This story was first published in Walk a Mile in My Shoes in 2011.  Since then Foibe has almost finished her classes for her Community Development degree.  She continues to be one of the key players, along with Abigail Bachopi, the Director of Family of Hope Services, in developing a child protection program in Katutura, in partnership with the Finnish Embassy in Namibia through the Finnish Fund for Local Cooperation.  In addition to these jobs, she still works closely with child sponsorship and child care at Family of Hope Services.

Foibe Silvanus as the Master of Ceremonies for the 25th Anniversary of the Day of the African Child at Family of Hope Services. The event was sponsored by the European Union and Terre des Hommes Italia.

A Turning Point in Life

When Foibe Silvanus was 19 years old, in 2001, she spent over a month in hospital in Windhoek, far from her family, awaiting the test results on her knee. When the results finally came back from South Africa, she was told she would either need a knee replacement or they would have to amputate her leg. Her family did not have the applicable medical aid for a knee replacement and being overwhelmed with her situation, Foibe asked to be discharged and went home to her family in Oniipa in northern Namibia. For many months she was suicidal. She didn’t eat. She isolated herself trying to decide what to do. After finally realizing all that her mother truly did for her, Foibe knew she could not abandon her mother so she decided suicide was not an option. From that moment on, Foibe chose to have faith that whatever destiny befalls her with her leg, it is what is meant to be.

Now, at the age of 29, Foibe says she only thinks about her leg (which she did not have operated on nor amputated) when the weather turns damp or after she’s had to walk for a long distance. The situation helps her to see every day as a blessing. And that’s pretty well how Foibe views all the challenges that have beset her in her life.

Foibe in 2011.

Nekwa lyastima oyenga nyoko ooyina yaantu ihalililwa

Foibe is no stranger to long, hard days of work, to living with very little money, and to dealing with crisis and humiliation. She is the second oldest child in a family of three where the only source of income was from the sale of baskets her mother would weave and the sale of the large containers for mahangu (pearl millet) that her father wove. Foibe’s days used to start at 3:00 a.m. when she’d get up to walk for one hour to fetch water with her brother. They each carried 25 litre containers full of water. When they arrived back home at 5:00 a.m. Foibe would need to bathe and get ready for school. Often she only had oshikundu to drink (a beverage made with a pearl millet called mahangu, and a bit of sugar) for breakfast, and then Foibe would set out to walk 3 kilometres to school in her bare feet. She said her school books were heavy and often tore her shirt as the plastic of the bag that held them would cut into her shoulder. She was teased relentlessly because of their poverty and was often told she was ugly and dirty. As a result, Foibe focused on achieving well in school and decided not to care whether she had friends. Her mother was such a strong and loving person who taught Foibe never to compare herself to others and this is what helped Foibe pull through. Her mother used to tell her, “Nekwa lyastima oyenga nyoko ooyina yaantu ihalililwa,” which means, “Don’t look at others who have more and you have so little. Be proud of what you have.”

Foibe in 2009, at a fully sponsored leadership workshop for Family of Hope Services, in the Kalahari desert.

Finishing School

When Foibe returned home from school, she would have to pound mahangu for hours to make flour to feed her family. She would study late in the evenings by candle light.

School fees were not so high in those days but nonetheless Foibe’s mother often paid in installments by giving a chicken or firewood to the school. This is how Foibe and her siblings managed to all obtain their grade 12. Foibe’s dream was to become a nurse, or a doctor, or a social worker. She decided early on in her life that she wanted to help others.

Foibe’s final two years of high school, grades 11 and 12, were very difficult because she had to live away from home in a hostel. She was constantly beaten up by two boys who taunted her at every opportunity. As a result, Foibe’s marks dropped significantly because she used to rush through exams and classes so she could escape back to her room before the boys could catch her. Even so, Foibe graduated from high school at the age of 16.

When she finished she was disappointed with her marks so she got financial help from her older brother who was working, and from her mother with her basket sales, to go to NAMCOL (Namibian College of Open Learning) for biology and physical science. Foibe finished these additional classes by the time she was 18 years old and took a year off to work the mahangu fields.

Foibe facilitating a workshop with community leaders. The workshop is designed to teach people about child abuse, how to spot it, and what to do.

Finding Her Path

Then came the situation with her leg and her ensuing depression. And once Foibe decided not to give in to her problems, she moved back to Windhoek to live with her uncle and to help him in his home. Being used to working without a break, Foibe was soon very bored. She applied for and obtained her first job which didn’t last long because her manager sexually harassed her and Foibe quit. After that she went to work for Ramatex, a large textile manufacturer which opened its doors in Namibia with a promise of jobs. Foibe was paid N$350 per month in 2004. She also didn’t stay long with Ramatex because her heart was really in helping others. She saw an ad for a workshop on Home-Based Care and counseling and so Foibe signed up. This is how she met one of the co-Founders of FHS, Ms. Jeniphar Gatsi Mallet, and how Foibe finally arrived at the cross-roads in her life that set her on the path she is meant to be on. Foibe began helping at FHS by providing translation for women in the HIV program, then she started teaching in the youth and school readiness programs. She progressed quickly to becoming the FHS School Readiness Supervisor, then on to become the Centre Administrator, and from there to the Community Liaison Officer. Now Foibe is the Programmes Coordinator for FHS, a role she’s held for two years.

Her Mentors – Jenifphar Gatsi Mallet and Abigail Bachopi

Foibe says that Jeniphar Gatsi Mallet and Abigail Bachopi, the other co-founder of FHS, are very similar people and they both taught her a great deal in her life and are role models who groomed Foibe. “They saw my potential and wanted to lift me up to discover myself. They are non-judgmental and dedicated to empowering others to achieve their dreams; they help me to believe in myself.”

We All Have Gifts That We Should Use

Foibe is climbing her mountain to attain her dream. She will complete her community development diploma at the Namibian College of Open Learning (NAMCOL) at the end of 2011, and she will enter a Community Development degree program through the University of Namibia in 2012. Foibe is also certified to counsel for HIV/ AIDS. Her brother and sisters are all working now so they help Foibe pay for her studies. Despite her incredible workload with a full-time job and her studies, Foibe is also a single mother to a beautiful five- year-old daughter.

“I want my daughter to grow up to believe in herself, to work hard, to respect others, to be assertive and to be proud,” Foibe tells me. “I want her to live by the values and principles I’ve instilled within her and I want her not to look to men to better her life. Like I was taught, I want her to be proud of what she has.”

Foibe believes we all have gifts and that we should use them.

“I’ve learned to use what little I have wisely and not to feel sorry for myself,” says Foibe. Problems become an opportunity to mature, and to learn to value what I have. I avoid bad friends and people who are negative. I believe in myself and I live by the values and principles I was taught. This keeps me focused in my life.”

Foibe in discussion with Thomas Presby (left) and William Shutzer (holding FHS child, Ndali), both are Directors with Tiffany & Co. The Tiffany & Co. Board visited the FHS centre in April, 2011, as part of their exploration of the needs in the communities where they do business.

Foibe with Danette Jaeb (left), the author of this story and the book Walk a Mile in My Shoes. The book is a fundraiser for Family of Hope Services. It conveys stories of children, women and men who live in poverty in Katutura, and who are part of the Family of Hope network.

The Challenges Foibe Sees Women Facing

“As a woman you are expected to bear children. You have to give your family grandchildren. Because many women are illiterate they don’t know their right to contraceptives or abstinence.”

“Culturally men are supposed to support the women and the women are supposed to stay home and care for their husbands and the rest of the family. This makes a woman vulnerable. As head of the house, the man makes all of the decisions and the wife must listen to him.”

“Women have to work very hard in the mahangu fields and in making food. And then they must have a big heart as well since their husband’s family will also live with them.”

Foibe’s Typical Day:

4:00 a.m.

– Wake up
– Shower
– Prepare her daughter’s lunch box for school
– Wake up her daughter
– Bathe her daughter
– Make breakfast and eat with her daughter
– Hail a taxi and take her daughter to kindergarten

8:00 a.m.

– Begin her day at Family of Hope – Meet with guests, volunteers, community members, guardians, government administrators, sponsors, and donors

– Develop programming for youth club, leadership workshop, discussion groups, and fun days
– Maintain and update database on sponsored children and donations – Organize sponsored items

5:00 p.m.

– Hail a taxi and pick up daughter – Go home and prepare dinner
– Clean up
– Put daughter to bed

– Study until midnight

Midnight

– Go to sleep

Foibe shaking hands with the Honourable Martin David, Councilor for the Moses Garoeb Constituency in Katutura. Councilor Martin is an invaluable partner in the community and supports Family of Hope Services.