South Jordan nonprofit, Footsteps for Africa, unveils Namibia school projectJul 01, 2022 10:01AM ● By Peri Kinder
By Peri Kinder | [email protected]
After serving a church mission in Zimbabwe and doing anthropological research in Namibia with Brigham Young University, South Jordan resident Austin Cameron was shocked at the desperate need faced by orphans and vulnerable children in those communities. He returned home and lost sleep worrying about these children.
“I realized I needed to make it part of my life’s mission to help them,” Cameron said.
In 2010, he started the nonprofit Footsteps for Africa, an organization dedicated to helping the most forgotten populations. His first initiative was to gather winter clothing, shoes and school supplies. The donations were shipped to Africa, where he met the shipment himself and distributed the goods to the children.
“A lot of aid gets to the continent of Africa, but through inefficiency or corruption and other obstacles, it doesn’t get to a lot of kids who need it most,” he said. “I’m determined that with every initiative we do that we have a physical presence on the ground and a way to make sure the resources and efforts reach these kids.”
Footsteps for Africa got word that children in Namibia were living in shacks on school grounds because their villages were too far away for them to attend school. More than 100 children, some as young as 8 years old, cooked meals outside with no running water, no toilets or showers, and with an added danger of poisonous snakes that would come into the shacks at night.
“Worrying about snakes coming in at night shouldn’t be anything any 8-year-old should worry about,” Cameron said. “I was touched by the kids and made a promise that we’d help.”
Last month, Footsteps for Africa, along with students, teachers, government officials and the surrounding community, held a grand opening for a construction project that improves living conditions for students at Oshamukweni School.
Through a generous, six-figure donation by Tiara and Alan Salzman (Cameron’s sister and brother-in-law), the nonprofit built new bunkhouses, a kitchen and a dining hall for 300 students. A ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrated the completion of the project.
“Due to their generosity, Footsteps for Africa has bettered the lives of those in this village,” said Isak Hamatwi, director of education at Ohangwena Regional Council. “The schooling life and learning environment at Oshamukweni Combined School will no longer be a life of struggle, but a life befitting a life in an independent country.”
The new facilities include a 2,000-square-foot building equipped with food preparation equipment, showers, restrooms and cold storage. Salzman Hall, a 5,000-square-foot dining and congregation hall will serve the school and the entire community of several thousand people.
“Upon learning the critical needs of these disadvantaged children in Namibia, and as a mother myself, nothing was more important to us than to support Footsteps for Africa in helping these children succeed,” Tiara Salzman said.
Footsteps for Africa also issues school uniforms and supplies for students. Sanitary kits are provided to young girls, along with education to battle absenteeism and period shaming. New wells, solar pumps and agriculture water tanks near the school will bring clean water to 20,000 people in the community.
“Namibia has a lot of schools. Among all of those schools, Footsteps for Africa chose to help our school, and we thank you for that. I am very happy for the [Salzman Kitchen] because we now no longer have to cook on fires outside,” said ninth-grade student Namola Abraham.
Since 2010, Footsteps for Africa has provided aid to more than 5,000 orphans and vulnerable children in more than 50 schools and orphanages in Namibia and Zimbabwe. For more information, or to donate, visit footstepsforafrica.com/donate.
“It’s the most rewarding feeling of anything I’ve done in my life,” Cameron said. “It just makes me feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. This is what is most important in life. We don’t have to go further than our own community to find children in need, and we need to start there.
“With small amounts of resources, we can make a difference. It sounds like a sales pitch, but it’s true. For not a lot of money, we can really change these kids’ lives and give them opportunities they never would have.”