Orphaned Children are Her ‘Personal Calling’

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK We are always reminded that when you climb up the social or economic ladder, you should never forget those that are less fortunate. While many have failed to do that, this has been the enduring spirit with which one of the few successful businesswomen of Namibia has shown her compassion for orphaned children. Dr Christina Swart-Op-perman four years ago scooped the award for the Economist Businesswoman of the year. This was not just a celebrating moment of her life. She thought of how she could share her happiness with those who might not necessarily have a sunshine smile on their faces every day – orphaned children. The HIV/AIDS situation in the country has left about 156 000 children orphaned and the reality is that the numbers of these children is becoming progressively worse and will remain so maybe beyond 2021. Traditionally, orphans have been absorbed by the extended family but this is becoming more difficult because at the same time, a large number of young adults are also dying. The burden of care and support is now falling on the very young and the very old. Faced with such a situation and although government has on its part sought ways to help these children, Swart-Opperman in 2003 established the AIDS Orphans Trust Foundation to help children who would otherwise be forced into begging, crime and prostitution in order to survive. “I started the fund not to gain recognition but felt as a responsible citizen, I have a duty to assist fellow Namibians especially the children,” she says. The trust was founded with a vision to contribute towards social reform in Namibia and specifically to uplift and improve the quality of life of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The trust participates in programmes dealing in education, care and feeding schemes, prevention and psycho-social support. On a monthly basis, a total number of 952 children countrywide receive support from the fund whose main source of support is through soliciting the business community to finance projects as part of their corporate social investment and through fundraising projects. Swart-Opperman feels the business community has a duty to take care of future business people and the current orphan crisis could be managed effectively if everyone, specifically the business community and concerned individuals work together. “The business community specifically, has a role to play in making a difference in the lives of our nation’s children,” she adds. The trust supports 13 different projects across the country and one of these is Orlindis-Place of Safety (in Okuryangava), a home that accommodates about 25 children. This home started as a kindergarten founded by Claudia Namises in 2001. During the initial years, problems were experienced where parents would bring children to the kindergarten and then abandon them. The trust then stepped in to support these children through donations of blankets, food, toys, tracksuits, baby formulae, cleaning materials and pre-payment of electricity. The trust supports children from the age of zero to 19 years. Though that is the main target group, Swart-Opper-man says her work does not restrict her from helping those who could be above the cut-off age, as it is common that some people could be older than 19 but still in school. Even if she has empathy for adults who are less privileged, Swart-Opperman says, “I cannot do for everyone. I can only for the time being concentrate on children.” According to Swart-Opperman, the specific values of the trust will remain those of respecting human dignity and rights of children, applying funds with integrity and having compassion for those who are less privileged. “We should treat children who are orphaned by HIV/AIDS as victors and not victims,” she says. Depending on the funding situation, Swart-Opperman hopes to introduce bursaries for orphans so that they can further their studies at different institutions of higher learning. She also wishes to spread the idea to other parts of Africa. Despite the achievements that the trust has made in these years of its existence, Swart-Opperman told New Era that one of the greatest challenges currently faced is people’s failure to write proposals. She told of two incidences where people faked situations. “When we went out there and did our research we found that the cases were not the reality,” she attested. In spite of the challenges, and as long as her motives are pure, Swart-Opperman assures that she will always help children that are less privileged and make the world a little happier place for them to live in. With determination she says, “I will drive this trust till 2021. It’s a business with focus to enhance the way of life for children.” She describes her love for children as a “personal calling” and simply a continuation of what her parents used to do – feeding the poor. She feels if Namibia has to produce future businessmen and women, society has to learn to take care of children. Swart-Opperman appeals to the business community to always allocate a certain portion of their profits for charity especially programmes initiated for assisting helpless children. “Our children are our future and everyone must work towards a better future for all. Reaching out to someone who is less privileged than yourself is one way to thank your creator for all your own blessings,” she advises. She added, if one looks at children who are less privileged, one should always remember that it is circumstantial and that they are entitled to all rights. “Children are so precious, without them there is no future,” she ends.