By Marianne Nghidengwa
AS the harsh afternoon sun draws in on Dolam’s settlement in Katutura on Monday this week, “Ouma” Christine Kharises and two volunteers sit idle at Mother’s Voice Soup Kitchen.
Walking up to Tekoa Street just shortly before 13h00 was like pushing against a tide, with an overwhelming number of school children heading in the direction of “Ouma’s” Soup Kitchen. One thing dominates their young minds, a hearty lunch meal. Within minutes of arriving at the Soup Kitchen, “Ouma” as the 80 year-old is affectionately known, patiently waits for the children to arrive.
“This place is quite now, but wait until they all arrive, it will be busy,” she says softly. There is silence for about 10 minutes or so in the corridors of the soup kitchen, until the children aged between six and 13 from various schools in the area stream in to have their meal. All of a sudden, this seemingly quiet area becomes a hive of activity.
A huge table is neatly set up and one by one, Katutura’s most vulnerable children appear and fall in line, desperate for that one decent hot meal.
The volunteers have their hands full, as they serve the meals and wash plates – ready to be used again as more children pour in.
Mother’s Voice is a soup kitchen for children from poor backgrounds. Some come from broken homes, while others have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS and live with unemployed guardians.
The service was founded by Ouma Kharises in 2002 and supplies one hot meal a day, from Monday to Friday. She relies purely on donations to feed anywhere between 100 and 200 children daily. Speaking to Confidente about the programme, the pensioner explains that she was troubled by the number of orphans and vulnerable children during her days as a Pastor.
“At the time, I was a Pastor and went around hospitals to pray for those that were critically ill, but especially those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. It was during that period that I learnt that some of them were unemployed and had children. I thought to myself, who was looking after their children when they are stuck in bed?
“That is how Mother’s Voice came into being. I started the soup kitchen to feed the children and as time went by, more and more children showed up just for that one meal.”
“Children from various backgrounds come here every day knowing there is a hot meal waiting for them.I have children come from as far as Okahandja Park and some whose parents I don’t even know. But that is not an issue. What matters most is that when they come here, they get a meal after school before they go to their respective homes.” On the particular Monday afternoon around 12h45, at least 40 children rushed to the soup kitchen and are each given a plate of rice and soup bones.“If this soup kitchen wasn’t here it would be terrible for the children.They all come from hard backgrounds. There have been times when I had to send them back because I had no food to give them. It is heartbreaking seeing the look of despair on their little faces. They are like children to me, so it is the same as any ordinary parent out there that cannot provide for their children.”
For 16 years Ouma Kharises has been running the soup kitchen, providing a meal a day to Katutura’s neediest children, in return, she asks for nothing. She credits assistance she received from various organisations over the years which has enabled her to effectively run the centre. Despite her age, Ouma Kharises is showing no signs of slowing down. “I continue to work round the clock to ensure that there is food on the table for my children.” She begins her day with a prayer and driving around town in an old Toyota, collecting donated food from supermarkets, abattoirs and businesspeople before preparing it with the help of her volunteers. Although the little-known kitchen keeps children fed, Ouma Kharises says, they are in need of help to keep it going. “I appreciate all the help I have received over the years which enabled me to feed my children. I need help with servicing our water and electricity bill which is about N$1 000 per month. I also need assistance with petrol and servicing the car. It is an old car which took me around for quite a long time but it is falling apart.
I still use it to collect food stuff and other items we get from donors.
When we have nothing, I use my pension money to buy food, have the car fixed and so on, but it is not enough.”
For any assistance contact Ouma Kharises on 081739 3192
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015