Born and bred in the dusty and busy gravels of Vaalgras, a settlement south of Keetmanshoop, Johanna Swartbooi is living proof that being a young woman with a purpose is possible.
Normally young students are told not to have so much on their plates, yet there is never a perfect time to do everything. Just when you finish school, university beckons. And when that is done then the barrage of responsibilities arise.
For 20-years old second year Social Work student, there is student life to deal with, modeling on the side, volunteer work while also emerging as a youth activist – something many of her peers would not consider taking on.
The youth activist was part of the delegation of 200 Namibians who attended the youth conference held in Russia just a few weeks ago. “I am still young and I just feel I should be part of other young people and those putting their prints in the future.”
On the runway, Johanna has made a promising entrance, featuring in fashion shows of high prestige and giving existing models a run for their money. She is often dubbed as the new kid on the block who could make the genre more attractive.
One may ask how these combinations complement each other and Johanna explains it like this; “I’ve always been someone who wanted to help others. I love being part of people’s lives, giving a hand where I can, especially to those with different abilities. This is where Social Work comes in.”
“With modelling, I’ve been doing modeling from a tender age, of course inspired by my aunt who is a model too. It was crazy. I would go on diets with her and her fashion sense automatically just rubbed off. I was the fashion police of the house at some point and that is where the fashion and the love for modeling came in,” narrated the young model.
Cementing her social work and love for working with people, Johanna started volunteering at the National Federation of the Visually Impaired last year. One of her highlights with the organization was last month when they took the blind for a walk on the streets of Windhoek.
“It is humbling to see the blind walk the streets. They are usually in fear of being bumped by cars and neglected by society. It was a very important feeling for me seeing them smile and walk without their long white cane sticks,” she said.
Being a jack of all trades but a master of none, Johanna feels that she was born to do great things and she will do whatever makes her happy while she is still young. How she juggles between the three responsibilities is a discipline that only she knows best.
The University of Namibia scholar has her classes mostly in the morning and then attends to her modelling life after classes. “I would normally go for auditions or castings after school. Otherwise, I get busy with volunteering, hit the gym after and then attend to my books.”
In the beginning, Johanna said she was often criticized for being ‘too busy’ as many thought she would slack with school and the other ‘things’ would take up much of her time. She gradually started getting used to having more on her plate until she learned how to chew everything.
“I always thought I couldn’t do school, modelling and volunteering at the same time. Now I feel I can actually handle it. I just want to live out my purpose and operate at my full potential. I do not want to be limited just because I’m a student. I want to do something that brings me comfort.”
Her strong base at home helped her persevere in all her work, something she feels has limited many young people from being at their full potential.
What lays ahead for the young student – Johanna says she still wants to put herself out there for now and create a resumé ready for life after university. On her to-do list is working with the United Nations in her field of social work and volunteering.
“I want to change lives. I do not know how but in the end, I want people to start seeing life differently, positively and hopeful. But I need to do this while I’m still in school. I need to get the experience that will compliment my qualification.”
Johanna mentioned that she is also busy creating a brand; one that speaks about the courage and determination to everything that makes one happy.
“I always tell my fellow peers that they should not be afraid of being themselves. If you find a way to do everything, do it -as long as it makes you happy.