Tag Archives: epako

Do they need a Madonna? Or an Angelina?

7 Jun

… Part 6

Epako kids 3 girls in a row

If you ever doubted how long your clothing donations to Africa will last … just look at the pink ra-ra skirt. We saw many 80’s cast-offs. Have faith when you donate!

By now you might be thinking this; these street children, these vulnerable nippers in Epako (or in any former township in southern Africa) who helps them to survive? Why don’ t they have parents around?

There are many answers to the last question. Disease is the biggie. HIV/AIDS being the obvious one. Once the body’s immune system has become so weakened – thanks to the horror of the HIV – more often than not a person dies simply due to a common cold or a minor infection. They also may not even aware that they have HIV. They don’t take the test, or ask for help. Sometimes because of stigma. Sometimes they feel that life is hard enough without having yet more bad news. So preparations and plans are not made for the care of their children after their death. (Best not to think …) And of course, other diseases are massive killers. We lost many friends in Namibia due to TB and malaria.

Simon and Friends - some orphans, but all are vulnerable and in terrible need

Simon and Friends – some are orphans, but all are vulnerable and in terrible need

Some adults simply cannot cope with being a parent and simply disappear from their children’s lives. Others have far too many kids already to cope with. Some form new relationships and have more children with a new partner. Kids from previous relationships may often be neglected or spurned because of a jealous husband or wife. Poor mental health and suicide is a huge cause for concern in Namibia – and domestic abuse and the murder of women is sadly, on the increase.

epako kids bush in background

These women are the unsung heroes – doing their best to look out for the children of others

So for the little ones who have just one surviving parent, or who have none at all – where do they go? Who keeps an eye out for them? Usually the extended family try and help, but all too often when faced with poverty such as here, at the tail-end of Epako, they simply cannot cope with another mouth to feed. On the photos and videos on this blog over the last few days here, you will have seen several women. Most of them kind aunties or grandmas or simply warm-hearted neighbours who have been doing their best to look out for the ‘street children.’ Certainly none of them profit in any way through helping the kids. No, it’s the opposite. This is one more mouth to feed to them. But they do it still.

epako kids with blankets2 nit check

Bless him. He looks as miserable as my two kids do when I’m doing the old weekly nit-check with them … Good ol’ Auntie keeping a check on him, eh?

We returned to the poorest corners of Epako with children bearing their new school uniforms in bags and then my own kids did their best to distribute blankets and toiletries and the torches and gifts from the British children. At this point I was besieged with thoughts of simply scooping up just a couple of the children and taking them home with us.  (Not like me I know. Normally I’m trying to dump my own kids on someone else so that I can get a breather and visit the nearest nail-bar or beauty salon – yeah, right.)

I wondered how Madonna and Angelina managed to do it. In Namibia it is incredibly difficult – nigh on impossible – to be a foreigner and to adopt a child if you intend on leaving the country with them. Of course, if you are a filthy-rich celeb it always helps. (I still haven’t forgiven Angelina for the fact that she and Brad flew to Namibia for 6 weeks in order to have their child and were granted Namibian citizenship for baby Shiloh – whilst us lot – scummy charity workers just down the road who actually lived, worked and gave birth there – were not allowed such a privilege for our daughter, when we asked for Namibian citizenship for her! Outrageous!) I wondered if there was any way that we could take a child home with us and to give them … just basic food and schooling. To give them some love and a smidgen of much-needed attention (when I’m not blogging, of course.)

But – practicalities and silly day-dreaming aside – I wasn’t sure if this is the right thing to do. Or whether it is the wrong thing to do (pathetic sit-on-the-fencer that I am.)

I don’t think I would have had such a moral dilemma about this if I hadn’t had had such a fascinating conversation with a very intelligent and feisty female cocoa farmer from Ghana. This was a couple of years ago at a fair trade seminar I was attending overseas.  I was describing to her the sheer number of Ethiopian babies being adopted by North Americans and French families (the flights back from Addis Ababa to both France and N.America are notorious for dozens of shrieking babies because the newly adopted parents haven’t yet figured out how to quieten the infant down.)

Joy at receiving a scratchy woollen blanket!

Joy at receiving a scratchy woollen blanket!

The woman farmer from Ghana was horrified. She asked me to repeat this information several times before it clicked. She had honestly never heard of people coming from overseas and adopting African children (no – she hadn’t even heard of the Madonna or Angelina adoption cases. Poor woman had probably never had the joy of reading a copy of ‘Shallow’ – sorry – I mean ‘Hello’ either.) She said “But they are taking our African children! These are our children! Not theirs to take!” I put it to her that many people think that the poorest children would have a much better life abroad. With loving parents who desperately want a child and who could give so much more in terms of home, food, schooling etc. My pal was having none of this. “It is just stealing our children. We can look after them. If Africa is treated more fairly by the rest of the world with our trade – if we are given a fair deal. We can look after our own!”

She felt that allowing overseas adoption was simply a sticking plaster – a band-aid – to the problems faced by the poorest African children.

Small girl from England bearing blankets. Is this sticking-plaster/ band-aid help? Answers on a postcard/in a blog comment please ...

Small girl from England bearing blankets. Is this sticking-plaster/ band-aid help? Answers on a postcard/in a blog comment please …

Yet again it made me think more about ‘handouts’ and giving aid and donations and all of that. Was what we were doing during our time in Namibia – as a family and as a community sending help from the UK and Ireland – any different? My day job very much focusses on trying to create long-term livelihoods for poor families overseas. So I know how important sustainable help is where poverty predominates …

But when faced with those tiny little mites who have so little to look forward to in life – your heart tends to run away with you.

One of my favourite girls (not that we HAVE favourites ...)

One of my favourite girls (not that we HAVE favourites …)

Well, mine did anyway. So, sue me.

















Simon Says?

6 Jun

Part 5



Simon didn’t say much. He didn’t have the energy to. Simon (pronounced ‘Sih-mon’ in Afrikaans) is 10 years old but weighs much less than my own 6 year old boy. Who is hardly a big lad himself.

Simon is malnourished. Along with his sister, he is an orphan and sleeps wherever he can find a warm corner in someone else’s shack.

As a small person who has no-one to keep an eye out for him, Simon has several options in life. He could walk the long road to town in Gobabis (not much fun when you are nearly-starving) and there try and beg for a few pennies off people. Or rummage through the dustbins. Or he could stay in Epako during the day and hope that someone, somewhere might find a bit of maizemail (savoury cereal porrige) to eat and perhaps he might also find somewhere safe and not too dirty to huddle down for the night.

Or he could go to school. Simon likes school. He tries to go as much as he can and has been accepted to a school within walking distance from Epako. Unlike many of the children, school is a big attraction for Simon because (our friends in Epako tell us) its the one place where he can be assured of getting something to eat.

San Bushmen children are some of the most disadvantaged and discriminated in the world. This little girl could only dream of a few items of school uniform and a blanket.

San Bushmen children are some of the most disadvantaged and discriminated in the world. Apologies for the cliche, but this little lass could only dream of a few items of school uniform and a blanket.

But as mentioned in yesterday’s blog – if you don’t have the equipment to attend school – it is almost impossible to go. School uniform is not mandatory (no-one would kick you out of school for not having the clothes) but some of the schools frown upon a child who doesn’t have the uniform. And anyway, would you want to be the only child who doesn’t have the dress or the shirt? (Shoes you can manage without of course … but just to have the one item of school uniform! This is all these kids are asking …)

Schools in Namibia (and in most African countries) also charge a school fee. Again – this isn’t mandatory – but some schools can make it difficult for children to attend if their families don’t pay this fee. Our previous work in southern Africa, with the San Bushmen made it all too clear that the poorest families need advocates who can write a damned good letter for them and stand up for their rights for a fee to be waived.

But back to Simon. The first time that we saw him smile was when he got into the car with my partner. Simon liked the car journey to the shop! And when he got to the clothes store – he and 20 other kids trundled along behind my other half (“I feel like the flippin’ Pied Piper here!”) and then it was a matter of slow little smiles all round as the kids were measured for shoes and various bits and pieces of school uniform and realised what might be happening.

San bushmen women are tiny and my girl found it amusing to keep telling me "Mum! You're like a big clumsy giant in comparison!" (Cheers, love)

San bushmen women are tiny and my girl found it amusing to keep telling me “Mum! You’re like a big clumsy giant in comparison!” (Cheers, love)

Simon was lifted up and perched next to the cash register so he could watch all of the events unfolding around him. It must have been a strange sight for him. The children from Epako were all waiting patiently in line, some of them already clutching their carrier bags filled with their new clothes. They looked sort of shell-shocked. The shop assistants who had seemed so astonished to see them all when they first marched into the shop was grinning now and talking to Simon, asking him questions about himself.  The funny little white girl was rushing about, dragging baskets of clothes and shoes with her father. The crazy white woman seemed to keep losing track of where the little white boy was (“Oh don’t worry – he’s outside doing somersaults with the other kids.”)

But don’t worry folks, I found him! Sure enough, there was my son. Bonding with his new mates thanks to all things boys and yukky (see video clip ‘Bleeugh! Look at my used plaster!’) and whilst my enormous credit card purchase thankfully wasn’t declined by my marvellous credit card company, we took a few minutes to get our breath back and to capture some of the smiles of children with their new items.

One of our helpers got a little bit shy! More smiles from the children

One of our helpers got a little bit shy! More smiles from the children

Double and Triple Phew!







Alan Sugar – Read It and Weep

5 Jun

(Part 4)

My kids started to hand out the apples we had brought and were astonished at the enormous grins that they received from the children. Fruit is an oh-so rare luxury here. My daughter was puzzled, however. “Mum – why do a lot of the kids sort of bow or curtsey when you give them something? I’ve seen grown-ups do it too here …” There wasn’t time to go into the whole spiel Empire and Slavery and Ownership Legacy at this point (and she probably would have resorted  to her pretend snoring like she usually does when I embark on a lecture), so I answered her with; “they’re just being polite. That’s all.”

And then we looked at our watches. It was already past midday. We had a car-boot full of items that needed to be bagged up for 50 kids. We had 20 kids that needed taking to the shops in order to buy them clothes for school. And we had to ensure that we were back on the road long before dusk fell due to the lack of lighting and the wildlife/driving dangers (have you ever seen a kudu? Do google this animal. You seriously do not want an antelope the size of a horse running headfirst into your car …)

We had to work fast, so we split into two groups. My other half and our friend from Epako rounded up the 20 neediest kids, flagged some taxis down at the edge of the location and headed for the shops (there were some *very* astonished customers and shop assistants on that day… the day when crazy white man turned up with 20 ragged street children – all still dizzy and grinning from their first ever ride in a CAR with a mad foreigner!)

Me and my own nippers were abandoned in Gobabis town and managed to flag down a friendly local. “Can we use your garden?” I rabbited. “We just need to fill 50 bags for 50 really needy kids. Can I borrow that table over there? Can we drink the water out of your garden tap? Can I use your loo?”

The friendly local looked rather confused, but he was very obliging and just let us get on with it (one of the things that I used to love about living in Gobabis… the attitude of ‘yeah … weird things happen…let’s live with it.’)

The day before, we had hit the shops big-time in Windhoek (Namibia’s capital) in order to buy the items that children need in order to attend school in this country. Many of the kids have to ‘board’ – that is, to stay over in school hostels – due to the distances. From the age of 6, children are often separated from their parents. This is traumatic enough for many, but imagine the ordeal of it all when you are too poor to be able to own even the most basic toiletries, a blanket or a pen and an exercise book. And school uniform and shoes? Well. Dream on, my friend.

And all of this means that the runaway and absenteeism is an enormous issue here for schools. Not to mention the bullying. Sadly, some kids will always want to pick on the dirtier, smellier and poorer children. But we knew exactly what to buy, thanks to our previous work with the San Bushmen children in southern Africa – some of the poorest and most oppressed kids in the world. So, we had bought the goodies and it was off to work!

This is what we had to do. In just over an hour, fill 50 bags, each with toothbrush, toothpaste, sunlight soap (for clothes and body), vaseline (black skin needs this!), pens, exercise books and the inevitable sweets and ‘glowing things’ (see yesterday’s blog.) My daughter – who detests all things to do with numeracy and formal education – came into her own at this point. Ticking me and her father off for fudging our mental arithmetic when it came to splitting up bulk bags of toiletries.

Whilst mother and daughter were giving Alan Sugar’s Apprentices a good thrashing (seriously – I would like to have seen that bunch of shysters doing all of this in such a short timescale…) child number 2 had found a new friend and was wandering in and out of people’s houses and sharing his sardine sandwiches with anyone who would give him the time of day . The kid was born in the wrong century and was definitely more at home in Namibia than in the UK where we all have to book play-dates several months in advance…

Bags finished, we put them back in the car and then headed off to see what chaos the others had inflicted on a humble clothes shop in the centre of Gobabis …





No Tantrums in the Townships

4 Jun

(Part 3)

I’ll admit that something I was rather stressed about when returning to Namibia was the way that my kids would behave in public. It doesn’t take a genius to notice that in general, African kids who live in the sub-Saharan countries are less … hyper … shall we say – than kids from the West tend to be.

And there are plenty of reasons for that, which I won’t go into right now.

So, watching our kids’ reactions to life in some of the poorer parts of the former township areas was very interesting. At first, as we entered the squatter camps, our son came out with “Hey – little houses made of old rubbish! Like metal and tyres and fings.  Can I have one like that? So coo-wul!” Then, as it dawned on him that this way of life wasn’t ‘play at tents in the garden’ and that he was face to face with kids who had no shoes, who had only one (dirty) set of clothes, who had no parents, who slept rough, who begged in the streets and who played in the rubbish dumps … he grew a lot quieter.

His sister was unnaturally quiet too. As we stood with friends from the less poor parts of town who were helping us to create a list of the neediest children, my daugher nudged me and asked “What on earth is that lady doing – stamping on that broken old chair?” I glanced over. “Ah – she’s made herself a sort of washing machine. She has to carry the water in and she’s stomping on the soggy blanket to get it clean and using the frame of the chair to help her to do it. Pretty clever eh?”

Nearby her baby was yarking for some more breast milk. The woman noticed us and came over to us, baby now hanging from boobie. She asked us to buy something warm for the child as their winter was approaching “He has just one thing to wear and it’s already cold in the night,” she said to us through a translator.

“What do we do?” I asked my daughter. “We were only supposed to be buying for the school aged children.” “Mum!” she murmured “I’ll buy him something myself. Look – he’s only got one sock!”

Both kids were still adjusting to what they were seeing.  In fact, I’d never seen either of them behave so meekly (without being told to.) Sure the day was a scorcher and the adults were talking about dull logistical and political stuff – but my two stood in a corner as they clasped each others hands and stared at the children in front of them.  Normally – in England for example – they would be sighing ‘Boooring!’ and ‘Where’s the Monster Munch? I’m ‘ungry!’ or  thumping each other. So this was all very unfamiliar behaviour from where I was standing…

It was all about staring.  (Not for too long … see my previous posts on ‘eye contact’!) And the brown and black children with holes in their pants and sores on their faces stared back at the funny white children who had such brightly coloured clothes and such pink and sweaty faces.

I think that it took about fifteen minutes for the reality to sink in for my wee english kids – the harsh way of life that these other children were leading.  I did experience a moment myself of ‘is this all a bit too traumatic for my two to cope with’? But I soon got over myself. And the kids got over themselves too.  But please note that this was not a deliberate ‘I’ll show my kids how flippin’ well grateful they should be’ experiment (ha, no – they’re still ungrateful little monkeys, if you ask me!) Rather, it was a lesson in 2 stages. Stage 1 being ‘Look. Observe. Show, Don’t Tell.’ And Stage 2 being ‘Right. What do we do now? Get your sleeves rolled up.’

For Stage 2, we were going to be People On A Mission! And despite their blood sugar slump and exposure to the midday sun and the shock of what they were seeing – my two didn’t even need to be asked. They sprang into action and began to engage with the children as their parents talked more logistics.  The 6 year old was well-impressed “Look – the kids make well coo-wul kites out of old bin liners! And they made a football out of old plastic bags!” Whereas the 9 year old was rather more indignant; “But this is awful! The tiny ones are playing around a rubbish dump? Why has no-one cleaned it up? Mum – you can’t ever moan about our bin-men at home again after this!'”DCIM100SPORT

Thanks to our fantastic friend who lives in Epako, we spent a good hour sorting out which were the neediest of the children that we could help. Many of them were orphans (but more on that tomorrow.) Returning to our friend’s home in a less poor part of the former township (but still very much ‘going without’ by our own standards) my son was bonding very well with the local lads and fully integrating himself into location society – wandering from home to home in the search for playmates. greg loves epako

One of the most ‘telling’ moments for me was when the children playing in the area wanted to ask him about his T shirt. I think that it was also a very revealing moment for my lad too. Sadly, he is a little chap who often feels very hard done to, because his evil Mum and Dad don’t buy him all of the stuff that he thinks that he should possess in terms of superheros, LEGO etc etc. This video clip says it all really. Check out the surprise on his face as he realises that his old T shirt – one of his many Marvel Superhero tops, and his Skylander hat – has utterly fascinated the boys. And that they don’t know who these superheroes are… And oh. How they would LOVE to wear something like that …

The dialogue on the clip here involves my boy trying to explain to them who the heroes are and what they do. His sister correcting him (of course!) And then the both of them attempting to tell jokes to the other kids (who clearly hadn’t a clue what they were on about – but they all laughed lots anyway.)

And that was the brilliant bit for us – bringing the kids had NOT been a mistake. Bringing the kids reminded us just what this was all about … Children just love each other’s company regardless. And they want to share their stuff and to have fun together …








Them in Their DARK Corner …

3 Jun

(Part 2)

Bit of a play on some very old-fashioned words to a hymn there …

One of my strongest memories of living and working in Namibia is of waking up just after dawn and hearing small children a-singing. These were the lucky ones who had a school to go to – walking long distances in order to reach their lessons. Their favourite songs as they marched along were ‘Jesus Bids Us Shine’ and ‘Jesus Loves Me! This I know.’  Both of them are huge hits with kids in southern Africa – a product of the old-fashioned missionary school approach.

I also grew up with these songs ringing in my ears. If you were not fortunate enough (or unfortunate enough according to my husband) to have been born n’ bred into a world of Sunday Schools – you probably won’t be aware that the words of that particular hymn, ‘Jesus Bids Us Shine’, are all about light and darkness.

In the midst of planning the Great Trek Back to Namibia I was teaching the words of this song to both of my children (whilst my husband griped in the background; “Please! No more! I can’t stand it! Sing your Robbie Williams stuff. Or even Andrew Lloyd Webber instead, if you have to!”) and it suddenly occurred to me to explain to the kids about how stark the contrast is between the light and the dark in southern Africa.

Darkness, even in the height of the summer, falls fast. So, those of us who love our evening BBQs (or ‘braais’ as they are called in southern Africa) wouldn’t be able to see much after 7pm there. And for the families who dwell in shacks in the former townships – especially those in the poorest parts of the areas known as ‘the informal settlements’ or ‘the squatter camps’ –  their lives are ruled by a simple lack of control over the light and the darkness.

Where there is no electricity, you are forced to use candles. Where you use candles, the reality of a shack fire and horrific injuries and death are all too real. And because more often than not, in these kind of conditions, the only toilet available is named ‘Go In The Bush’, those of us who are used to slurping our Horlicks at 9pm would be considered to be nutters to set the bladder up for such a test.

So, imagine that you are a small child. Infant school age.  And that you need to pee desperately in the middle of that darkness. Sure, the stars and the moon shine far more brightly in Namibia than in Yorkshire but would you want to take the risk of leaving the shack and the grown-ups and hopping out to the bush for a quick widdle? Snakes…scorpions…wild dogs. And the rest.

Of course – the alternative would be to wet your pants. Or the worn-out blanket that you share with your brother and sister. But you only have one pair of pants. And no running water for your mum to clean the blanket in the morning. You wouldn’t dare to be so silly.

This is the scenario that I regaled my children with (yes – I’m a laugh a minute to be around, sometimes!) But before you think of calling social services and reporting me for being a morose old bag – the conversation (and the dreadful hymn singing) actually developed into a new idea.

“Why don’t they have torches there?” one of my two asked me (I can’t remember which child, thankfully. Good job really, as they’d no doubt start squabbling over Intellectual Property Rights or something.) So, I explained about the lack of money to buy incredibly expensive things like batteries for a torch.

And then we hit on The Bright Idea. Wind-up torches! Everyone loves a wind-up torch (“Well – the slugs don’t do they? When they see Daddy out there on his midnight slug patrol. Daddy is so weird about his cabbages…”) But yes – wind-up torches for those of us who happen to live in much more affluent countries are a great deal of fun. They are oh-so handy and also quite easy to carry in suitcases …

But much more importantly – the more wind-up torches available, the less reliance on candles, the less scary (or lethal) ‘what could I be crouching on?’ moments in the bush and certainly a greater sense of safety for people who need to be outside during the dark hours.

So we sent an appeal letter to each child’s school. Not only did we end up with donations of over 60 wind-up torches but we were blessed with all kinds of flourescent and glowing implements – bracelets, stickers, small toys etc for the children in Namibia (Netherton Infant and Nursery School and South Crosland Juniors and their parents … you are bunch of little champions!)

(Part Two of the challenge was this; handling dozens of small torches and trying to convince customs officials in 3 different airports during a period of 24 hours – that you are not trying to either a) build yourself a bomb whilst in transit or b) set up a ‘Glowing Thing’ business when you arrive at your port of call. But I won’t bore you with that side of things.)

Suffice to say that the torches arrived and were distributed by us in the poorest corner of Epako in Gobabis,  a place that contains over 5,000 people and yet you won’t find on your maps of Africa (but more on why that is, tomorrow) and yes, not a single child or adult knew what these gadgets were.

But you should have seen the grin on their faces when the light dawned.

Thanks for bringing them the lights, you lot.


But the darkness falls, fast. And these kids don't want to have to go and pee in the bush, in the dark.

But the darkness falls, fast. And these kids don’t want to have to go and pee in the bush, in the dark …