Sometimes one needs to be reminded that pushing through the barriers of poverty is possible, however, assistance is also needed. Speaking to Managing Director of Bicycle Empowerment Network Namibia (BEN), Michael Linke, Ms. Foibe Silvanus, who is a caretaker at the Family of Hope facility, shared her sentiments when it comes to how BEN has assisted in shaping a community through bicycles.
Family of Hope (FHS) is an organisation that was started in 2003 by Ms. Abigail Bachopi. However, when it started, it was just a center where she began volunteering one day a week to run a support group for 61 women affected by HIV and AIDS. The group was located in Katutura, near the informal settlements and squatter camps of 130,000 plus people. It wasn’t long before Abigail noticed that these women always brought their children to the meetings which made it difficult for them to discuss the intimate and complex issues they faced with HIV and AIDS. She also noticed that the children weren’t in school. And, putting two and two together, Abigail realised they came to eat something, since a meal was provided at the weekly meeting. As a result, Abigail saw an opportunity to uplift a community that is poor and unable to feed its people. In 2003, with the help of Jeniphar Gatsi Mallet, she started the Family of Hope organisation. Although it started with a feeding scheme of only 18 children, she worked with volunteers from the community who not only assisted her with the children, but also helped her raise funds in order to keep the place afloat. The money she helped raise was used to pay for school requirements, to provide tutoring, and to feed the children at least once a day. In the first year FHS supported 18 kids in one way or another, and consequently, the numbers of children grew to 84 kids in their second year, and to 150 in their third year. In 2008, Abigail took things one step further and became a registered welfare organisation with the Government Ministry of Health and Social Services and today, they are helping over 450 kids.
Consequently, over the many years, the FHS organisation has received assistance from many organisations which is inclusive of BEN Namibia, which is an organisation whose aim is to empower disadvantaged Namibians through provision of sustainable transport and bicycle-related income generation opportunities. Therefore, BEN Namibia has donated bicycles to FHS and as a result, FHS has benefited greatly because they have used these bicycles to set up a bicycle workshop where they are able to sustain the facility. Through the workshop, the FHS has managed to fix broken bicycles and sell them to the community at a reasonable price. Through these income streams, they have managed to buy food and manage the feeding programme scheme. The facility has also taken up the initiative of teaching women how to fix these broken bicycles, with this, the facility is eliminating poverty through the selling of bicycles, but also providing an education and an opportunity for women to also venture into the area of becoming a mechanic; a career only meant for men. Through this initiative, they have managed to feed and improve the lives of these vulnerable children. FHS has managed to support the community in various ways such as the Food and Nutritional Program where they feed 280 learners and vulnerable children without enough food at home. As such, they provide 2,820 meals per week which includes a supplementary drink and meals. FHS also has a kitchen building with a storeroom that was built through funding from Africa Inland Mission – Southern Africa. The kitchen includes a hygienic and food safe space; food preparation area; food cleaning area; food distribution area; utility area; and the requisite ventilation. Apart from this, they also have a Garden where they grow their own food. However, what is also an outstanding service they provide is the Counselling. Under this program, FHS helps children who have gone through loss, psychological assistance and or those who live with abusive parents. With the toll the third-wave the COVID-19 pandemic hitting Namibia, many parents have lost their means of income and as such, they are frustrated and sometimes they turn to alcohol abuse in order to escape their thoughts. In order to escape the situation at home, children go to FHS and participate in art therapy and practice creative coping strategies in the therapy room and on our play-ground area. The therapy room is equipped with books, toys; computer and other play tools to give to the children and the youth a comfortable space to communicate and improve own their creativity. Through this programme, 45 adult guardians receive counseling to help them understand the effects of trauma on the children they care for, and to teach them how to cope and respond. This is where FHS steps in and offers an escape for the children who live with such parents.
Currently, some of the volunteers at the facility are alumni’s who were part of the program and have either left the facility to further their studies. Foibe argues that, ‘it is great to see that our work has paid off in the form of graduates who have gone and made something better with their lives.’ These graduates then return to come and help give their appreciation through tutoring school children. This is imparting education through learned services and making the world a better place for those who cannot help themselves. With the United Nation’s 4th Sustainable Development being education and hoping to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, FHS has been doing that through means of tutoring and providing any other school assistance needed by the children from the community.
Despite these challenges, Foibe says that she is grateful to be able to a smile on children’s faces through a meal and education. There is pride within oneself knowing that you made the world a better place for someone. She is also thankful for BEN Namibia because with their assistance, they are able to further expand their initiative to rent bicycles to communities to help them commute daily at a lower price. This has helped them survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
However so, FHS is an NGO that depends solely on donors and sponsorships from investors and or companies who would like to see a Namibian child to learn every day, but also has something to eat. One cannot study on an empty stomach and FHS can also not be sustainable on its own; they need donors to further keep their facility going forth. Foibe thus pleads to organisations who are willing to assist their facility. She also pleads with members from the community who are willing to volunteer with them. Through FHS, volunteers can be taught how to be caregivers and take care of not only children but learn how to deal with adults who are affected by trauma.
For those who would like to donate, please do visit their website and see how to donate. Thank you.
By Frieda N Mukufa