Much is being said these days about orphans and other vulnerable children. Because of the HIV pandemic in Namibia, many children have lost one or both of their parents.
Many are living with their extended families. Many have moved back to their grandparents' houses. Some are living on their own, and it is becoming more and more common that homesteads are headed by 15- or 16-year-old teenagers.
[...] This is complicated by the fact that life can suddenly become much harder: we may be left to ourselves with no means of support, we may feel discriminated against, we may be abused by family members or friends who take advantage of the situation. There are many stories of uncles raping their nieces or stepmothers forcing stepchildren to do all the hard chores. There are also many stories of children reduced to living in the streets and eating from dustbins. Very few people want to talk about these things. I even know of politicians who claim that there are no street children in Namibia. I wonder how often such politicians wander in the streets of Katutura, Oshakati, Khorixas or Swakomund. There are, in Namibia, children living in the streets, eating from dustbins, begging, even prostituting themselves. Denying their existence will not help. We must acknowledge that they exist, and start looking for solutions. Street children are not numbers or statistics - they are children.
However, we should also avoid stereotypes. As an orphan reminded me:"We are fed-up with being called orphans and vulnerabe children. We are children full stop. We can also be happy. We can laugh. We can succeed." Sometimes by wanting to do good and classifying people, we actually reinforce the stereotype and contribute to the discrimination they endure. Orphans may choose to be treated like any other children, especially in the school environment. They may actually choose not to say they have lost their parents. This should also be respected.
A boy should not be accepted in the soccer team because he is an orphan, but because he is good at soccer and wants to play in the team. A girl should not be accepted in the choir because she is an orphan, but because she has a beautiful voice and wants to sing. Integration is the key to success. If we agree that we are all equal before God and the law, then let us behave as such. Let's offer help and support whenever and wherever it is needed, but first and foremost, let us accept each other and learn to work and play together, regardless of our status, faith, skin colour or familial situation.