Namibian girl changes Oak Bay woman’s life

Eileen Greene's work in Africa leads to program that feeds more than 530 children each day

By Kendra Wong

In 2001, Oak Bay’s Eileen Greene travelled to Namibia in southwest Africa with an international team to explore the AIDS epidemic. It was there that Greene met a girl who would change her life forever.

Greene was working in the Katatura Hospital in the early 2000s, researching the disease that was spreading rapidly throughout the country.

“We worked in a huge inner city hospital, 850 beds — no soap, no wash cloths, no towels. It was filthy,” said the Oak Bay resident and professor of nursing at the University of Victoria.

“Katatura means the place to come to die. That hospital, once you got in, people rarely got out.”

It was there that she met Maria. The 16-year-old was dying from AIDS. “She was so sensationally beautiful and such a lovely girl,” said Greene, who hired 24-hour care for Maria. “She was on the adult ward and she was one of the youngest people on the ward. Maria was one of the sickest of the sick. She was just frothing, she was so sick and that was it.”

Maria’s mother Monica was working in Greene’s guest house at the time. “I couldn’t understand the bravery of Monica. She would work and she would be smiling at all these guests and her child was dying,” Greene said.

Shortly after Greene left Namibia, Maria died. It was in Maria’s memory that Greene and Monica founded The Home of Good Hope, a soup kitchen to help feed children in Monica’s neighbourhood in Katatura in 2007.

Monica, her son Peacemaker and six other people help run the kitchen that feeds more than 530 children between the ages of 18 months and 15 years old, seven days a week. Greene works from Victoria raising the roughly $4,500 in donations needed to run the kitchen each month.

“The one thing about the Namibians is they’re stoic people. They never ask for anything. They don’t whine, even in their illness they’re gracious,” she said. “Everybody takes care of everybody else. Nobody grabs. They have a generosity of spirit and when you go there all you feel is joy.”

Greene’s work to feed children in Namibia earned her one of this year’s Human Rights and Nursing Awards from the International Care Ethics Observatory, a worldwide collaboration of researchers in ethics.

“Eileen is self-effacing and humble about her involvement. For her, it is all about the children,” said Anne Davis, a professor at the University of California who nominated Greene for the award.

Verena Tschudin, with the observatory, said Greene was one of the strongest candidates this year.

Now that the soup kitchen has been registered as a charity in Namibia, Greene is working towards purchasing a parcel of land to build a structure and commercial kitchen. She continues to visit Namibia once a year and speaks with Monica every week over the phone.

For more information or to make a donation, visit homeforgoodhope.ca.