At the age of 19, two Walvis Bay girls have already starting putting food on the table for their families by working as fishers.
Manethe Boois and Letesia Unaes usually make their way to the Walvis Bay lagoon during their free time, where fisherman Jan du Plessis departs from the lagoon with his small boat.
The cousins spend hours at sea earning their salary from catching fish, while also going home with enough fish to feed their families and saving for university.
Letesia is a Grade 10 pupil from the De Duine Secondary School. She started fishing in October 2022.
“One of my friends who was working for oom (uncle) Jan as a domestic worker gave me the family’s number to ask if there was any vacancy. He said he only had a job for crew on his fishing boat. At first I was reluctant, but decided to try. It was a bit scary to be out into deep waters, but it soon became comfortable. I always loved the ocean. My mother could not believe it when I returned home with fish and told her that I was out at sea, catching fish,” she says.
Her mother, Letta Unaes, a domestic worker, says she was shocked when she heard that her daughter was employed as a “fisher woman”.
“This child has a connection with the ocean. She used to beg me in our free time to go to the sea and she would play in the water. I was shocked though, when she showed up here telling me that she was on a boat to catch fish. I was worried and asked if it was safe. She assured me that they have protective gear. I was still worried because she is a girl, and demanded to meet the man. I was at peace when I met the family.”
“My daughter is determined to become an accounting teacher. I advised her to enroll for extra lessons in accounting with her salary. I was really saved because she bought her own stationery and school uniform this year with her salary,” says Unaes.
Meanwhile, Letesia approached her cousin Manethe, a Grade 10 pupil at Kuisebmond Secondary School, when her boss needed an extra crew member.
Boois was in bed on Christmas day, just a few weeks after her father passed away.
“I immediately jumped at the opportunity. I did not tell my older brother, who is currently my guardian. He just saw me coming home with fish and jokingly asked if I was working at a factory. It was hard to catch fish at first. The nets were filled with fish and hard to pull, but I learned fast on that day. My brother really does a lot for me, and I am just happy that I can help him to support our family,” she says.
She wants to become a pharmacist and is determined to save money to make sure her dream comes true.
“Our friends usually ask us for money. We advise them to look for small jobs. Life is hard, but there are also different opportunities out there to make it easier. Lying at home and stressing parents is not the way. It is rewarding to become financially independent at an early age. Some young people have talents that they do not even use,” she says.
De Duine school principal Anton Van Wyk was surprised on Monday to learn about the girls.
“I am so proud and would like to meet these girls. They have no idea how they can motivate their peers, especially girls. These are the future leaders that we need.”
Employer of the teens, Du Plessis says the cousins are his most trusted and hardworking crewmembers.
“I feel so proud when I see what they buy with their salaries, while the men immediately buy alcohol. I am very protective of these girls and warn new crewmembers to leave them alone so that they can finish their school. I want to employ them until they can save enough for studies,” he says.