Given the genuine and urgent needs that exist within our communities, one finds it hard to understand why anyone would actually be opposed to the idea of food banks. Not as a long-term solution, but a short-term measure to break the cycle of hunger. And one cannot but emphasise that the food banks are not actually based on wants, but on needs.
Nutrition is a basic and physical need, which must be considered a first category and priority need, as Maslow would have it, as opposed to other physiological and psychological needs, such as friendship and a sense of belonging and what-have-you. There’s no denying that in this country – as wealthy and prosperous as it may be – there are hundreds who go to bed on empty stomachs every night.
Many consider themselves fortunate to have had something to eat in the day and this something is usually no more than a mere slice of bread with nothing on it, and nothing to down it with. That is how dire the situation is for some of our fellow citizens.
Not to mention that a good number have also made the dumping sites their daily hunting grounds and source of supply to nourish their malnourished bodies. It is also well known that many pensioners have to share their meager allowances with their families, who sometimes – if not most of the time – include grandchildren of school-going age.
Hence, the affirmation recently by the survey report, titled: ‘School Drop-Outs and Out-Of-School Children in Namibia: A National Review’, which showed that malnutrition is rife among school children and can be linked to children not attending school, let alone finishing school.
That is why the country must welcome with open arms and due gratitude the opening last week of the first food bank in Tobias Hainyeko Constituency in Windhoek’s Katutura residential area – not as an end in itself, but as a pilot to see how it may pan out, so that other constituencies can follow suit; not as an intrinsic eventuality, but as part of various strategies employed to combat poverty.
As President Hage Geingob pointed out at the launch of the first food bank last Thursday: “There are those that will question the sustainability of food handouts and say that it will create a dependency syndrome. To those people I would like to say that they should understand that the food bank concept is part of an integrated poverty eradication framework, which includes a graduation model.”
One cannot but note that such food handouts cannot and should not be an end in themselves, meaning government cannot be expected to eternally provide people with free food, but a point should be reached where citizens in such dire need would constitute only a small proportion of the populace.
The president emphasised only part of the poverty eradication framework. One cannot but accentuate that such a framework must also encompass a serious structural re-organisation and re-alignment of the economy, so that people can fend for themselves and produce food for themselves, rather than continuing to rely on government for basic necessities, such as food, the demand for which is elastic while the supply thereof may not necessarily be elastic, as it is limited.
Hence, one cannot but join the president in calling on all and sundry to not only rally behind this essential and life-supporting initiative, but to bring their due – especially the businesses – in supplying and beefing up the banks in whatever way they can.
Various committees would be instrumental in these banks, with the youth active in them, which is another commendable approach to help reduce youth idleness, as well as instill in them a sense of civic duty, as a stepping stone towards engaging them in social activism and activities that may ultimately jumpstart them into productive self-reliance.
The fact that the person spearheading the food bank initiative is from Cuba cannot but be heartening and inspiring. Cuba, a long trusted and dedicated friend of Namibia, has proven herself in terms of communalism, if not socialism.
Given this experience, there is no way the initiative can go wrong, provided Namibia approaches it with the necessary spirit of dedication and devotion, as well as due regard for its good purpose, which is to meet the basic needs of fellow citizens in the spirit of Harambee.