Kelly McCabe, junior

 Erin Netherda kneels to offer a tray of steaming soup to a small group of Namibian orphans. They gladly accept her gift and devour the rations until the last drop of nutrition has vanished. They glance into their bowls ensuring their tongues have done their job effectively. The orphans gather around Netherda in their mismatched and occasionally tattered clothing with their eyes asking for another helping. Later these vulnerable and orphaned children make their way to the classrooms where Netherda switches her role from provider to teacher. For three weeks of this past summer, Netherda, a junior at Maria Carrillo High School, volunteered in Windhoek, Namibia where she educated and fed orphaned children affected by disease, poverty and disaster in the country.

            Netherda has traveled halfway around the world three times with the organization Hope Preserves. This non-profit group raises money to support agencies that feed and teach orphans, especially those who suffer from human immunodeficiency virus. The founder of this association, Netherda’s mother, Paula Netherda, developed the concept in the summer of 2007. The agency was born when Netherda’s mother was at her son’s friend’s house.

 “I saw fruit all over the ground rotting and knew I had to do something,” Netherda’s mother said. She came up with the idea of canning the fallen fruit and making preserves, jams and jellies which she sold and donated the profits to Hope Preserves during the summer of 2009. Because of the work that Hope Preserves does, the children in Namibia have a better diet and look healthier and the soup kitchen has a secure budget. The children now have meat twice a week and fresh fruit three times a week.

Netherda was first introduced to this program when she was seven. Her father set up an HIV clinic and visited Namibia every other year. When Netherda was in seventh grade she went to Namibia for the entire year. This recent trip was the first time Netherda traveled alone.

Netherda’s mother fondly remarked, “I’m really proud of Erin. She really enjoys it [her time in Namibia] and does a great job.”

Every day Netherda taught and fed the children in Namibia from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.  Netherda taught a bridging school for children ages seven to 17. For many this is the first education they have ever received and includes songs, math, English, and grammar. Netherda said, “Basically we are teaching them kindergarten concepts.”   Netherda aids in the soup kitchen providing food for the starving children as well. 

            The most satisfying part for Netherda is seeing the orphans developing and getting to know their individual personalities. One of her favorite orphans, Mbauomuna, is a 13-year-old boy who is very smart and loves music. Watching the children is “like growing up with them,” said Netherda.

But, not everything Netherda does in Namibia is enjoyable. “The worst part is seeing the depression and the poverty,” said Netherda.  Netherda related a story about witnessing the heartbreaking conditions in which many of the orphans live. “A majority of them live in shanty towns in makeshift homes constructed of whatever they come across.”

After witnessing these devastating circumstances, Netherda has a new outlook on life. When entering a store she reflects on all the luxuries that she has compared to the 300 children that are involved with the program in Namibia. “Life isn’t as we see it as a little kid. Not everyone has what we have,” said Netherda. When purchasing something, she always distinguishes between what she needs and what she wants. Netherda wishes that everyone could have the chance to share in her experience.

“It opens your eyes to things that you may have wanted or not wanted to see,” said Netherda. “It is an amazing experience that I wouldn’t give back for anything.”