have changed, but tomorrow when my children are hungry and there is no work, I cannot look at my children suffering. We just want to be good mothers to our children,” she added. They agree that money makes the world go round. The clinics need money to dispense medicines, the churches need money to baptise their children, schools want money for kids to attend school and owners of erven, in which they erect zinc shelters also need money to accommodate them. “Everything is money and without work there is no money,” said Erica Goagus. “We are begging as women and we are asking the government and other institutions to assist us to get out of this problem and get on our feet. “We are crying out for help. What they give us we will receive with open arms,” pleaded Elfriede Hocobes.

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