Couple’s kitchen keeps children in school

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Couple’s kitchen keeps children in school

OTJIWARONGO – An elderly couple in Otjiwarongo started feeding vulnerable children after a child was run over by a municipal truck at the dumpsite five years ago.

The tragedy touched Annette and Jonny //Hoeb, who immediately started a soup kitchen to stop children from foraging for food at the dumpsite.

They are now feeding close to 100 children, some of whom used to go to the dumpsite to find food. 

They are now pleading for assistance to put a roof over a two-room structure which was constructed to accommodate the kids for feeding and after-school purposes.

The children now started to attend school more regularly as the couple made attending school a requirement  to receive a plate of food. 

Most of the children were under-aged and had dropped out of school because of circumstances at home.

“I was walking that side of the dumpsite in 2018, and saw people running after a truck at the dumping site. It caught my eye, and I decided to observe the situation closely. I stumbled on the children foraging for food, and told them to follow me to my house so that I could cook for them. I continued doing that for the past five years, and now my pockets are depleted,” explained Annette.

She said when it became financially more difficult to provide meals consistently, the number of children dropped.

“All the children that I am feeding now are in school at the Karandu, Orwetoveni and Rogate primary schools. These are schools in an informal settlement, and as we speak, they do not have feeding programmes. When kids are hungry, they drop out of school,” she lamented.

As pastors in the community who do not have a steady income, the couple are finding it difficult to feed the children. However, Otjiwarongo constituency councillor Marlene Mbakera often comes to their rescue.

While New Era was conducting the interview, a group of children arrived at the house, wearing mismatched school uniforms and with their lunch boxes, hoping for a decent meal.

They went straight to the unfinished structure, and started to sing. The singing is a signal for those nearby to queue for whatever is on offer after having washed their hands.

Some put their leftovers in their lunchboxes for dinner as they will most likely not find food at home.

A young boy from the Ombili location said he has been eating at the couple’s house for three years after he was informed by a friend about the meals on offer. 

“I was eating from the dustbin, as there is no food at home. I am living with my mother, but she is unemployed. I always look forward to school to end so that I come here and eat something,” he told this publication.

Another beneficiary who came with her lunch box to take some food for dinner said shyly that they are in dire need of a table and chairs at the soup kitchen as they eat while sitting on the floor.

Another boy said the food at the soup kitchen would be his only meal for the day.

“If I did not eat here, I will not eat for the whole day. I stay with my grandmother, who is unemployed but does not yet qualify for the social grant benefit. My parents are apparently in Windhoek, but I have not seen them or heard from them for many years,” he narrated while eating.

Meanwhile, the constituency councillor sympathised with the couple, adding that they have been voluntarily helping the children at their own expense and they thus need support as they are encouraging children to go to school.

“This is a sad reality. You know the government has suspended the school-feeding programmes, and now children have nothing to eat during break-time. This was helpful because the children come here for a meal and go back for extramural activities. My office has been helping where it can, but now there is no food at the office anymore,” she noted.

Mbakera then urged Good Samaritans to donate zinc sheets and food for the centre.

“They were assisted by a certain donor with N$30 000, which they used to buy building materials for two rooms and a toilet, excluding labour, as the husband is a builder by profession. But the materials were not enough,” she added.