59-year-old Atamelang Seloma is the proud, single father of four boys aged from 11 to 5, with 7-year-old twins in-between.
It is two years since Seloma’s wife passed away and he is struggling.
Like all parents, he worries about the future of his children, two of whom are living with disability.
However, he has little to offer his boys apart from a father’s undying love.
Unemployed, landless and without a house of his own, Seloma is increasingly desperate. He ruefully describes himself as a
charity case, a remark that causes him to shake his head in apparent embarrassment.
“It is tough out there. I have no source of income and I depend on handouts so I can feed my children. Until recently we have been moving from one house to the other because I was unable to pay rent. However a good Samaritan has borrowed me this two-roomed house to temporarily stay in without paying anything,” states Seloma, speaking to Okavango Voice from his humble residence in Maun’s Botshabelo ward.
The widower says ever since the death of his wife, life for him and his children has been ‘a living hell’.
“When their mother was alive, life was not this bad. Although she was on home-based care, back then I was able to go out. I would leave her with the children and go out to hustle for piece jobs. I was able to buy them food and clothes,” he said, torn between the memory of his wife’s suffering and the pleasure of being able to provide for his family.
Pausing briefly to reflect on the misery life has thrown at him, the Pilikwe native adds, “But because things were still tough then at home, I went to the council to seek help and they put my wife under home-based care programme through which we were to survive from her monthly food baskets. Unfortunately she did not even live through her first provision and passed on shortly afterwards.”
Left in charge of four minor children and with no extended family to call on – Seloma explains that his mother is elderly and not very well – he was forced to stay at home full-time to take care of his kids.
To further complicate an already difficult situation the twins require special care.
“I rely on help from good Samaritans such as Love Botswana and others. My other child cannot talk and has difficulty in walking and the other twin struggles with his speech as well as his mental ability, which is developing too slowly,” he said.
Through Tshidilong Stimulation Centre, which one of the boys attends, the young lad was given a food ration coupon from the council because he was underweight.
“That is how we have been surviving. We share this with him.”
Although Seloma admits there is barely enough food to go round, he says hunger is not his most pressing concern.
With temperatures plummeting, the family are struggling to cope with winter and do not have sufficient warm clothing or blankets.
It makes for cold, uncomfortable nights, where sleep is increasingly hard to come by.
Again, this is not top of Seloma’s list of priorities. What he wants more than anything is a permanent home for his children.
“Anything can happen to me at any time and I am worried that I may not be able to build them a house while I am still alive. I have no residential plot, but I have long applied for it through the landboard. I am still awaiting allocation.”
Delving deeper into his history, Seloma said he arrived in Maun in 2000 ‘as a messenger of God and to help people’. He originally set up base in Sexaxa, but was unable to hold down a permanent home and was always on the move.
A chance encounter with a kind-hearted Maun resident last year proved to be the stroke of luck that has been missing for much of the old man’s life.
Having stopped to give the hitch-hiking Seloma a lift into town, the good Samaritan found himself touched by his passenger’s tale and offered him a temporary home.
“I am not a lazy person. I am very active – it is just that jobs don’t come easily these days. So because I am a full time single father, I need a ploughing field so I can till and feed my children.”
The same people who provided Seloma with a house offered him their ploughing field. Unfortunately this year the yield was not good.
“My plan is to venture into vegetable irrigation, but I have no resources at the moment,” adds Selomam, who despite his predicament, smiles brightly through the majority of our interview.
Through the care of Love Botswana, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) which worked tirelessly to help vulnerable and needy families during the lockdown period, Seloma currently has food in his house.
Love Botswana conducts outreach programmes and has given food hampers to numerous deserving families and, where they can, clothes as well.
A social worker at the NGO, Bokani Thekwini says they stand in the gap where government services do not reach.
“We work with different departments and other NGOs; they refer clients to us and some of the clients are referred to us by our different support groups from Maun wards. Communities know that we help the vulnerable so when they identify a desperate case they do consult us and that is how we got to know about Seloma’s case.”