For 15 years Charles Sawyers lived a miserable life characterised by alcohol addiction and begging for handouts on the streets of Rehoboth and Windhoek, where he slept in riverbeds and under bridges.
Before he ended up on the streets at the age of 34, Sawyers was married with one daughter and had a functional home, subsisting through a string of jobs in Rehoboth.
“I started drinking and I didn’t know how to stop. I divorced my wife and from there everything just started going downhill,” he says, as his reminisces on his former life.
His former wife got their matrimonial house when they divorced.
After the divorce Sawyers’ good fortune in finding jobs did not last long as he instead chose to feed his addiction to alcohol. His excessive binging led to the collapse of his whole world thus forcing him to quit work.
But this too was at a cost as the once happily married man with a decent home, where he had regular meals, now turned to the dustbins and the goodwill of people for food. As the saying goes ‘when times are dark friends are few’, and Sawyers remembers how some of his friends walked out on him when he was homeless, and down and out.
Because he had nowhere to go and nobody to turn to, the streets welcomed him with open arms. “I started living on the streets in Rehoboth. I slept wherever the sun set on me,” he shares.
Sawyers did not live very long on the streets of Rehoboth as he relocated to Windhoek where his misery continued. “I slept under the bridge. I met other homeless people and I started drinking tombo, jabula, Wambo liquor and smoking dagga,” the now changed man reflects.
“It is tough on the streets because you lose your dignity. You don’t care. You don’t believe in anything. You just live day to day,” revealed Sawyers.
While on the streets, Sawyers and other homeless people begged for money daily which they used to buy alcohol to drown their sorrows.
“We drank alcohol to forget … and at this point you are a complete alcoholic. I didn’t bath and I wore the same clothes for two months without changing.”
He adds that when he was really hungry, vetkoek and kapana were his staple food. He bought the food with money he earned from working in people’s yards in the suburbs.
Sawyers says his parents had bought a house in Windhoek and he moved back for a while but relapsed and went back to the streets. “I started leaving home in the morning and coming back in the afternoon until I eventually went back to the streets.”
Sawyers lived on the streets between 1990 and 2005. He lost out on a productive time of his life, he admits.
At this point Sawyers showed the reporter a voter’s card he applied for while living on the streets. The card contains the only photo he has of his old life, and he looked really old. It is hard to believe that the man in the photo and the one who now speaks passionately of God are the same person. “That’s what alcohol does to you,” he warns.
He adds: “When you are on the streets that is the lowest moment of your life. No one respects or wants to help you … it’s hard. Once on the streets, without the power of the Holy Spirit, you can never leave the streets. You can go to rehabilitation centres but without God’s grace you will collapse.”
Sawyers, who is close to retirement age, further says: “I regret having lost out on a lot of opportunities. Many people I was with are doctors and lawyers today. That is why I am urging young people to continue with their schooling.”
Sawyers has since formed the Khomas Homeless Development Organization, which supports and provides meals to over 75 homeless people on a daily basis. The organisation also offers Christian counselling and other assistance.
Sawyers last week shared his testimony of how God delivered him from his former life during the ‘A day with children living or working on the street’ initiative organised by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare.
“I was homeless for 15 years. I slept under bridges, drank alcohol, ate from dustbins and did all that I could to survive. But by God’s grace I am here today and I came to say there is hope. I came to say give your life to God and He will help you,” said Sawyers in his motivational talk with homeless people. There are over 500 homeless people in Windhoek alone, New Era has learnt.
In 2005, Sawyers left the streets completely to care for his sickly mother. “The Lord gave me the grace to take care of her,” he says, adding that his mother passed away in 2013 and she was happy that he had changed his life. He said he has also rekindled the relationships with his siblings and daughter.
Sawyers has remarried and his wife, who is a director at Philippi Trust, assists his organisation by providing Christian counselling to the homeless.
“I had nothing. Now I have a home of my own because I asked the Lord … I am happily married. I have a wife and a job and the Lord provides every day. If He can do it for me, He can do it for anybody.”
He says that the organization is not about him but those on the streets who need to be re-integrated into society. “These people need tender love and care. It does not happen overnight, you need to walk with them.”
The organization has managed to get some people off the streets and integrate them back into society. “Some were part of building the recently opened mall in Windhoek. I pray they don’t relapse,” he says.