RUNDU – The Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Namibia, John Kowalski, says Namibians are filling the gaps with the PEPFAR-funded projects and are doing it from the heart to help other Namibians in need.
Since 2004, Namibia has received US$800 million for HIV/AIDS relief from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the fund is used to fight new HIV infections, care for vulnerable children and other people affected by HIV/AIDS and for the treatment of HIV-positive patients.
Kowalski who is the Acting American Ambassador to Namibia was on a two-day visit to Rundu with his delegation to assess progress on PEPFAR programmes. According to Kowalski, the visit was to familiarise himself with the work being done with the funds provided by American taxpayers.
“We have been travelling around the country because we want to see and support the people that are doing the work, and these are Namibians doing the work from their heart to support other Namibians and this is filling the gap – New Start is doing that, Lifeline is doing that,” said Kowalski.
“We are happy with everything. Every time someone can be tested, every time someone who has tested positive seeks ARV treatment, a life is saved and how can anyone not be happy about that? It’s about Namibians doing things and building capacity to help other Namibians. Our goal is to help the ministry of health, the Namibian government to achieve an AIDS-free generation and it’s through things like this, that’s how it gets started. This volunteers are committed and it comes from their heart to help others,” he said.
The two-day visit started with a tour of an OVC kindergarten centre on the southern outskirts of Rundu, at Ndama south of the Trans-Zambezi Highway.
Pakera Mbili (which translates as Take Care) kindergarten was established last year by a nurse at the Nkarapamwe clinic in Rundu. It started in a zinc shack and later received funding from PEPFAR and managed to build a permanent structure OVC early childhood education centre and a soup kitchen, as well as a pre-primary school. A Peace Corps volunteer provides technical assistance.
“Working at the clinic I noticed that many of the children who were being brought from Ndama informal settlement suffered from malnutrition and that gave me the idea to do something even if I only assisted a handful of children. Since I already had a plot there I decided to build a zinc classroom and a hut to use as a soup kitchen for kids,” narrated Selma Baruck the nurse who runs the OVC centre.
Baruck said the funds helped her to establish the centre and now she wants to expand to be able to cater for many more vulnerable children.
“I currently employ one pre-school teacher who I pay out of my own pocket to educate and take care of the nine children that are registered at the centre. With the funds I got from PEPFAR I built a building that has one classroom, a teachers’ office, a storeroom and two separate flushing toilets for the kids and I fenced off the centre. I also have my little daughter at the OVC daycare/kindergarten,” Baruck informed the Acting American Ambassador.
After visiting the Pakera Mbili OVC kindergarten, Kowalski also visited the New Start stand-alone centre, which is supported by PEPFAR/USAID that is implemented by a local NGO, Lifeline/Childline Namibia. The centre complements Namibia’s HIV response by providing HIV counseling and testing (HCT) services to most at risk populations (MARPS) and underserved communities. The purpose of visiting the centre was also to see first hand the use of PEPFAR funding in implementing child protection programmes, positive parenting courses, social behaviour change programmes to reduce child abuse, gender-based violence and HIV infection, safe school programmes, gender awareness and training, HIV testing, and PLHIV (People living with HIV) care and support programmes.
Kowalski applauded the work of Lifeline/Childline Namibia in Kavango East and Kavango West.
Before flying back to Windhoek Kowalski and his delegation visited Kaguni village in Kavango West where he met health extension worker, Sikwete Sara, who briefed him on how health extension work is carried out daily.
Health extension workers are partly funded by PEPFAR through the Ministry of Health and Social Services. The health extension workers’ programme operates in Kunene, Omusati, Ohangwena, Zambezi, Kavango East and Kavango West regions. Its purpose is to bridge the gap between communities and local health facilities, especially communities that don’t have access to health centres and mainly deals with children and pregnant women, all patients, and does health promotions.