Just mention the name "Ohaiua", a village some 200 km north of Opuuo in the Epupa Constituency of the Kunene Region of Namibia, and it conjures images of an untamed African jungle.
Ohaiua is a beautiful and remote village on the banks of the Kunene River and is home to the Ovatua tribesmen. Situated on the foot of the majestic Omazoroue Mountains, the village is surrounded by dry rivers, which burst with life during the rainy season, natural water springs and palm trees.
A typical dwelling consists of small igloo-like structures made out of twigs and grass or palm leaves and a fireplace. Food is scarce. Children sit and wait patiently for what may be the only meal of the day. No livestock, no milk or meat.
The tribe shares a common culture and belief system as the Ovahimba ethnic group, but still remains prominently hunters and gatherers of wild fruits to date. Most of them live in the mountains and come down to plough and grow crops such as beans and mahangu when the rains come.
In spite of the harsh conditions in which they live, Ovatua tribesmen hold their traditional values with the utmost swollen pride, and can be considered as one of the most iconic brand of the 21st century. However, the tribe`s semi-nomadic pastoral traditions and ritualistic blood-drinking are in conflict with the modern world.
Roads in Ohaiua are virtually non-existent - a vital, first step for this tribe in gaining access to much needed modern schools, health care facilities and economic opportunities.
There is no postal system, no telephones in the village, or even cell phone coverage. The only communications medium has been the "bush telegraph", messages transmitted via word of mouth by people travelling by foot or on horse back. The mountainous terrain presents barriers to easy deployment of phone services.
However, Telecom Namibia recently installed a satellite telephone service at the village, using the Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) system, a development that`s likely to help change their lives. A VSAT system offers multi-channel, toll quality telephone, fax and data services.
Given the area`s mountainous terrain, the VSAT technology was the most viable means of communications because satellite is more economical than other means of communications like cable and fibre optic, which are difficult, expensive and time consuming to deploy in such an area.
"So far we`re cut-off from other parts of the country. We`d to walk for a very long distance to Okanguati to make a call from a public phone. Now, with telephone connections and Internet services, we`re saved from all these trouble. I feel connected," said 19-year-old Uaundjaina Mbinge.
Telecom Namibia recognises that information and communication technology is the most effective way to counter the obstacles presented by the country`s geographic barriers, providing new methods of service delivery and introducing innovations that will create opportunities for economic and social development for all Namibians.
Life is slowly changing for these tribesmen who`ve been wallowing in the bog of poverty for so many years. A resettlement programme was started to make the community live a more structured life, without which it would be hard for the Government to provide basic services. Government plans to sink boreholes, construct a clinic, school and identify cultivable lands for the immediate emancipation and empowerment of the tribe.
"It`s a wonderful project, and once again shows how much government intervention can achieve when not constrained by bureaucratic red tape," said Oiva Angula, Senior Manager of Corporate Communications and Public Relations at Telecom Namibia. "By connecting these villagers will bring them opportunities and services which were previously out of their reach," Angula said.
"I always have the question about how much benefit simple access brings, but the VSAT installation seems to have the back-end and support to make it truly worthwhile given the Government programme for the community," he added.
If one goes by official pronouncements, Government seems determined to improve the living conditions of the Ovatua community. And the satellite phone couldn`t have come at a better time for Ohaiua.
This village isn`t the first and the last to be connected. Telecom Namibia is connecting isolated villages and rural areas through wireless systems such as VSAT, Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX), Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and Ultraphone.
"Ohaiua is a prime example of how wireless systems can bring advanced telecom services to rural villages and how Telecom Namibia is fulfilling its social responsibility," Angula concluded.