Growing up on the dusty streets of Oshakati all that 29-year-old Samuel Kapepo yearned for was a dignified and decent life. He yearned for a life, where he would not have to walk barefoot to school on an empty stomach because his family was too poor.
Sadly, that was his reality as a child. Not only that, but he depended on good Samaritans to feed and clothe him, as his parents were not around to fulfil that role. Without parental guidance he soon fell prey to peer-pressure and the difficulties that come from not having food on the table during his teenage years.
Today Kapepo – who was once a member of a gang – has changed his life for the better and draws inspiration from his difficult past to transform the lives of people living in abject poverty in Ombili in Katutura and beyond.
His dream is to see a smile on the faces of those who are burdened with despair. His hope is to see young and old people, who are unable to make ends meet, fed. Kapepo does all he can through his humanitarian work that has seen him feeding more than 6 000 people, mainly children, with the help of 27 permanent volunteers, corporate organisations and individual sponsors.
Each week, Kapepo feeds at least 100 people. “Oshakati is a rough place. I started off by grabbing food from girls at school,” Kapepo reminisced in an interview with New Era this week.
Sitting with this reporter in front of his shack in Ombili the young man, whose sole passion is to live in a world without suffering, opened up about his life story.
“I lived a life that most people do not want to live. That is where my humanitarian spirit was born. What I’m doing now is based on my past life and I don’t want people in society to go through the same thing,” said Kapepo, who was dressed in blue denim trousers, a grey T-shirt, floppy hat and earrings in both ears.
It was not easy growing up without parents, says Kapepo, who was orphaned at the tender age of 15. “My mom gave me away when I was born, because she wanted to do her own thing – only to come back in a coffin when I was about 15 years old. My father was also not around,” the Oshakati-born Kapepo recollects.
His contribution to society started years ago with a soup kitchen that he initiated in the informal settlement of Ombili. “When I plant a tree I want to change people’s lives for the better so they too can make a difference in the lives of others. I believe in humanity,” he says.
He has over the years managed to convince several corporate entities and individuals to invest in improving the lives of the less privileged. Many have since come on board to make their contributions – big and small.
Our conversation is not without constant interruptions though, as the well-loved Kapepo is frequently greeted by passersby. “When people like what you do they fall in love with you. I inspire corporate organisations to plough back to society,” he says.
It is obvious the presence of the man, who is now regarded as a legend of change, is felt by many people in the community.
During the interview, Kapepo – a seemingly amiable person – stops to hand a few dollars and pieces of meat to some of those who pass by and stop to greet him.
Kapepo, whose mantra is “God for Kapepo and Kapepo for the people,” has tattoos on both arms. “Would you care to explain the motive behind the tattoos?” I ask.
Psalm 23, he explains, is his favourite biblical scripture, as it reminds him not to be fearful of anything. The ‘light of the world’ tattoo he says is just to demonstrate that he is a light that shines bright among the residents of Ombili.
The other tattoo, which has the dates of the birth and death of his second child, Pombili, is a constant reminder of his tragic loss. Pombili was just a toddler when she died in 2012. Like any parent faced with a death of a child, Kapepo says it was not easy to bear. “She died in my arms, holding on to my chain,” he explained. The tattoo “is just for me to heal”.
Not long after that, the father of three was blessed with twins. “Life is full of challenges, but we don’t need to give up,” says Kapepo, who also won a Jet Store community award in 2010 for his activism. But what inspires Kapepo to continue with his work in the community?
“The hood made me. I’m inspired by the hood, because here I’m closer to people. That is why I understand them. I live among these people and the good thing is that I’m learning and equipped by these people,” he explains.
“This is where I get my ideas from. Most successful people in the world were from the hood. It’s good to live a simple life, because you live with the people. I prefer to live like this. Maybe one day I will change. If you live in Klein Windhoek you don’t have access to people and that also means you’re not learning about people.”
Kapepo does not dream of owning a car or house anytime soon, although he can now afford to live comfortably. What matters most to him is the joy of having fed, clothed and loved people, he says.
“People were also there for me when I did not have anything,” Kapepo recalled. Anyone can contribute positively to humanity, he believes: “People should be who they are. When they fall, they should get up and fix what is broken.”
Also, people should desist from labelling others and mocking their upbringing. Instead, they should encourage one another to become better people. “Namibia was not liberated by educated minds, but by people who understood what life is all about,” he says.