I would love to be just a better version of myself…. Even if it is just for one day.
7 years ago our 3rd daughter was born with a severe disability. This was the most devastating time of our lives. I have never been tested in my faith, character and way of thinking like this, ever in my life.
I have noticed how hard it is to find help for our daughter if you had no means of funding.
So 3 years ago I started working with a woman called Sandra Hollweg. Sandra started an early intervention centre in Windhoek, Namibia to support children with special needs. After receiving training from her for my daughter and the centre, I took over the centre. The Centre is a source of hope for allot of families living in the informal settlements around Windhoek. We believe that every child with a disability deserved an educated and informed family. They deserve easy access to Medical help, therapy and Equipment. They deserve inclusion in society and educational setups. And this is my job. And I am loving every moment of it.
The most common misunderstanding about the industry…
I think the most common misunderstanding about my industry is that a disability needs to be pitied. And that all children with a physical disability have a metal impairment. This not the case and that is exactly why I love my job. Before I had my daughter I always wanted to change the world. But then she came along and I realised I cannot change the world if I am not ready to be changed. They have so much to give, and pity makes us sympathetic and not empathetic. When our eyes see an impairment we easily jump to a conclusion that all is not well. They are intelligent. We were taught to teach children how to communicate the way we do, but with these children, we first have to learn how to communicate like they do. You will be surprised at what you learn.
There are so many challenges I have faced.
Non-profits are started by people who have a passion, but not all people with a passion have the skills to manage a non profit. Due to this the industry lost its authenticity, and may companies changed their way of donating.
Running a centre who caters for children with special needs, it is essential to have a building with classrooms where our training’s take place and our therapists can cater to the needs of the children. We need qualified therapists who can work on our children individually and can guide our caretakers, teachers and parents in the right direction. For this we need funds for salaries and equipment. It is easy to get the physical needs donated. People have open hearts and they would rather buy things than give the funds.
But organizations like ours have running costs. The challenge is to find organizations that understands the financial burden, that sees the long term investment and that is willing to commit for more than a year.
If we do receive funds from some organizations, we are bound to a contract and funds are specifically allocated. This means if the organization grows and the need of the community evolves, we have to do new funding and face all of the challenges all over again. There is no certainty of income and grants can be cancelled at any given time. So growing and evolving an non-profit organization is taking a huge risk and may cost me my whole organization. This is only to mention a few.
Working with children with special needs and sometimes severe disabilities, also has a challenge. We have to find school placements and relevant therapists. And the pressure of performance will always play a huge role in the result measuring.
What motivates you to keep going on difficult days?
My daughter and my faith. We have been on this journey for 7 years. For 7 years I have seen what she went through. We are witness to the changes her body is going through and how physically she is deteriorating. Side by Side Early Intervention Centre is her legacy. It is her voice. I always new she would leave an imprint on this world before she leaves us. This is her imprint and on difficult days I just fight a little harder, I pray a little more and I hope recklessly. And I realise, if she is strong enough to fight for life every day, I am strong enough to face anything. God inspires me to be brave and she reminds me to be brave.
Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
I believe that we have a blueprint to run a successful rehabilitation program for ALL children with disability. In the next few years I believe that our centre can be equipped to give training to both medical student and the community. We would have a diverse group of therapists employed to achieve the goal of inclusion that WORKS. (It is easy to say we run an inclusion program, but is it working?) Our centre will be equipped to support and protect the most vulnerable in informal settlements and provide a platform for all health departments. We are also on the verge of launching a Nero clinic. This means Early Identification can be done and children will receive treatment as soon as birth. A fully equipped centre with a diverse team is definitely something that is not far from our reach.
Why do you think your industry is important to your countries economy?
To answer this question you need to understand the effect a child with a disability has on a family living in an informal settlement.
Many woman living in the informal settlement are single mothers.
They have multiple children and have to work to maintain their families. Now, having a child with a disability means that she can no longer work, because the risk of others taking care of a child with a severe disability is to high. And mostly the community do not understand the diagnosis and a stigma is linked to the disability. This means the mother have to take care of her child herself, causing the other children to fend for the family. This also then means the children drop out of school and beg on the streets to provide. Having a centre like ours addresses the stigma, empowers the immediate community and family and educates the mother. It allows for the mother/caretaker to work and think of ways to provide.
I believe knowledge is power and I believe that every child with a disability has the right to an informed and educated family. I believe these families have the right to easy therapy, equipment and medical care. I also believe that they deserve inclusion in society and educational systems. This drastically affects the direct welfare of families and our poverty rate.
Let’s talk female empowerment.
Who is the most influential woman in your life and why?
This is a hard question, only because I have never been someone to put people on a pedestal. I cannot pinpoint a specific person. During the last 7 years God has given me an army of woman. Woman of faith. Woman who fear God but humbles themselves. Influential means to add to my life in such a way that it alters the path that I am walking. This group of woman together influences me and I have no individual that singlehandedly makes the change.
What advice would you give to the younger generations of females?
You are born with so much potential. You are born to influence, change and innovate. You were born to be remembered. But, as life goes on we are boxed in by lies. “You are to ugly, to fat, to skinny, to ADHD, to slow, to OCD,” “You will never be able to….. because of your weaknesses.” Your weakness is there to remind you that you are human. And that nothing comes naturally. That we have to work hard…. Always. It reminds us that others are also human and that they also have weaknesses and through this we have compassion for one another, we have lower expectations of one another and we can set goals that can be achieved for one another. Use your weaknesses to become the best version of yourself. Every day the sun rises, you are given another opportunity to be better than what you were yesterday.
Your mistakes does not mean you failed, it means you have tried and you have learned. Never give up….
Why do you think it’s important to support other women?
As humans we set standards so high for one another.
As business woman we need to prove that we belong, as mothers we need to proof we can provide, and wives we need to proof that we can stand when our husbands are on their knees. The expectations are high in all senses of our being. But, I know that in each woman is a supporter. We were given compassion, skills of innovation. We have armours of steel, but we need to be reminded to put it on. Expectations are good, it helps us to want to achieve, but we need to support each other by reminding one another that sometimes its okay not to be okay, but never stop trying to achieve.
How do you support other women?
The woman I work with is mothers of children with a severe disability. They understand loss and despair. Some of them have been morning their children since the day they were born. For some the morning will never stop, for others as a way of protecting themselves they have distanced them emotionally from their children. The support I give is to show them that everything they are going through is normal and human. That the expectations that they think the wold have for them are perception. They need to understand that they are strong enough, good enough, tough enough, loved enough and honoured. They need to know that their feelings is not fact and that all humans, men and woman need time to process life. We empower these mothers by giving them support in the form of education and workshops. Our centre also does awareness in schools for young girls, help them find their passion and teach our next generation what it is to have compassion.
Woman are born with an unlimited amount of compassion, but to protect ourselves we sometimes hide behind a hard layer of works.
We chase goals to achieve and forget to stand still and feel.
We need to remind each other that life happens, and sometimes we need to do a little more than just surviving.
Fave Animal: An tortuous. No matter what, home is only a second away.…..8-)
Imagine you won the lottery… I would build Namibia’s first red cross hospital and launch a fully equipped rehabilitation centre for all children diagnosed with a disability and render all services free…..
Sunsets or sunrise and why? Sunrise. Where there is light, there can be no darkness. Seeing the darkness flee when the sun rises over the mountains reminds me we can overcome anything. It is a sign of hope.