Meet Mwahangelai Namundjebo, better known as Queen Elizabeth by her friends. As a young girl who had to brew tombo (traditional sorgum beer) and sell fat cakes at school for her family to survive, Namundjebo now serves as an inspiration and motivation to thousands of single mothers living in poverty.
Namundjebo came from a broken home to living in a shack where she gave birth to a disabled child who she was forced to raise alone. Yet through all these challenges, she emerged to become a PhD graduate from the Eastern Michigan University.
Her parents gave her away to her namesake meekulu Queen Namundjebo, as giving away a child to a relative is a normal part of Oshiwambo culture.
Namundjebo has 50 siblings – step brothers and sisters – and is the youngest of 5 children from her mothers’ side. Starting school at Okandjengedhi Primary School in Ongwediva, Oshana region, she returned to Haiyandja village where her parents separated, causing her mother to move out to a one-bedroom shack – two children and two grandchildren in tow.
As a Grade 10 learner at Ongha Senior Secondary School, in Ohangwena region, she passed Grade 10 with flying colours. She then went to Ponhofi Senior Secondary School where she matriculated.
They had good Samaritans paying for their school fees and taking care of school uniforms. Her mother was a devout Christian who sometimes had to sell off portions of their mahangu grain reserves to take care of basic needs.
“We had strangers paying for our school fees. I remember while I was in Grade 7, my English teacher paid for my school fees. In Grade 10, I didn’t have a school uniform and I didn’t have anyone to pay for my school fees either. My aunt, Ester Mukete, gave me an old school uniform and paid for my school fees.”
“My brother… started driving my uncle’s bus, another one started working at Rosh Pinah and one became a taxi driver. They took over from Grade 11 and 12, and started paying school fees for my sister and I. ”
Although she wanted to study law, her brother convinced her to enrol for the Bachelor of Education degree at the University of Namibia (Unam). She graduated in 2007.
After graduation, she only worked as a teacher for a year and nine months and went back to Unam. The university had offered her a bursary to do her Masters in literacy and learning.
It was around that time when she got a Fulbright Scholarship to do her second master’s degree at Eastern Michigan University in the USA.
“I stayed there from 2011 to 2013, and I graduated with a magma cum laude in Masters, teaching English to foreign language speakers. When I came home I registered for my PhD immediately in 2013,” she explains.
She’s now a lecturer at Unam and due to graduate on April 3, 2017.
“But everything including my title has already changed, it is just a matter of wearing a gown. It feels good,” she said with a smile.
Namundjebo’s face lightens up when she talks of her father.
“I love my father very much. My father is the best father in the world. He is regretful for all that he’s done,” she said.
Even though they remain separated, her parents have become best of friends, she says.
While at Unam, in 2005 Namundjebo became a young mother to a baby boy, Prince HaitangeOmwene.
He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder affecting infants and young children. The disorder permanently affects body movement, muscle coordination, and balance. Although in some cases children with cerebral palsy are mentally affected, Prince “is cognitively fit” although he is wheelchair bound. Because of her son’s condition she had to drop out of the university many times.
“He is a very, very smart boy,” she said with a smile.
“He has never met his father… his family only started looking for Prince in 2014 when he was 9 years old,” she adds.
Prince’s biological father, currently a student in Russia, came around last year.
“He gave me a call, he wanted to see his son but I told him I didn’t think my son was in the right mind to see him.” she says.
“…Maybe it’s because I am successful, [they know] I am a lecturer at Unam, that is why they are coming around. If I was just any other person, they wouldn’t,” she adds.
Prince made it clear that he was not ready to meet his biological father however, Namundjebo maintained that most of her male friends are very helpful.
“I have a special friend, Mathew Nambahu who takes Prince to and from school … he takes him in as his son. I also have a six month old daughter and her father is very, very helpful,” she adds.
Prince suffered as a direct consequence of his disability. Namundjebo left him in a boarding school when she went to study in the United States and found him more disabled when she returned.
“Knowing our education system, there is no provision for a child with special needs. Apparently they would just put him in a corner, he would fall off his chair and no one would pick him up until school was out. Other children would pour water on him, and accuse him of urinating on himself, and the teacher would beat him. They really tortured my son,” she adds.
When she returned from her studies, a number of schools in Windhoek refused to enrol Prince because of his disability. She had to home-school him until he was accepted by the Sunshine Private School. By then Namundjebo was a lecturer at the Namibian University of Science and Technology and a PhD candidate. Today Prince is a happy 11-year-old boy and a Grade 3 learner at Liberty Primary School.
Namundjebo maintains that her son is the only child with disabilities at his school, because others like him are often hidden from society.
“Ever day you push your child’s wheelchair and people give you a weird look, a look that makes you and your child uncomfortable. And when you have a disabled child people look at you like it’s a curse,” she adds.
Namundjebo says it is her spiritual strength and her son that strengthen her willpower to succeed.
“I am the type of person that doesn’t dwell much on the challenges that I’m facing in life. I look at them as lessons. And my son is actually the reason why I pushed myself this hard. He doesn’t have a father figure in his life and if I was going to be a normal teacher I was not going to afford his medical expenses,” she explained.
What would you say to young mothers facing similar circumstances to those you faced?
Namundjebo maintains that people living in poverty, should use their situation as a pillar of strength and motivation to work harder.
“The reason why babies are [abandoned] is because there are no fathers and it’s a serious challenge – society judges you immediately, especially if your child turns out to be disabled like mine. Your family members call your child names your child can hear. No body takes care of that child if you are not there. Only a few individuals that understand,” she said.
“They need to pray a lot and they need to talk to the people that are there for them, because not everyone is there for you. Some people are just there to break you down while some are loud speakers as well,” she adds.
“If you don’t pray, if your spiritual life is not high, you are facing problems because the moment you involve God in your life, the gentlemen up there works wonders. You get to have faith, you get to be strong, to be encouraged that you can make it. Especially…single mothers. They need to stand up for themselves.”