HomeInternationalAfricaThe story of an African woman's quest to educate

The story of an African woman’s quest to educate


OKAHANDJA, NAMIBIA- Three plastic hovels stand a few metres apart on one end of the large dusty yard.


One is a kitchen, the other a makeshift bathroom and the third, a chicken run.

In the middle is a fire stand carrying two pots that are spewing out steam; a sign that something is cooking in there.

On one end are three girls playing; the oldest looks seven or so and the youngest probably a little more than a year old.


Play time...
Play time…


Walking about is a woman, most likely to in her early forties.

She busily crosses back and forth from the fire stand to the shacks and to the main bedroom on the other side of the yard.


Busy day...
Busy day…


From the first impression, this appears to be a perfect African set up with a housewife happily looking after children as she waits for her husband to come back from work.

As we approach the homestead, the woman – dressed in an orange blouse and a matching earth coloured head wear and skirt- gives us a full African welcome of a handshake as she murmurs something in her local language.

We soon realize it is not possible to interview the woman as she can only speak in her native rukavango language.

Not willing to give up, we quickly scrounge for a local person to do the translation.

When Justina Josef Ruhepo finally starts narrating her story with the help of the translator, it becomes apparent that despite wearing a smile on her face, she is a bitter woman inside.


Justina Josef Ruhepo
Justina Josef Ruhepo


“I still regret my parents’ decision not to send me to school because I was a girl child. They said it did not make sense to send me to school as I would get married and become a full time housewife,” these are her first words.

An origin of Kavango, far north of Namibia, Justina ‘never saw the door of a school and was always crying whenever her brothers packed their bags to go to school.’

“All I wanted was a chance to prove myself in school and perhaps I could have been a brighter student, and what continues to hurt me is I will never know,” she says, not hiding her dejection.

Now a mother of seven, she lives with her husband, a bow and arrow maker, and three of their children at the backyard of the craft market place in Okahandja, a small town, about 70 kilometres north of the Namibian capital Windhoek.

The market place draws several foreign tourists who come to buy art and craft souvenirs.

Their houses are the shacks and a room in one of the long flat roof house, reportedly at the centre of a dispute between the town’s municipality and a local chief.

According to locals, a local chief and the Okahandja municipality are battling for the control of the marketplace as it generates revenues from the levies on the sale of art pieces and the rents from the tenants of the long flat roof house.

The place has an estimated 100 art vendors and over 50 inhabitants of the makeshift houses.


One of the blocks that serve as accomodation
One of the blocks that serve as accomodation


According to Justina the area has only one water tap, no electricity and no toilet.

“We use the bush and although it is unhealthy, we have no choice.”

As a result of the alleged dispute, tenants are no longer paying rent and they constantly live with the fear of being evicted.

Justina’s purpose in Okahandja is to help her husband seek greener pastures and her life, a myriad of uncertainties.



Eating a regular meal is becoming scarcer as Justina claims her husband’s business is not doing well anymore as there are many competitors.

“We used to make money but these days so many people are selling the bows and arrows so we do not make as much,” she said, “We live like birds, not knowing where our food will come from.”

At times when they no longer have any food in the house, Josef and her children have to resort to travelling dozens of kilometers to get some wild nuts and fruits, omauni.


Justina shows some of the wild fruits they eat
Justina shows some of the wild fruits they eat




As she continues her narration, Justina cannot not hold back tears whenever she mentions with emphasis the vision she has for her children.

Despite not getting educational support from government, she wants all of them to continue going to school so that they do not become like her.

“I may not have food in the house, but my children have to be in school because I believe education is empowerment,” she says, pointing to them as they played in the sun baked Namibian soil.


"I want my children to be educated because that is the best way I can empower them."
“I want my children to be educated because that is the best way I can empower them.”


“They do not have uniforms and other resources and I wish we could get more support from government.”

The Namibian Constitution directs the government to provide free primary education.

Parents however have to folk out money for uniforms, books, hostels, and school improvements.

With a population of about over 2 million, the country has about 1,400 government schools.

In the early 1980s, before gender education set in, girl children were often denied a chance to attend school.

Those who went to school were faced with numerous serious problems that included gender based discrimination and unequal opportunities, which led to the majority dropping out.

But in the early 1990s, when gender activism made its mark in Africa, the education sectors around the continent were adjusted to allow equal chances to both the boy and girl child.

This has seen more girls enrolling at school, and women becoming leaders in several sectors, defying the long held notion that the woman’s place was in the kitchen.

While there still room for more to be done to achieve universal gender mainstreaming, the 1995 Beijing conference on gender and the subsequent realignment of laws to suit the gender outline, and the formation of standalone gender ministries in several African countries has been major success points.

As we finish our conversation with Justina, we ask for her age; she does not know and has to get her voter’s identity card.

We say our goodbyes and as we leave the compound, we can see her rallying her children for food.

For them, a decent meal remains a scarcity, another day a nightmare, but the thirst for empowerment through education cannot be quenched.


A decent meal is a scarcity, but they soldier on, for they have a vision
A decent meal is a scarcity, but they soldier on, for they have a vision


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