A conversation with…The ‘Pope of Rehoboth’ cares deeply for the youth

A conversation with…The ‘Pope of Rehoboth’ cares deeply for the youth

In the community of Rehoboth unemployment has exacerbated many social problems, chief of which are alcohol and drug abuse, gender-based violence and teenage pregnancies.

“Faced with these community problems, a community solution is the answer,” says Father Chris Jonkers of the Roman Catholic Church in the heartland of the some 56 000-strong Baster community of Namibia, Rehoboth, a town located 87 kilometres south of Windhoek.

As church and community leader no one sets a better example for community work than Father Jonkers. His daily programme entails getting up before the crack of dawn to attend the morning mass and then it’s off to attend to the old, the sick and the frail youth. “To the old and sick I say be thankful for the blessings of a long life and to the youth I say never stop dreaming about your future,” says the man who regards peace and stability in Namibia as a blessing from God.

Father Jonkers, regarded by many residents as the ‘Pope of Rehoboth’, says vocational skills training is one of the great solutions to unemployment and the corresponding social problems within the Rehoboth community.
“Without training, our youth would be lost,” he stressed when New Era Weekend sat down with him last Saturday during the Roman Catholic Church’s second annual meat festival at the town.

The youth of Rehoboth found help in an initiative initially piloted for Windhoek’s Katutura youth in 2008. The initiative called Youth Economic Empowerment Program (YEEP) was started by the Namibia Women’s Health Network (NWHN) and is funded by the Ford Foundation. It awards grants to unemployed youth to undergo vocational training programmes with the aim that they use the vocational training to be self-employed and create small and medium enterprises. The programme was so successful that in 2011 it was rolled out to Rehoboth and Dordabis, another settlement that is about 65 kilometres east of Windhoek.

In Rehoboth the YEEP beneficiaries are offered training in kindergarten care, catering, office administration and computers. The training courses offered in Rehoboth are a stark contrast to the poultry training offered in Dorbabis. And the explanation for this is that Rehoboth has no large industries, hence the beneficiaries chose courses that would enable them to start businesses for services that are likely in high demand.

Father Jonkers says the youth need that catalyst to go on to bigger and better things in life. “The devil is active in our society and the church has to use all its tentacles to keep him at bay. When I see the children of Rehoboth, I see the need for social workers. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in society as well as the growing number of unwanted pregnancies, and drug and alcohol abuse, mean that these issues can no longer be ignored but need to be acknowledged through community dialogue,” he says in a fatherly tone.

“Unemployment is the root cause of many problems in Rehoboth and Namibian society as a whole, as it exacerbates problems when members of the youth find themselves with limited opportunity. Community programmes are needed to keep the youth busy. Many Grade 10 and 12 dropouts have so much potential and skill, yet they lack a certificate to gain employment. As there are no recreational facilities in Rehoboth, many youth fill their time frequenting shebeens and clubs, where they abuse alcohol and drugs which then spirals into a community filled with violence, crime and poverty,” he observes.

But Father Jonkers is also aware of the good in people, especially the youth. “The youth are the leaders of tomorrow, and there are many good youngsters in our community seeking opportunities to make something of their lives. Ultimately investing in the youth is an investment in Namibia’s future, and will be so much more beneficial to combat future social problems than just putting a band aid on the problem,” Father Jonkers notes.

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