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Life on the Edge: Trawler Girl
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Life on the Edge: Trawler Girl
Johanna Kwedhi is Namibia's first female trawler captain. Namibia signed up to the Millennium Development Goals, which include specific targets for women on education, reproductive health and equality. Johanna is an example of targets fulfilled, but what about her friends and relatives in the rural area where she was raised?
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Produced by tve and Optimedia.

Purchase the DVD for this program at Bullfrog Films.

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Segment 1

VOICEOVER
We’re at the edge of the Namib Desert, on Africa’s southwest coast. A world of drought, danger, shipwreck -- but also, fish. Luderitz Harbor, an old port rebuilt for fishing boats. The industry is one of the pillars of Namibia’s economy. It’s a man’s world. Johanna Kwedhi is going aboard the Kanus, one of the fleet’s largest vessels. Except, Johanna is not coming on board as a guest. Johanna is Namibia’s first female trawler skipper.
TITLE
Trawler Girl
JOHANNA KWEDHI [Trawler captain]
At the bridge we are three: me as the Captain, a Chief Mate and a Second Mate.
VOICEOVER
Men are not used to a woman at the wheel. Women don’t normally chart the course, literally or metaphorically. Or give orders, however pleasantly. And the crew knows their lives are in her hands.
AARON ALWEENDO [Chief mate]
I have been working with Miss Johanna Kwedhi, who is my captain, for two years. She is the one who gives an order, what has to be done for the day, everything like that. So the orders come from him -- I mean, from her.
VOICEOVER
For the older fishermen, it is a novelty to have an educated black Namibian as skipper.
MAN 1
We had never seen a black person in charge of a ship. It has always been a Spanish person. Now that black people are here in command we are very proud. Since we do not know the foreign languages they can now communicate on our behalf. Today, I can just ask Johanna for anything.
VOICEOVER
Back on land, Johanna is like any other woman -- at least, one with a paid job. But she’s not only shopping for herself, she is taking care of her small family.
JOHANNA KWEDHI
I have a young boy of 14 months. He is lovely. This is my cousin, Aguste. So she is taking care of my boy when I am out at sea. The attention I get at sea is more than what I get on shore, because they pass by, they say, ‘Hi Miss Johanna!’ But here on shore when I say ‘Hi’ it’s just ‘Hi.’
VOICEOVER
Namibia signed up to the Millennium Development Goals, the MDGs, which aim to cut poverty by half by 2015. The goals include specific targets for women -- on education, reproductive health and equality. Johanna’s an example of targets fulfilled. But going back home, how about her friends and her relatives? En route to her aunt, Johanna’s reminded of her humble beginnings when she first came to Luderitz. Most people flock to this coastal town in search of job opportunities. Once here, they are forced to live in shantytowns with no running water or electricity and no proper toilets, at least until they can make a better life for themselves.
JOHANNA KWEDHI
This is the room, the place where I stayed for six years when I came to Luderitz. For six years I stayed in this house where is no electricity, there is no bathroom and no toilet. We used to go out to the mountains. With peace of mind I was just happy with this. People said to me, ‘Wow! An officer living in the shantytown!’ But I say, ‘No, I am here with peace of mind and I have health.’ Life goes on like that.
VOICEOVER
But Johanna's a child of the villages, not the shantytowns. And her journey home is fifteen hundred kilometers. More than 70 percent of Namibians are subsistence farmers and live close to the land, including Johanna's parents. Her grandmother, who still has a big influence on her, raised Johanna.
JOHANNA KWEDHI
This is my grandmother, on my mother's side. She taught me many things, traditional things.
VOICEOVER
Forty-three percent of Namibia's unemployed are considered 'homemakers.' And 70 percent of homemakers are women. Most women remain trapped in the rural poverty cycle. But women like Johanna are quietly breaking the mold, and helping her family back home.
JOHANNA'S GRANDMOTHER
Now, like they say, a chick also needs to learn how to fend for its mother. Now she is taking care of me.
JOHANNA KWEDHI
The big challenge in this country for young people is falling pregnant at an early age. So they say, 'No, just try abortion!' Without education your life is meaningless.
VOICEOVER
Johanna was born at home, but her mother developed complications during birth and had to be brought to Onandjokwe, the local hospital. Many aren’t so lucky: maternal mortality’s proved one of the hardest Millennium Development Goal for Namibia to meet. A recent report suggests maternal deaths actually increased. That may be because of HIV, but many poor women still have problems accessing medical care during pregnancy and childbirth, and the newborn death rate is still one in 50.
JOHANNA KWEDHI
Here in Namibia the death rate of small children is caused because young people, during their pregnancy, don’t go to the clinic. Some of them do not know the importance of going to the clinic during their pregnancy. Some have financial problems and they can’t go, because the hospital is very far. And some just ignore it. They ask, ‘What for? I can even deliver at home. My mom and my grandmother delivered here at home, I can’t waste my money there.’ They are not working and they did not plan for that.
VOICEOVER
The neighbors came out to greet Johanna. So has one of her former teachers.
HOSEA IPINGE [Johanna's former teacher]
I met Johanna just when she completed her Grade Seven at our school. We also happen to be neighbors too. She was a hard working student and that is why she has managed to achieve so much.
VOICEOVER
Johanna used to walk 14 kilometers to Onyeka School. She learns there are now more girls enrolling than boys, and there are also more girls completing secondary education.
HAFENI KAPENDA [Principal, Onyeka School]
How can I help you?
JOHANNA KWEDHI
So there are more boys than girls at this school.
VOICEOVER
School enrolment is critical, but the lesson from the captain is that you have to finish too.
HAFENI KAPENDA
She is the first female captain. Do you know boats?
VOICEOVER
Most girls here will most likely end up as teachers and nurses. Most boys will probably remain at the cattle post, taking care of the family's animals. For girls and boys, Johanna's a role model.
BOY
When steering a boat, does your boat have rear view mirrors like in a car to help you look in front and at the back?
JOHANNA KWEDHI
No. A boat has no rear view mirrors. The bridge has windows on each side to make your view easier, also windows at the back. It is big, just like this room.
VOICEOVER
Johanna's stories are a reminder of the value of education. Coming home has shown Johanna the problems that still confront other women, even if her story proves they can be overcome. Johanna's time on land has ended. She just wants to catch fish, earn a living, and bring up her child. But in a man's world, she's also making a point not everyone wants to hear.
JOHANNA KWEDHI
We have to do it. Just do it. Among men, you are there on top operating the wheel, they are down there. Some are saying, ‘What, a young lady?’ I feel -- yes! It’s a way of showing men that we women are capable of doing something at the end of the day. I enjoy it.