Every year, thousands of new migrants move to the Namibian capital of Windhoek in search of work. The unemployment rate in Namibia is very high [consistently higher than 25%] and single women find it particularly difficult to find a paid job—all the more if they are mothers of small children. Sex work often becomes the only available employment, a line of work they pursue in exchange for food, shelter and money that they will use to send their children to school.
The photo series and multimedia project The Prostitutes and the Priest tells the story of women and girls in Namibia—specifically those who sell their bodies to survive—and the priest, Father Hermann Klein-Hipass, who has made it his personal mission to help them.
In the short film, Father Herman and the women talk about their lives and experiences. As they tell us their stories, it becomes clear how dangerous sex work is in Namibia: the women face a high risk of becoming infected with HIV and STIs; they are also vulnerable to physical violence, rape and even death.
Condemned to the lowest rungs of society, these women are insulted, despised and rejected by their own people. Even charity organizations and NGOs consider them lost causes because many of them also turn to alcohol and thievery. “Father Hermann is the only one who is helping us,” says Samantha, another protagonist in the film.
The film is based on a long-term photo project that started in 2008, as well as my interviews from 2013. In 2014, I began to edit the video material with the help of Florian Mebes, a filmmaker and journalist. In 2015, we traveled together to Namibia; Father Hermann had become too sick to continue his work and had to be hospitalized.
“The Prostitutes and the Priest” shows the humane and vulnerable side of the women and girls who are labeled as prostitutes and who consequently suffer from social discrimination, oppression and violence. The film hopes to raise awareness of their desperate situation: thousands of unemployed single mothers and orphans have to sell their bodies in order to provide food for their children or their siblings, not only in Namibia, but in many other countries throughout Africa.
In addition, I hope these images serve as a testament to Father Herrman’s work, for which he was honored with the Merit Order from the Federal Republic of Germany in 2012.
Christian Bobst (photographer, videographer, director)
Florian Mebes (editor, videographer, director)
Federico Bettini / Jingle Jungle Soundstudios (musician, composer)
Barbara Miller (consultant)
To see the full-length interviews that were used to make this video, visit the project’s Vimeo album.