The value of the mother language
Linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened as more and more languages disappear. One language disappears on average every two weeks, taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. How is the mother tongue valued in Namibia? UNIC Windhoek explored the importance of the mother tongue among a few learners and teachers.
The mother tongue is more than just the linguistic aspect of language, it includes a strong sense of cultural identity that has been passed down for generations. The mother tongue resonates in the hearts of its people and connects and builds understanding among native speakers. “If you talk to a man in language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart,” famous words by Nelson Mandela, which ring true when reflecting on the intrinsic value of the mother tongue.
Namibia’s language policy for school’s advocates mother tongue teaching in the lower primary cycle of basic education. Mother tongue teaching is crucial for concept formation as well as literacy and numeracy attainment. Most importantly, a language can only survive if its mother tongue speakers use it.
The United Nations observes International mother language day to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The focus on linguistic diversity and multilingualism is an integral part of sustainable development, and in particular to realize targets 4.6 and 4.7 of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) on education. The SDGs depend on linguistic diversity and multilingualism as a vital contribution to global citizenship education as they promote intercultural connections and better ways of living together
Mr. Karl Nairenge, Chief Education Officer at the National Institute for Educational Development (NIED) agrees education should promote the language and cultural identity of learners using mother tongue as medium of instruction. He added that most schools in the regions and most learners are taught in their mother tongues.
Mrs. Selma Joseph, a grade two Oshindonga teacher, reckons that mother tongue teaching is of vital importance, “it is much easier for a child to express themselves in their mother tongues than in a foreign language,” she says. She reflectedd on her personal observations as a teacher, “learners are more likely to communicate with teachers and freely participate in the learning processes. It is also evident that mother tongue schooling enhanced the overall performance of learners”. She alluded to challenges and habits that are prevalent among youngsters learning their mother tongue, Oshindonga. “Learners habitually divert to English, because parents speak English at home, although they are not native English speakers,” she noted.
Albertina Uushona, a grade seven Oshindonga learner whose parents are both Oshiwambo speakers, recalls how she speaks with her parents in both English and Oshindonga, but communicates to her friends in English because of their different cultural backgrounds. She started learning her mother tongue since grade one and she uses it to communicate with her grandmother when visiting her in the village. “It is odd when you visit your grandma, you are unable to communicate with her and someone often must translate.”
Another, learner Elisia Hawii agrees on the importance of knowing your mother tongue, “one needs to know and embrace one’s own culture,” she says. Studenie Owoses, a Khoekhoegowab learner at Jan Jonker Secondary school speaks her mother tongue both at school and at home. She thinks it’s important for people to communicate in their mother tongue because they need to know their roots. “Speaking your mother tongue shows pride and comfortability,” she explained. Being fluent in her mother tongue helps her to translate certain words and phrases from English into her mother tongue language to develop a better understanding.
Amani Muuakembeu, a grade seven learner says that he expresses himself better in English, although both his parents are Oshiwambo speakers. He thinks it’s not that important or beneficial to him because not everybody understands Oshiwambo. Amani, strongly agrees that teaching children their mother tongues is a way of showing pride and dignity.
Sowing seeds of hope and enjoying optimism- Lenhert Plaatjies’ story
Assertively he introduced himself as Lenhert Plaatjies and very quickly it became evident that this globetrotter is a sower of seeds with the sole purpose of harvesting hope. Lenhert rich and purposeful journey gives you a chance to experience life and faraway destinations through the lens of his own eyes.
One of the most intriguing stories about his journeys actually takes place inside himself, his journey of self-discovery, an adventure of tolerance, appreciation and patience creating an embroidery of memories. As he embarked down memory lane from Thailand to Sri- Lanka, he unknowingly teaches you to fall in love with yourself and be cognizant that home (Namibia) will remain the same but ‘you’ on each return gets rewired every time with something new.
We are so busy trying to get people to love/like us, sometimes we forget to be attractive to ourselves. He shares how on an off-day he jumps on a tuk-tuk and explores his environment and interacts with the locals, by trying their foods and embracing their culture. This helps to find that inner glow of happiness, to be at one with others and himself.
Asia turned out to be a brilliant destination to work for the born and bred Namibia. “Being able to visit so many incredible places around the world and interact with cultures, religions and places that many can only try to understand from the news is something I will never take for granted. Serving others has literally changed my life, my outlook, and my gratitude and I just wish everyone could have the opportunity to experience that. It allows you to just step out of my comfort zone. The interaction with individuals allows for growth. intellectually or personally.”
“As young as I can remember, I always wanted to travel, to see the world through new eyes, expanding my views, make a difference and inspire others.” Some of my friends felt it was a far-fetched dream for a Namibian boy; but the burning desire could not be smothered”.
Lenhert remembers an ordinary childhood: family, school, friends, playing in the streets of Windhoek. He mentions that although he was adopted, he had the privilege to live close to his biological mother. Over the years, he volunteered at local organizations, participated in Aids awareness campaigns and was involved in faith-based projects.
“Serving people is my love language”, he confesses with a smile.
He was a teen when he started with charity work and after school whilst he was studying; he conducted more projects at schools in Windhoek with the Ministry of Education. He took a keen interest in project management and at first social work also looked promising as this philanthropist just wanted to help people. But after a short shadowing with a social worker, Lenhert soon realized that social work did not cut it for him, for he wanted to get more attached to people. He did not want to be detached and observant, he wanted to be actively involved in their lives, attend their family gatherings and get accustomed to their way of living. So, he steered away from social work.
After finishing his project management qualification and quitting his daytime job, he embarked on his first mission with a German NGO on the great seas. He spearheaded the project management department, this resulted him to be away from home for eight years. He was purposefully travelling seeing luscious islands and meeting grateful and hopeful hearts.
“I was finally living my dream”, he asserted.
Though with this statement he recalls all the words he was given when he was younger: negative comments, hateful words, insults and even stigmatization. This first mission, the support structure he already had in place and the valued friendships he built over the years ignited all the fulfilling journeys that followed and not any negativity from his past hindered him from what he wanted to achieve.
He adds that jetting off to other countries also has its cons; like missing important family events and sometimes not being able to come home certainly comes at a price. He returns home for visits whenever time allows and if funds are available.
“Not having a stable income is not always easy and I cannot always plan my schedule around sudden significant events or holidays.”
The missionary shared that he has done numerous projects in Namibia, but the poverty he has witnessed in Asian countries somehow draws him there to be a source of hope and light. While hunger exists worldwide, 526 million hungry people live in Asia. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. He reiterates that he has never seen poverty like he has in Asia.
“I’ve witnessed women working for several hours in tea plantations that earn a mere US$1, children that have not seen or been on a jumping castle, a 7-year old that looks after his baby sister, because his mom is working for 14-18 hours in the tea plantations, malnourished babies that live on tea; I could go on. If I look at these women I can see they have no hope for themselves or their children, because they are stuck in dying circumstances.”
He acknowledges that even in his home country there are people living in dire conditions, however there is something that pulls him to Asia and that he has a deep desire to plant seeds of hope and empowerment there. Whether by planning a small festival for children to jump on a jumping castle, organizing a seminar to teach a community the importance of helping themselves and to put value to the things they receive.
“Years ago, I worked with a remarkable group: ‘ladies of the night’. They were situated at a Navy base camp and I discovered that although I was making a conscious effort to keep them off the streets, I needed to provide a way for them to sustain themselves. A church group and other partners helped me with this project; with enough fundraising, we bought 10 industrial sewing machines. Today the institution is accredited and can train 25 students in one session”.
Lenhert describes this as one of the high points in his life.
Working from 8 to 5 was not on the cards for Mr. Plaatjies. At his first job, he was not passionate and knew he had a higher calling and that the world needed him more than his job. This philanthropist is a firm believer of eradicating poverty and inspiring people around the world.
The World Food Programme says, “The poor are hungry and their hunger traps them in poverty.” Hunger is the number one cause of death in the world, killing more than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.
Lenhert sees it as his duty to wake up in the mornings, to lead and initiate projects that will leave no one behind, to make conscious efforts to ensure zero hunger and with encouraging words and deeds to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Aware of his project management expertise; he combines that with his love of serving people, travelling and to consequently harvest hope in the world.
A great sense of personal development helped him to achieve whatever he puts his mind to and to make sure the world never loses hope. As his life motto lingers: ‘Negative things happened to me, to influence me positively’ and he hopes the people that he meets shares the same thought.
“I am now living a life not to please others; a purposeful life that pushes me to make use of what I have and to give what I have been given. My reality is to put simple ideas to action and to never lose hope and make sure I pass that message on to others”.
Art is the journey of a free soul- The Tuli Mekondjo story
Tuli-Mekondjo Mbumba (35), dressed in African-print bohemian harem pants and a head wrap, beautifully enhanced by tribal make-up and spotting a self-made leather necklace around her neck, she goes by the title of a ‘self-taught artist”. Having no formal education but possessing a vast set of skills learned through her interaction in the various fields she distinguishes herself from her peers. She shares with the Center information about her journey as an artist, her opinions and her concerns about the art / fashion industry in Namibia and how it can improve.
Tuli is a full-time preschool teacher grooming preschoolers in the mornings, painting life-size canvasses in the afternoon, designing and making clothes and jewelry at night and if time permits, she does TV adverts. This artist believes in exploring all the avenues the world presents to her and not limiting herself to a canvass. She wants to evoke emotions with her style of dressing, paintings and designs.
Tuli recalls the first meeting with her grandmother in the Mahangu fields where her creativity was sparked. There was an instant connection when she saw an old lady for the first time; her grandmother. An interest in craft awoke after that visit as she was fascinated by the lines on her grandmother’s hands and amazed by the clay pots and weaved baskets she crafted. She remembers sorting beads and putting together necklaces and bracelets for everyone who came to visit her grandmother. The bond between Tuli and her grandmother ignited an everlasting freedom to create to her heart’s content.
Tuli’s mother passed away when she was very young and that left her with so many questions and very little answers; a confused adolescent who was trying to make sense of her life and the world around her. Not being able to question or talk about her problems, she turned to self-counselling and art therapy to resolve issues as well as develop and manage her behaviors, feelings and improve self-esteem and awareness.
The artist mentions that drawing comes so naturally to her and that by picking up a pencil and starting by making lines on a piece of paper draws her to a world where she is free and can escape life’s realities.
Tuli-Mekondjo meaning ‘we are in the struggle’, what did the struggle refer to?
The history of Namibia has passed through several distinct stages in 1982. My mum chose “Tuli-Mekondjo” as a commentary to that era. Also unsettling for her not knowing if she would ever see her family again. She struggled muting the voices of self-doubt of whether or not she is a good mother, raising a child in an abnormal setting and within the confinement of a refugee camp. My mother lived on this planet for only 30 years and during those years she had accomplished a great deal. My mother passed on when I was only 12 years old, but she remains a living testimony of proof of survival at times, as indiscernible as a line etched delicately along the crevice of an eye. Losing someone so significant, inspirational and influential is an experience no textbook or novel could begin to teach me to comprehend.
When we were living at the Nyango Refugee camp in Zambia, I remember my mother riding off on her bike leaving me crying inconsolably, to board a plane to Britain to commence her studies as a teacher. Perhaps mother and I are both cut from the same cloth after all she taught me spontaneity, endurance no matter how tough life is, to keep on fighting because the real struggle is not physical but a mental one.
On my 30th birthday my thoughts circled around this wonderful woman and how fortunate I am to have her as a mother.
What are your thoughts about looking and dressing ‘different’ in a conservative country like Namibia?
If there are certain ‘truths’ ingrained in the cores of the mind it is extremely difficult to undo those “truths”. For conservative Namibians it is hard to try and understand that there are different kinds of realities and truths out there and that people dress differently according to personal tastes/ styles etc. I know I have been a laughing stock on the streets for the way I dress sometimes but that’s okay because I understand where they’re coming from, because a lot of it is lack of understanding. Sometimes I would be stopped and complemented on my outfit. Once I went to the village and I was wearing my huge earrings ( I have gauged earlobes) so of course the lady in the “cuca shop” (southern african term for ‘shebeen’) scold me and demanded that I remove the earrings because apparently it’s not part of the Oshiwambo culture to have gauged earlobes. In time, artists selectively incorporated indigenous elements in expressing themselves. Also, archival images also depict Ovambo people with stretched earlobes before Christianity was indoctrinated. We often forget where we are coming from and to accept diversity. It has become a norm to project our own views and practices onto others.
Boxes are there to confine a mind or an idea and I personally believe that they should be dismantled in order to give birth to innovation/creativity and a newer/fresher way of looking at the world around us. Thanks to evolution for creating those awkward and quirky souls, they are the trailblazers in our societies, for they understand the restrains of the box and why it needed to be destroyed. If they were stuck in those societal boxes we wouldn’t have brilliant scientists, writers/ artists/philosophers/ engineers /teachers and thinkers, to say the least and the world would have been a dull colorless place to live in. When you are ‘different’ for me I have completely and comfortably settled within myself. There’s no pretense to be something that I’m not. “Different” is there for a reason, to enhance our senses and to enrich our lives in a good way.
Can ‘Art’ be a good choice for a career?
When I finished high school I wanted to enroll for fashion design course in South Africa but due to financial constrains an unfavorable job market it was not possible for me to pursue my dream. Determined and not wanting to give up, a few years later I applied to the Pritt Institute in New York to study fashion design and were accepted, but due to lack of funding for fashion design courses, I was not able to access the necessary funds to commence my studies.
How many creative children get their dreams shattered this way because parents believe that one cannot make art a career? It is creatives that design the clothes we wear, the buildings/houses we live in, household appliances we use, they write the books we read, the list goes on and on, yet there is this notion that artists and designers are less important than doctors and engineers but then again it is a designer who designed the surgical tools for the doctor or the artist who produced your favourite record. Parents should refrain from limiting their children with the goal of shaping them to become what they want them to become. We all need each other from astronaut to ceramist we are all relevant and valid.
What are your thoughts on the art/ fashion industry in Namibia?
Unfortunately it is only a very small percentage of Namibians that are art connoisseurs. In this economy people don’t have extra cash on the side to spend on art. It’s almost unrealistic to make a living on just art in Namibia and that’s why I need to keep my day job in order to make ends meet. From a fashion point of view, one is competing with shops like Mr. Price, people would rather go and shop there because it is cheaper. There are a lot of fashion brands out there but the only products they produce are printed t-shirts with local slogans. The fashion in Namibia is relatively small, we lack resources for mass production that could be sold within the country. A lot of people with sewing skills find it very difficult to find a job or make a living. You cannot train people at vocational institutions without creating venues of employment in order for them to put their skills to use, it completely defeats the purpose/reasons for having these institutions in place. I believe it is every fine artist dream to have their work in galleries but in the case of Namibia we lack contemporary galleries that would put all kinds of artworks on their walls. If the National Art Gallery is solely aiming to house for instance strictly artworks with traditional imagery on them, then it’s impossible for experimental artists like me to have my work on their walls. I wish instead of tearing down those beautiful historical German buildings around Windhoek, they would rather rent them out to artists as studios, craft shops and contemporary galleries. Most artists like me lack proper facilities to use as a studio. Why can’t we integrate these buildings as part of the history of the City of Windhoek instead of demolishing them?
Be the change you wish to see in the world- A story of Nolizel Franks
As children we all have dreams. Some dreams bigger than others and we set on a certain path to achieve it. And Nolizel Franks is no different. A young professional educator (29) from Windhoek who says that education and children pull at her heart strings.
She embarked on a journey that set off with studying Educational Psychology at the University of Cape Town. After graduating, she lived and worked a few years abroad, returned and wanted to help grow the education system in Namibia. Being fortunate enough to receive quality education, she felt she owed that to other Namibian children and to the country as a whole. Her journey started as a preschool teacher.
“How I love absorbent minds and inquisitive individuals, how they are intrigued when they are asked questions on topics they want to know and learn more about”, she explains. But, teaching for this educator was never a preconceived notion. She reflects that when she and the rest of the nation were made aware of the current challenges the education system was facing, she pledged to aid in any way she could.
After Independence in 1990 the education system in Namibia has been battling with a few obstacles. For example: lack of qualified teachers, overcrowded schools, school drop-outs, school leavers with dismal results at the end of their school careers, to name but a few. The government has set on a national development agenda to reach its Vision 2030 and meet the needs and goals of the Namibian people. Thus far, the government has made considerable strides towards improving education; and in 2013 declared that primary education is free and in 2016 paying for secondary education has become something of the past; this is considered commendable progress. Subsequently, the enrollment rate for primary as well as secondary education increased, lowering the rate for out-of-school children. However, this slightly increased the learner-to-teacher ratio and teachers are battling with overcrowded classrooms.
It is evident too, that when comparing rural and urban areas the disparities still remain high. With the Sustainable Development Goal #4 to promote ‘Quality education’ that wants to ensure that every Namibian child receives lifelong learning opportunities and that wealth disparities is ruled out, the concept to promote pro-poor financing is at the core.
“After a few years of being a preschool teacher, I received several calls from previous parents whose children were in my class, to equip and assist their children with additional learning methods or private tutoring. I was overwhelmed with phone calls after agreeing to one parent and then I decided to leave my job as a preschool teacher and to take on these learners to have a more personal and an opportunity for a one-on-one interaction. And so LEAP Learning Centre was founded”, she comments.
Nolizel claims that education undoubtedly starts at the foundation; she believes that the early years in the school system are the most crucial years and attention should be placed more on the Early Years as compared to the Grade 10 and 12 school leavers. LEAP caters to all the primary grades in smaller sessions; the private lessons tie in with the topics currently in the class and additional teaching methods and repetition of class work enables learners to grasp the current content before they advance to more challenging topics.
With a growing failure rate, it is evident that children are taking on more subjects and are pushed to greater heights even earlier in their schooling. Parents acknowledge that the information their children receive and need to apply in their day to day lives is not easy to grasp as it used to be when they were younger. In a world where technology is rapidly changing and where the pace of children’s learning has increased significantly, parents complain on how they simply cannot keep up or effectively assist their children anymore.
“As the years go by, children are no longer learning by repetition or from memory, from an early age they are expected to apply what they have learned. The LE in LEAP stands for Learn and the AP stands for Apply and with this learning centre I wish to achieve just that”; Nolizel comments.
This visionary has put a pause on venturing into psychology fulltime; she elaborates that it is not something she is moving away from entirely, as she sees psychology as her foundation that has helped her to understand the cognitive difficulties some children are facing and the increasing pressure that affect their self-esteems. “With my background in psychology I had a great springboard to be able to connect with children at their mental level and work on their fears and struggles”, she states.
“How I would love to run my own practice one day, but somehow education and teaching keeps pulling me into participating in a greater cause and to reach a bigger platform. It is funny how I was busy making plans to follow my dreams as an Educational Psychologist and now I find myself volunteering to read to children as part of the “Read Namibia” campaign or taking children to museums for educational trips.”
LEAP hosts more learners from private schools than government schools, as private school parents’ have the means to pay for private tutoring. The monthly fee ensures transport from school, provision of a meal, assistance with homework and private tutoring on various subjects.
“I really want to be able to reach the underprivileged learners from government schools too, but private tutoring is expensive for their parents. I am hoping in the near future some learners from the government schools can be sponsored so that they can learn in a smaller and less pressurized setting.”
Private tutoring has become a helping hand to many parents in this hasty world. Tutoring offers more attention and less pressure than in a classroom environment. Children learn best when they apply the knowledge they have learned and better learning has been recorded when peer learning is involved. “The obsolete ways of teaching, when teacher-centered approach was the aim, is something of the past too. Children want to engage more with peers and the environment and they should now be at the core of their learning”; Miss Franks adds.
Improving the Namibian education system should be a joint venture. Learners, teachers, educators, parents, communities, the government and the nation as a whole could join forces to strengthen the education sector. “I am not only here to pursue my individual hopes and dreams, but also to ensure that my nation’s developmental goals are realized. Even if that means pausing my dreams for a while to improve quality education outcomes and making sure that no one is left behind. I‘ll reiterate Nelson Mandela’s words ‘Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world’. If I can be of assistance and join forces with other organizations to help to reach our Vision 2030, I am available and more than willing.”
If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door: a story by Christo Zaahl
“If you don’t build your dreams; someone will hire you to build theirs” -Tony Gaskin
With the above quote in mind; Christo Zaahl the Rehoboth resident wants to build his own dream and not be hired to build someone else’s. In a telephonic interview with UNIC Windhoek, the carpenter shares his story of carpentry and how he envisions his dream.
A very confident Mr. Zaahl stated: “Straight after school, I worked as a coffin maker, I did this for 7 years”. For several years, he has been surrounded by the all-too-familiar smell of wood carvings and the satisfaction of a finished product from miniature pieces that have been merged together.
Due to the high rate of unemployment and a sluggish economic growth, which does not translate into formal job creation and which leads to retrenchments, the informal sector in Namibia has experienced tremendous growth. Workers and operators in the sector face problems such as low incomes, lack of operating premises, lack of access to formal financial institutions and unfavorable municipal legislations.
Despite the fact that close to 70 percent of the Namibian population is in the informal sector. Zaahl also explained in create length why they use their own savings as start-up capital. “I wanted to develop my carpentry skills and build additional items like cupboards, tables and chairs. After a lot of thought I decided to leave my job and spread my wings”. The craftsman continues to share how he came from a longline of carpenters, namely, his uncle, brothers and cousins. With no formal education but a bag full of skills and broad knowledge and years of experience in a tool shed, the skilled Mr. Zaahl embarked on a carpentry journey to craft more products and start his own business.
Vocational jobs in Namibia have become well sought after in the job market over the last few years. The government as well as the private sector believe that vocational jobs could add towards economic needs of the country. Looking at how much attention the Vocational Education and Training in Namibia is getting, more technical subjects have now been added to the school curriculum and the youth of Namibia will subsequently have a broader list of subjects to select from.
Teaching creativity to everyone is vitally important if we desire a good life for all. “I noticed that my 14-year-old daughter is quite gifted and owns some good technical skills. There have been many pedagogical and administrative changes in general education since independence. And all of us as parents going through the ordeal in providing advice to our children in selecting school subjects. As their parent, you are likely to be the single biggest influence on your child’s thoughts and feelings about their future career.
I encouraged, Sade to explore all her options which resulted in her choosing woodwork is one of her subject choices. Sade, has been around, experience me creating something useful out of nothing.
The connection between me and Sade is just phenomenal. She recently work alongside me building and assemble build-in cupboards for a customer, he comments.
According to Namibia’s country report, a survey conducted shows that the informal sector has more men than women. The age bracket in the informal sector is between 15 – 40 years.
It’s has been remarked that learners in the country are finding it difficult to enter the labour market with their secondary school results. Mr. Zaahl wants to encourage boys and girls to be on the lookout for non-academic subjects too. He describes himself as having a raw talent of working with wood and sees creativity as a natural gift that should be harnessed as this might be an essential building block to one’s future. He wants everyone to be open to more possibilities. “I believe woodwork is not just for males; females can do it too. I once worked with a female carpenter and she was exceptional in her job. I think other male carpenters can learn from her”, he recalls.
Considering the unemployed status in the country and being desperate to make ends meet, the vocational industry is hastily becoming a lifeline to many Namibians. Mr. Zaahl wants to draw more from his natural gift. He strives to make life better for his family and himself and become a great competitor to other more established carpenters. He explains how the big companies possess the biggest part of the market. He elaborates how he has a disadvantage as compared to his competitors. “They have cutting machines and edge machines which I unfortunately do not own. This makes things a bit difficult. I often have to solicit assistance from my competitors, asking them to help with cutting of boards etc. and consequently it becomes a race against time to get my goods delivered to my customers on time.” For that reason, these companies do gain a competitive edge. He works predominantly in Windhoek as his client base is bigger in the city. He mentions that his clientele is not as large as he wants it to be. For the most part he is recommended by his satisfied customers and people who know him.
“As a family-orientated man I love being self-employed, I get to spend more time with my family”. The short journey that the entrepreneur has been on and exclaims he loves has been fulfilling, however, he is thinking of exploring a different route. Mr. Zaahl is considering steering back to coffin making. He has witnessed how disgracefully some poor elderly people are buried as their bereaved families have no funds to purchase coffins which are overpriced. “I believe that I’ve been given this special gift for a reason, I would like to build coffins because everyone needs to be laid to rest in an honorable manner. With more funds for a cutting machine and an edge machine I can do this for those that depart and their bereaved families at an affordable price”.
Furniture manufacturing industry seems to be significant not only from economic and social standpoints but also from a perspective of environmentally compatible industries. Accordingly, moving toward sustainable development in this sector of Namibia’s Industry is regarded as a national necessity.
I am not a product of my circumstances; I am a product of my decisions: A story of 18-year-old Helalia Petrus
We all face negative situations in our life; someone may say something bad about us, or something we have worked hard on, is rejected. In situations like this it is often difficult to keep a positive attitude.
In telephonic interview with UNIC Windhoek, A nervous and soft-spoken 18-year-old Helalia Petrus share her passion for creating a life to learn and grow personally despite her circumstances.
“I have six sisters and two brothers and I live with my mom in Walvis Bay. My father passed away in 2003”. Then she pauses; saying she is so nervous, because she never imagined that someone would want to hear her story or write something about her.
Throughout Namibia the youth is faced with growing up with single caregivers, being exposed to sex and alcohol abuse in their communities, poverty stricken areas where school drop outs and teenage pregnancies are high; negatively impacting their development.
She took a moment and composed herself and continued; “I have a passion for creating things with my hands, since I was a little girl” and her voice changes and she waited: she wanted me to write that down. If there is one thing people should know about Helalia Petrus; it should be that. This inspiring learner from De Duine High school continues and narrates where her furniture making venture all began.
“When I was in Primary school, I watched a kids programme on NBC TV. I was amazed how a little girl from the North created a traditional mat from palm tree leaves”. This sparked a fascination for creating things from the environment and this is where it all began. She then turned to her mom and said: “Mom I want to do that too”. Her mom just shrugged off the idea and said, she will not be able to do it, because no one has taught or shown her how to do it. This young entrepreneur whispered to herself; if that young girl can do it, why can’t I?
The social and economic pressures of today place these youngsters in an uncomfortable position; they want to strive for better opportunities and a better way of life. But unfortunately, they are faced with insurmountable obstacles whether it is because of finances or being surrounded by other teenagers that conform to certain peer pressures or societal pressures.
She remembers this particular day; her uncle came to visit. He gave Helalia N$100; she gave her mom N$30. She contemplates in putting the remaining money to good use, buying strapping ropes to create her first artwork, a mat. She explained that her first attempt was definitely not easy nor was she satisfied with the end product. “It had a few mistakes, but I then quickly realized where it all went wrong”. And then the determination kicked in; she was not going to give up. She thought mistakes can be rectified and with practice she will get better. She carried on working on rectifying certain mistakes in her designs and patterns until one of her neighbours called upon her to refurbish his chairs. Needless to say, fear and self-doubt take over ‘you too ambitious, you should decline.’ And of course this negative, doubtful, scared part of ourselves is our shadow side, and we all have one. And just as we have a shadow, we also have a light side, the positive, optimistic, and productive self.
Helalia bravely agreed to take on the challenge.
The furniture maker knew at that moment to give the task at hand her best, saying ‘No I cannot’, without trying was not an option. This was her first customer and she wanted to do an excellent job. She tried persistently to perfect it and with the collection of the chairs, her neighbour was astonished of what she has accomplished. And it was at this moment she knew one happy customer could one day mean 100 happy customers.
This creator keeps herself occupied on weekends, as well as during holidays to create her furniture masterpieces. During the week she focuses on her school work, she shares assertively. She takes approximately a full day to create a furniture item on weekends. She mentioned that mats are easier and the quickest to make in comparison to other objects. She enjoys creating new designs and patterns for her furniture, explaining that sometimes customers do not like a certain pattern and then they request for something different. She puts customer satisfaction at the top of her list and works tirelessly to do so. She correlates practice to perfection.
With reference to her inspiration; Helalia speaks with admiration of her entrepreneur teacher from school. She alluded how he motivates and encourages learners to take simple and insignificant things around them and turning them into meaningful and useful items. Her mom she describes as her biggest motivator and supporter. “My mom is my ‘helping hand’, because she is always there when I need an extra pair of hands to complete an item”. She added: “I think I got my creativity from my late father, because he too loved working with his hands.”
By cultivating a grateful heart, her biggest dream is to see her business grow into something much more lucrative over a period of 10 years.
Although she currently only sells her furniture to people in her community; she imagines a big factory in the country, creating jobs for the uneducated and unemployed in the country. She wants to encourage fellow Namibian boys and girls not to sit around and wait for jobs, but to create them. She reiterates her teacher’s words and calls the youth to look around them and to see what they can recycle or reuse. To pay attention to the raw materials in our environment and the things we so often throw away.
And one last thing she wants to share; a message for other boys and girls:
“Let us stop wanting parents to buy us gifts; why do we not create what we want? I remember, quite some time ago I wanted a hand bag and created a handbag out of plastic bags”. She encourages the fellow young children to create gifts or cards rather than going to a shop to buy them. She believes more sentiment and thoughtfulness is added when a gift is created and not bought.