Making dreams come


Date: January 1, 1970
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If you are contemplating a trip to the Namib desert, the chances are that you will pass through the 4000-strong village of MaltahÁ¶he in the dry and desolate Hardap region of southern Namibia. If you stop long enough in this village, you will most definitely be accosted by the Ama Buruxa (Nama for “Simply AmazingÀ) Culture group comprising abandoned children whose beautiful moves are choreographed by their champion, the soft spoken chair of the village council, Karolina Pieters.

Like the proverbial oasis in the desert, the children spring out of the dusty planes in their colourful traditional patchwork outfits, their melodious voices rising above the scorching heat as their bodies sway back and forth to the clicks and rhythms of the desert tunes. The only instrument used is the traditional drum. The traditional dance is called the Namastap.
 
Pieters has some 382 OVC’s (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) under her care; nearly ten percent of the village population. Most have lost one or both parents to HIV and AIDS or gender violence. Cultural activities, Pieters explains, help to make sure the children never forget their roots and remain firmly grounded. They are also a form of healing.  She supplements meagre social security grants with paid performances for the desert adventure tourists who stream through the village in their four by four vehicles.
 
This week, as part of the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence, the group will visit Johannesburg to perform around the city with similar groups. The visit is sponsored by a South African moved by hearing the children’s singing on a CD ROM that they have produced.   
 
Established in 2001, the group consists of 32 learners, of whom fourteen have been chosen to come to Johannesburg. After first winning the regional cultural festival in 2006, the group also came first in Namibia’s National Cultural festival that year. According to co-founder Simon Anton, “singing and dancing is in the blood of the Nama people. It’s a big part of our culture and comes naturally. And of course we have Armandes, a very good dancer, who also does the drumming.”
 
When he was still very young, 17-year old Armandes Apollus’ father died of AIDS-related causes. His mother died less than a month ago after being HIV positive for years. Armandes is now attending grade 11 outside Maltahöhe, but comes back during home weekends for training sessions and performances, depending on whether the group is booked by the tourism office. “Once we were even invited to perform for our President. It is amazing to be close to people you normally only see on television.”
 
Although the group has travelled through Namibia for their performances, none of them has ever been outside the country.
 
“I know South Africa is very big with 48 million people, while we only have 1.8 million,” Apollus said. “I am a big fan of the Kaiser Chiefs and I love kwaito music. My dream is to meet President (Thabo) Mbeki or Zola, the amazing kwaito artist. I hope I get the opportunity to play kwaito with South Africans.”
 
Margrietha Rooi (17) has been part of the group since she was 11. Her mother passed away in 2003 and her father is living far away from Maltahohe. She chats excitedly about the trip to South Africa. “We are preparing ourselves and practice three times a week at the hostel.”
 
Pieters is also a mother of five whom she has raised alongside her large extended family.  Her 17 year old daughter Ignatsia Pieters sings soprano. She says: “I think we can contribute to awareness about HIV/AIDs. We do a show in Namibia during AIDs week. In this show all the songs and the drama are about the causes of HIV/ AIDs and the effects of this on children’s lives.”
 
The visit to South Africa is being coordinated by Gender Links, a Southern African NGO that met Pieters while conducting research for the organisations recently released book: “At the Coalface, Gender and Local Government in Southern Africa.”
 
Museum Africa, run by the City of Johannesburg, is hosting an afternoon performance by the group with a number of youth groups from around the city on Friday 7 December. Constitution Hill will host a similar event the following day. The Lion Park has thrown in a fun day. In addition to receiving IT training at Gender Links and participating in the cyber dialogue on gender violence and youth on 6 December, Ama Bruxa will perform at the closing ceremony of the Sixteen Days of Activism in Northwest Province. 
 
Says Apollus: “There are alot of children without parents, who feel that life is over. But as an orphan I’m happy to show them that life is not over, that there are people like Karolina Pieters that take care of children like us; that we still have dreams and that, if we just pray hard enough one day our dreams come true!”
 
Colleen Lowe Morna is executive director, and Mariette van Dijk an intern at Gender Links. For more information on the Ama Bruxa visit or to make a donation go to www.genderlinks.org.za. This is part of a series of articles produced by the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence.


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