Swakopmund. That’s the name of the township where Heinrich Hafeni Nghidipaya was born. Growing up with four other siblings under the care of a single parent in the struggling township situated north of the city of Walvis Bay in Namibia, it was far from the ideal childhood.
Hafeni was the first of five children who were all raised by what could be described as the joint effort of a single mother and a maternal grandma. As he was the eldest of his siblings and being that things were far from rosy, he had to grow up fast – he couldn’t afford to spend so much time being a child.
Even as he was only a child, Hafeni had grown to be quite aware of the situation of things in his home. His mother was a domestic worker who, despite having very little formal education, had gotten the hang of providing the family’s basic needs by juggling her regular job with a side hustle that involved selling sweets and sausages on the homefront.
It was kind of an efficient system – while she was away on her day job, grandma was there to take care of the kids who themselves shouldered the responsibility of running the sweets and sausages business until their mom got back from work. The little money that was made went into keeping the family fed and keeping Hafeni and his siblings in school. Thus, he grew up idolizing his mother, who to him then as much as now, is a ‘Superwoman.’
Having grown to be quite aware of how hard his mother toiled to take care of the needs of the family, Hafeni knew what the stakes were. He couldn’t afford to just sit back and watch his own mother work herself into the ground, he knew he had to step up at some point – and sooner, rather than later.
And so when he got into high school, he got himself an after-school job doing the dishes and waiting tables at a local hotel. Hafeni had one thing in mind when he took the job at the hotel and that was to augment the family income so his mother wouldn’t have to work as hard. Every money he made on the job, he gave to her.
But there was a price to pay, though. And based on the current situation of things, it may have been well worth it. Working after school caused his studies to suffer, his grades took hit after hit. And as a result, when college applications came around, Hafeni found himself in nomansland. His grades weren’t good enough to get him into the university.
And so when his classmates were heading to different tertiary institutions across Namibia, Hafeni couldn’t do better than remain at the hotel job – a job he kept until he turned 23 when something of a breakthrough came through.
His dedication and diligence on the hotel job may have won him so many friends and helped him imbibe excellent people skills, and as fate would have it, he got a job as a Tour Leader for an international travel company through a connection he made at the hotel.
This new job opened up a new and exciting world to Hafeni. Within a short period of time, he was touring various countries in Southern and Eastern Africa and interacting with people from all walks of life.
The more he spent time on the job, the more it strengthened his conviction that this was what he was born to do. Before long, he was already dreaming of having a business of his own along similar lines.
Five years on from when he got the job with the travel company, he decided to make the big move. Hafeni happens to have a rather pleasant demeanour and a warm manner that endears him to people – those were the qualities that got him the job as a Tour Leader in the first place.
Armed with those, along with savings he’d been able to accumulate on the job and networks he’d built, he quit the job and set up his own company, Hafeni Tours and Travel; a company that specializes in tours connected to Namibia’s rich cultural heritage.
Through his company, Hafeni helps tourists and expeditionsts experience the richness of Namibia’s culture. The company facilitates interaction with children at local schools and with men and women in clubs, restaurants, and markets in townships, including his own home town.
Hafeni Tours and Travel also creates opportunities for charity organisations to visit sites of local people’s development projects, like Naftalina Mauha’s Tears of Hope orphanage.
Having been in the business of touring various parts of Namibia and visiting numerous townships, Hafeni came to witness first hand the situation in many of those townships where the default agenda of the youth is to advance their own lives, regardless of if the community wallows in squalor.
With a view to changing that mindset and bringing about even and all-inconclusive growth, Hafeni joined forces with like-minded individuals to bring an organisation known as Swakopmund Youth with a Vision to life.
The group has it as a mandate to encourage youths to be more actively engaged in their communities and to vie for leadership positions. Hafeni has also made it a personal point of duty to take on additional leadership roles and he now speaks for the interest of his town in its Chamber of Commerce, while occupying other positions of influence in a number of community decision-making boards.
The year 2014 saw Hafeni and a colleague, Piet Carstens, one of the co-founders of Swakopmund Youth with a Vision, catch wind of a new opportunity in the form of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI); an initiative put together by Former U.S. President, Barack Obama.
The program was offering 500 Mandela Washington Fellows training and the opportunity to study in the USA for six weeks. In what was a disappointing turn of events, Hafeni’s application – which was actually one of over 50,000 – was unsuccessful even though that of his friend and colleague went through.
Taking it in his stride, Hafeni made another play in the 2015 Fellowship and this time around, his resilience paid off. He was named as one of only nine young leaders selected to represent Namibia as a 2015 Mandela Washington Fellow.
That year, Hafeni and 24 other young leaders from 17 African countries were hosted by Clark Atlanta University in the U.S. state of Georgia, where they completed an entrepreneurship and business programme
The Namibian entrepreneur describes the Fellowship as transformative as it got him aligned with individuals who have similar visions of peace, poverty eradication, job/wealth creation, and good governance for the African continent. He also claims having gained invaluable insight with which he hopes to build his company into a brand that can rival the likes of Airbnb.
Having since been inducted into the Namibian Business Hall of Fame, Hafeni now doubles as a social entrepreneur and a motivational speaker. His mission is to inspire the continent’s youths and his current efforts are aimed at showcasing the wealth of talent and entrepreneurial spirit in Namibia and the rest of Africa to the world.
Featured Image Courtesy: namibiansun.com
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