From crumbs to academic excellence

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Selma Ikela
Windhoek

Meet 27-year-old Christina Swartbooi who benefited from the gender equality ministry’s after-school centre scholarship programme. Swartbooi returned to the country last October after completing a Bachelor of Science in Economics in Cuba through a scholarship offered by the ministry.

She spent six years in Cuba with all costs paid by the Namibian government.
Fifteen years ago Swartbooi, who was 12 at the time, started visiting the after-school centre because of the difficulties at home. The free meals at the centre attracted her and Swartbooi took her younger sister along.

At the centre they got food and clothes, did their homework and participated in various extra-curricular activities.

At the centre Swartbooi enrolled in the wrestling club, a sport in which she proudly holds a degree as well. She was part of the national wrestling team that travelled to Germany and Turkey.

The after-school centre based in Grysblock is meant to accommodate street children but because Swartbooi was a regular visitor she benefited from programmes offered there.
Recently the Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, Doreen Sioka, spoke about the success of the school re-integration programme offered at the centre, saying that many children who went through the programme have never returned to the streets. Sioka said there are currently 125 children in the programme. Although Swartbooi was not a street kid, she benefited because she was vulnerable.

Swartbooi’s home in Khomasdal was a different tale. She is a second born of six children. Her father is unemployed and her mother is the only breadwinner, employed as a domestic worker.

She described the situation at home as difficult with no food to eat and this was what led her to the after-school centre back then as a primary school pupil.

“Life was difficult at home and we heard there was an after-chool centre that was giving food every day. That’s how I got to know of the centre. I would go there for meals and stay because there were activities that kept children busy,” remarked Swartbooi, adding that she would sometimes take food for her parents to eat at home.

Swartbooi said that she had asked the woman in charge of the centre if she could go for breakfast before going to school and they allowed her.

Through wrestling – in which she excelled – the ministry gave Swartbooi a scholarship to go to Hochland High School and thereafter she got an opportunity to go study in Cuba.
“We were two (who left for Cuba). I did economics and the other beneficiary was from the children’s home but he fell out and didn’t make it and returned to Namibia.”
She returned from her studies last year.

Swartbooi is the one only from her siblings who went to university. All her three brothers dropped out of school. Her sister that follows her is employed at a local shop in town while her baby sister is still attending school.

After returning home from Cuba job hunting hasn’t been fruitful for the 27-year-old. “I have been looking for employment since I returned at all ministries – and private companies – but it is not easy. The struggle is real.”

She says she applied for internship as well but got nothing so far. “I even tried out waitressing work. I am supposed to get a gig end of this month and I am still waiting. Well, anything I get now (will do).”

Swartbooi is hopeful she will land a job and assist her family. She said once she gets a job her mother would not have to work again.

Sioka said of the children who have gone through the reintegration programme many have gone beyond Grade 10 and 12 and are serving in the police and defence force and hold professional positions.

Referring to Swartbooi, Sioka said: “One of them just completed her degree in economics in Cuba. We also believe that children have the potential to change if they are provided with the necessary support,” she noted.

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