What If You Were in Her Shoes?

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK Misery and hopelessness cloud her eyes. Her pale skin tells a story of under-nourishment and her lips reflect a picture of hunger. She is jobless and the mother of two girls. Her firstborn is aged 15 and the second child is five. “I am struggling. Life is a struggle. I cannot tell where my next meal will come from. This morning I had to eat ‘left-overs’. I cooked porridge last night, and this morning I drained the water from the soaking pot, and the remains are what I ate for breakfast.” Johanna Shikesho tells how degrading the effects of poverty can be. As Namibia joined the rest of the world during the weekend in the “Stand Up” campaign for the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), 39-year-old Shikesho also formed part of the gathering at the Sam Nujoma Stadium in Katutura. Whilst not convinced that anyone would at this stage come to her rescue, she regards such gatherings as nothing but speech-delivering platforms with little or no action at all to change the living standards of those languishing in poverty. Even if she came from a fairly poor background, her poverty situation worsened two years ago when she discovered she was HIV-positive. Unfortunately, her partner – the father of her second child – deserted her. With no employment and no source of income, the single mother has to find ways and means of caring for her two children. In a soft yet sad tone, she reveals to New Era: “I go from house to house begging, and it has been like this for the past two years. Sometimes when I cannot get anything, I send my children to neighbours in the hope that they will offer them something to eat. People in my area are tired of me, but circumstances…”. Her home is made from corrugated iron sheeting in the informal settlement of Hakahana-Katutura, and the wind of hunger hovers over this dwelling. “Hunger is now part of our daily life. Sometimes I tell my children just to drink water and then send them to bed. I try to comfort them by telling them that the next day will be better. I pray that one day God will answer my prayers,” she adds. It is also nothing rare that this family goes to the dumping sites to scrounge for anything edible. Given her health status, Shikesho commended the government for the provision of antiretroviral drugs given to HIV/AIDS patients. Though these immune-boosting drugs are available, she rarely takes her doses because of hunger. With her face downcast, as if to stop herself from breaking down, she adds, “When I take the pills, I vomit because there is no food in my stomach.” Gone are the days when Africans embraced the spirit of Ubuntu. Although she has working relatives, they are not willing to help and, worse still, she suffers stigmatization because of her status. “My relatives do not want me or my children because I am sick. Sometimes I can really feel I have little strength as my health is deteriorating, but I have to find something for my children,” she agonizes. While water is described as ‘gold’ in Namibia, the City Council sends her a monthly bill of N$36, but Shikesho says she has no clue from where that amount could be obtained every month. Luckily, she still has access to water. In September this year, she approached the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare to have the children registered under the Orphans and Vulnerable Children programme. Unfortunately, she is not in possession of a death certificate of her late ex-husband – the father to her firstborn child. Efforts to obtain this from his relatives have not been fruitful. “I walk from my house to town in the hope that the Ministry will be able to help me,” she said. GCAP Ambassador for Namibia, Bishop Zephania Kameeta – who addressed those who braved the heat to show their support for the call that poverty can be made history – stressed that 16 years after the country’s independence, poverty continues to rear its ugly head in Namibian society. He believes Namibia will not succeed in fighting another social problem – that of HIV/AIDS – if matters pertaining to poverty are not addressed. He regards poverty and HIV/AIDS as two different sides of the same coin. The ambassador called for a national conference to find a solution and to take action against poverty. He also called on civil society, government and other interested parties to join hands and to work consistently to eradicate this problem. “It’s time we urgently convened a conference against poverty. Government is doing its part and so is the civil society, but the scandal of poverty demands working together,” he said. Kameeta expressed disappointment about the uncaring attitude of many Namibians, saying it is time people became concerned about one another. To those he described as ‘being good at guarding their pockets with a gun’, Kameeta pleaded for a spirit of sharing between the rich and the poor of Namibia. According to another GCAP Ambassador for Namibia, Veronica de Klerk, “poverty is hunger; poverty is lack of shelter; poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor; poverty is not having a job; it is fear for the future, living one day at a time…”. In support of Kameeta, De Klerk stated that poverty is a call to action not only for the poor but for the wealthy as well. She further believes, “It is an urgent call to action, to change the world so that many more may have enough to eat or can have shelter, access to education and health, protection from violence and a voice to address the injustices against the voiceless.” As an ambassador, she revealed her grave concern about the plight of the poor in the country, adding that the unemployment and overall poverty situation in most regions is very bleak and depressing. Disturbing signs are visible that many people are slowly losing their grip on life insofar as they accept their poverty as the norm and about which ‘nothing can be done’. “Everybody can make a difference – join hands and rise to the challenge of identifying the numerous barriers which are keeping us poor and under-developed,” was De Klerk’s appeal to all Namibians.