ONDANGWA, Namibia—The local elementary school became worried when 9-year-old Hannah* stopped showing up to class. She was a good student, showed a lot of promise, and it was unlike her to be absent.
They went looking for Hannah and found her alone outside, sleeping in the bushes. She was living off wild fruits near a village in northern Namibia, a small country in West Africa.
Hannah’s little sister Elizabeth*, just 5 years old at the time, was not with Hannah when the school officials found her. Little Elizabeth was still missing.
After a local social worker was alerted about Elizabeth, the girls’ grandmother was traced, and Elizabeth was found living with her at an unlicensed bar.
Just a few years prior to this tragic episode, Hannah and Elizabeth were forced to deal with another tragedy—the death of both their parents. It was then that the two girls went to live with their grandmother, who, as it turned out, was unfit to care for them. They were left home alone and often had no food to eat.
After both girls were discovered in such wretched conditions, the decision was made to find them a new home. That home would become the SOS Children’s Village
in Ondangwa, Namibia, one of three SOS Villages in the country and one of 47 in Western and Central Africa.
Children play on the playground at the SOS Village in Ordangwa, Namibia, one of three in the country. Photo credit: Brenda Dimbleby.
Like all children growing up at SOS Villages across the globe, Hannah and Elizabeth were welcomed into an SOS Family. The SOS Family is headed by a trained caregiver—an SOS Mother—who raises between 6-10 children in a loving, supportive home.
Hannah and Elizabeth’s SOS Mother, Monika, enrolled the two girls in kindergarten as one of her first actions. Because Hannah had been in and out of school while under the care of her grandmother, she had to begin school in kindergarten even though she was older than the rest of the children.
Hannah stood out among her classmates as she was taller and older than the rest of the children. This made for a slightly uncomfortable experience for the little girl, but her SOS Mother Monika helped her through it.
“My [SOS] mom encouraged me and said age does not matter as long as I do my best,” said Hannah.
Today, Hannah is 14 and has graduated on time from each grade, picking up a few academic honors on the way.
“It is no longer awkward for me in school and now I know I want to be a pilot,” says Hannah, who is now in the 4th grade and very serious about her schoolwork.
Asked to think about what’s in store for Hannah’s future, Monika, her SOS Mother, said:
“Despite the difficulties she faced, I think Hannah will become a leader in her community one day. She is a very focused and caring young lady.”
Estimates put the number of orphaned children in Namibia at 140,000 orphans—70,000 of them having been orphaned because of AIDS. There are many more children who live in poor, unstable families, where they are forced to work—and thus not attend school—in order to help put food on the table.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the children.
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