I’m overwhelmed by the vast needs but I’m also motivated by the opportunity to create positive change...
Learn about Paige Claassen's non-profit, the Southern Africa Education Fund.
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Reed shacks litter the barren desert, desperately scattered along the dry banks of the once mighty Orange River. Here and there, bits of cardboard provide a hint of insulation, and the lucky ones find a sheet of aluminum, the only chance of blocking out the fine red powder of frequent dust storms. There’s no armor affordable to Namibia’s poorest rural sector that could protect against the relentless sun and 120° daily heat. Electricity is scarce. Food is overpriced. When there is water, it’s never clean, as Aussenkehr is one of the last villages along the 1,300 mile river that stretches through countless towns, each adding their own waste. For 40,000 people in this unrecognized settlement, life is far from easy.
Yet year after year, people migrate to this small village in the middle of the Namib Desert to work on the valley’s table grape farms. Wages are higher here than in the cities. In fact, some families earn their entire year’s wages during the six month pruning and harvest season, then migrate back North to buy a few more sheep for their own family farm.
It’s a difficult life for an adult, let alone a child. Opportunities are few. When I ask one child what he wants to be when he grows up, he says a driver. He means a tractor driver, a respectable position on the farm, one that comes with great responsibility and a higher salary.
Upon my first visit to Aussenkehr, Namibia, and throughout the subsequent seasons I’ve spent there working on my husband’s grape farm each November and December, the need for action has struck me heavily. From my perspective, as a privileged white girl who grew up in a world of opportunities, there was only one option. I founded my own nonprofit, Southern Africa Education Fund, in July of 2016, and in January of 2017 we received 501(c)(3) status from the IRS. We envision communities in which children receive the education necessary to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
We accomplish this in two ways, which can only work when paired together. Most simply, we help kids access education. That means revamping existing schools to create more space, upgrade facilities, raise the curriculum standards, provide the right nutrients in school meals, pay for teacher salaries, and make sure children have the supplies and uniforms required to attend school.
Secondly, we must educate parents on the importance of sending their children to school, keeping them in school, supporting their studies, and nourishing a positive home environment. Severe poverty often leads to an overwhelming hopelessness, which spirals to alcohol and substance abuse, as well as domestic violence. Children are often pulled out of school at a young age because their help around the home is perceived as more important than their education. By reversing this vicious cycle, new generations can grow up with the hope of a structured education and the opportunity to pursue goals beyond manual labor.
I’m overwhelmed by the vast struggle and relentless needs of Aussenkehr’s residents, but I’m also motivated by the limitless opportunity to create positive change. Our support on the ground in Namibia is strong – a passionate team of locals with hearts of gold work endlessly to ensure our reach is as impactful as possible. As a brand new organization, the biggest hurdle is funds. Southern Africa Education Fund has some monstrous goals for the coming years. Currently, we’re able to provide food, school supplies, school fees, and teacher salaries for about 160 kids. At $50,000 we’ll be able begin expanding the Primary School so that 1st to 7th graders can attend a full day of school, rather than the current split between morning and afternoon because of capacity limitations. At $200,000, we can work toward building a Youth Center, with a library, study space, and recreational area so that kids have a safe a productive place to go before and after school, with mentors and tutors for their school work.
The awesome part is that 100% of donations go directly to our two current projects – a kindergarten and orphanage in Namibia. The only exception is credit card fees through online donations. We don’t have paid employees, office rent, fancy advertising, etc. We’re nimble and targeted, but we have big goals.
If you’re interested in learning more, visit our website, www.saeducationfund.org, where you’ll find photos, videos, and a link to donate.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paige Claassen has been a member of the La Sportiva Climbing Team for 8 years.
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