17 Jun 2015 12:10pm
PETER OPALI - A HOMELESS PERSON'S BEST FRIEND
By Francois Lottering
(NAMPA FEATURES SERVICE)
WINDHOEK, 17 JUN (NAMPA) - As Peter Opali gets out of bed on a cold morning at his home in Windhoek, he cannot help but think of the less fortunate who sleep out in the open - under bridges, along railway lines, in public toilets and riverbeds.
Peter is no superhero, he is just an ordinary man, but the conviction to make a difference in the life of the less fortunate members of society propelled him to do something out of the ordinary and reach out to them.
He is a motorsport fanatic and part of the Namtol spinners group, but due to his spinning skills on the track he has built up a fan base on social networks like Facebook.
Through this social platform he embarked on a project called 'Heaven Sent' to help the homeless in Windhoek.
When asked where he gets the donations from and who the faces behind the scenes are, the kind-hearted Peter said all that was needed was a few calls and posting on Facebook, and the rest was history.
Enough blankets, clothes, shoes and other food items were collected in record time to make 'Heaven Sent' come true.
On a recent Saturday night, Peter and his friends said a little prayer before setting out for the centre of town to carry out their task of feeding and clothing the poorest of the poor. The minibus they use to transport the goods and clothes has been stacked up to the roof with everything ranging from warm clothes, blankets, shoes, and food and as Peter jokes - a lot of love.
At the first spot where they stopped behind Pionierspark was a homeless group comprising of around 15 people - mostly children - with a baby amongst them as young as three months old. They sat around a fire, their only means of warmth and light in a hostile environment.
At first some were a little sceptic about the presence of a reporter in Peter's company, fearing that they might be belittled by society once their story is written or that some members of society might look down on them as paupers and beggars.
But Peter put their mind at ease, telling them their story needs to be told for the world to see and hear their plight.
While warm clothes, blankets and food were handed out, he shared his own story of how he got involved in 'Heaven Sent'.
I just woke up one cold morning and felt the extreme cold and thought by myself 'if I am wrapped up with blankets and warm clothes and still feel the cold, what about the people in the streets?. This motivated me to do something for them, he said in an interview periodically interrupted by jovial noises coming from the recipients of the donated items.
He decided to sacrifice some blankets and money of his own to start up the project.
I also got my followers on Facebook to either follow me or like what I do. In no time many friends got on board, and soon we collected enough basic items to hand out, he added.
Holding a baby wrapped in a dirty blanket close to her chest, an elderly lady narrated how the absence of running water forces them to walking long distances for some potable water, albeit not much.
Before they leave for the next spot Steven van Wyk, with his donation of food and clothes in his arms, thanked the group.
I am very happy that youre helping me from your hearts and that you also share with people like me, Van Wyk said.
For many the donations might seem small, but for a homeless person it makes a huge heaven sent difference.
The next stop was even more tragic a bridge next to one of Windhoek's most affluent shopping malls in the heart of town, where around 20 people slept.
One of them struggled to get to his feet due to the freezing weather and had to be assisted by one of the 'Heaven Sent' volunteers.
Others opted to stay tucked into their meagre makeshift beds to preserve some of the warmth.
Shawnee Goeieman, a volunteer, struggled to contain her emotions as she helped to look for clothes in the minibus to give to hand over.
It breaks my heart. I come here almost every night to help but the situation does not get any better. We try our best but it does not really change, the young Goeieman said.
The volunteers are told of an 11-year-old boy sleeping next to a railway line, apparently in an attempt to ward off the cold through some heat from the tracks after a train passes.
The volunteers looked for him to give him some warm clothes and blankets but on this night he was nowhere to be found.
Margreth Morkel, an elderly women living under this bridge only had words of praise for the Good Samaritans.
I can only say thank you to people like Heaven Sent who care about us, she said.
At around midnight the team arrived in Klein Windhoek. By now the wind accompanied by sub-zero temperatures was making the volunteers work difficult as they themselves were now looking for warmer clothes and gloves to keep warm.
Here, an elderly woman has managed to construct a shelter with only a piece of plastic protecting her from the cold wind blowing from the nearby river.
It is sad, really sad. Here people live in fancy houses and drive fancy cars, and they cannot even take a minute and look around for someone to help. We do not ask you to give money, but only something to eat, an emotional Peter said.
During the short visit to the elderly woman's makeshift home, a cat belonging to the woman greeted the team. The feline was well fed and it was evident that it receives a lot of love from the elderly woman, despite her own hardships.
It was evident that the love the woman has for her pet overshadows any reality of the hardships and suffering she endures.
Why can't we as privileged human beings not help our fellow human beings if that woman gives it all up for the safety and comfort of her cat? were Peter's parting words.
His dream is to take his project to all corners of the country in order to ensure that no Namibian goes to bed hungry, or as President Hage Geingob repeatedly says, so that no one is left out.