By Chrispin Inambao RUNDU The tales of the plight of scores of children dumped by their biological parents at Mavanze some 10 km outside town in Rundu Rural West Constituency are so heart-rending that once narrated they have occasionally reduced some grown-ups to tears. The cluster of mud-and-thatch huts comprising this rural outback dot a gravel road that runs parallel to a stream, and goats dart in and out of the shrubs bleating on the side of the road while oxen bellow and dogs abruptly bark at the occasional odd traffic cruising by. Carts pulled by donkeys, tails swishing from side to side, are visibly the preferred mode of transportation in this rural settlement where villagers strongly believe in witchcraft. Women could be seen pounding millet, the staple food, while children gathered at a sports field to watch football matches pitting local teams against each other. But Elizabeth Hilge, a local married to Patrick Hilge from Luxembourg, is among a group of women in Kavango tackling head-on the issue of dumped children and orphans. This easy-going woman shunned an offer from her husband to live in the comfort zone of Luxembourg, one of the most affluent countries in Europe, where the state is so generous towards its citizens that its women upon giving birth automatically receive a grant the equivalent of N$30 000 and where there are a raft of social benefits from the state. There are many children really in need of basics and parental care in Councillor Albert Shihuameni’s constituency and this state of affairs prompted her to do something about the plight of these children by single-handedly establishing a feeding centre. Paradoxically the plight of these unfortunate children was amplified during the funeral of her late mother as she noted then that the number of mourners increased significantly during meal times for family members and other mourners who came to the funeral. And the “mourners” that contributed to the mealtime increase were children, and a quick investigation by an inquisitive Elizabeth Hilge found that these orphans and children left to fend for themselves by negligent parents used funerals as a source of food. At the time the children who jostled for their share from the meals cooked for the dozens of wailing, heart-broken mourners were from Mavanze while other hungry orphans upon hearing of these free meals, footed four kilometers from Sharuku a neighbouring village. She cut short the usually lengthy traditional mourning period for her late mother’s death and immediately decided to do something in her memory by establishing the Theresia Vendura Children’s Home that she appropriately named in her mother’s memory. Another reason why she established this centre with some assistance from her husband was the fact that scores of these children used to get drunk by drinking tombo when they got hungry because it is cheaper and much easier to access than a bowl of food. The home was started from scratch on a piece of tribal land left behind by her mother. This philanthropic soul says since she found the centre last December she feeds 143 children with food grown on her late mother’s plot and she also pays their school fees. The youngest child at the centre is Roide Kambinde who was born early in January 2005 while the bulk of the run-away mothers delivered the bulk of these children in the late 90s. The disease polio disabled several of these children while Down’s Syndrome, a mental ability that is below average, impaired others in their ranks. Children here eat a thick porridge cooked from flour from newly pounded millet served with an indigenous vegetable mutete scientifically known as hibiscus sabdarifa, or another indigenous vegetable known as mboga, scientifically called amaranthus thubergi. Some of the money came from her in-laws in Luxembourg who were also so touched by these children’s plight that they gave her N$7 000 after they initiated a fund-raising event. She has mobilized a group consisting of twenty women from the settlement who plough the four hectares of land from her late mother’s immovable estate, while the millet, maize and beans planted by this group are used in the self-initiated, community-run project. Other activities at this haven for these neglected children, where groups of women volunteers cook food and take turns to look after the children several of whom have physical and mental disabilities, include reading them story books filled with fairy tales. Elizabeth Hilge says as she operates on a shoe-string budget she struggles to feed these vulnerable children some of who were abandoned by their mothers who she says escaped from grinding poverty by co-habitating with their lovers in Grootfontein and Windhoek. “Some of the mothers ran away from poverty and went to enjoy life in Windhoek and Grootfontein where they are chasing after men who they want to marry them,” she said. Other parents are said to have travelled over a thousand kilometers to the Grape Valley at Noordoewer where they are employed as seasonal workers due to this industry’s nature. Despite this reckless, gung-ho attitude of some parents, Elizabeth Hilge has been pragmatic in the way she looks after neglected children she took from the streets. A twelve-person committee that is chaired by her and that consists of locals is involved in the day-to-day running of the project and the local head-woman Emileie Kanzara has been very supportive giving motivation to the volunteers as she also renders a helping hand. The headwoman is among the committee members while a local church gave its blessing and it even contributed manpower during the construction of some huts. There is a sewing project that makes dresses at the centre and proceeds from the sales of these home-designed garments go towards procuring more food for the children. In terms of the registration certificate issued by the Ministry of Health and Social Services her centre is mandated with poverty alleviation and to uplift living standards. With regard to funding so far, she is still awaiting a response from the Founding President Dr Sam Nujoma to whom she sent correspondence requesting a donation. Similarly, she’s notified the US Embassy requesting for money to feed the many mouths at the centre. Elizabeth Hilge says she received a quotation of N$82 000 so that a private contractor could drill and install a borehole plus a water pump to remedy the acute water problem while N$5 300 is needed for the installation of a 10 000-litre water tank. If the centre is to be electrified she needs N$52 000 while the financial implications to build a fully functional soup kitchen inclusive of a gas freezer, a gas stove and cooking utensils will be N$247 350. A further N$12 000 would be needed for the swings. The problem of street children and orphans is well known in Namibia where the numbers of orphans and vulnerable children stands at around 100 000 and Kavango is one of the regions worst affected by this social ill being exacerbated by the HIV/Aids pandemic. Namibia, considered the most unequal society in the world, has its Human Development Index (HDI) at 0.5. The total HDI for Namibia as a whole is 0.627 when measured through the GINI coefficient that currently lies at 0.707. Due to its historical past of racial and economic segregation 30 percent of its people own 70 percent of the total revenue. The HDI index measures poverty, literacy, education, life expectancy and other factors and is a standard means of measuring human progress in any given country.