By Surihe Gaomas
While many other 30-year-olds are destined for a blissful life with a husband and children, for Elizabeth Hilger it was not a life set out for herself, despite her ability to have become a European suburbia parent and devoted wife.
In fact, the only devotion she had was to remain steadfast in looking after those less privileged than herself. To be precise, there are 163 orphaned children at Mavanze Village located 12 km west of Rundu in the Kavango Region.
That is how the dedicated founder of the Theresia Orphans and Vulnerable Children Foundation in Kavango started a journey of caring.
With an ever-present smile, Liza, as she is affectionately known, loves cracking jokes, and strives to live life to the fullest.
Clasping her fingers together and creasing her smooth facial skin into a smile Hilger, from the Kavango Region, portrays a subtle child-like innocence.
“Just call me Liza,” said the young woman with a shiny sparkle in her eyes and an aura of determination.
“Success is a journey, and it’s a process not a destination. That is what keeps me going all the time,” said Hilger.
Born out of a poor family of four siblings, Hilger’s calling has always been to be on the lookout for the hundreds of orphans and vulnerable children.
Tragically, the passion for caring all started at the death of her mother Theresia Rosina Vendura on July 20, 2005.
“When my mom passed away two years ago, I noticed some street children crowding at the funeral. They would in fact move from one funeral to the next, looking for food. You look at each child closely, the ragged clothes and the dirtiness of the skin,” said Hilger.
“You see in their eyes that something is wrong – they are sad, and it really touches me a lot,” she said.
Soon after the burial, Hilger decided to investigate into the background of these street children to know more about them.
It appears that the issue of orphans and street children in the Kavango Region is worsening, more so with the multitude of these unfortunate children losing their parents to AIDS-related complications.
The issue of dumped children is also another concern.
This led this philanthropic woman to open up a place of shelter for these children, affectionately naming it ‘Theresia Orphans and Vulnerable Children Foundation’ in December 2005, in memory of her mother.
“The demand for taking care of these children is huge in the Kavango. With few donations from good Samaritans, I first registered 98 orphans and vulnerable children in 2005, then this number grew to 143 the following year, and now we have 163 children. Although the home is full, I can’t send them away. When they see me they sing ‘Here comes Liza, Here comes Liza’ and that has touched me deeply,” said Hilger wiping away a tear.
This is how her mother used to sing for her whenever she came to visit her in the home village.
“Even though both my parents have died, I keep them close to me all the time by carrying their identification cards. Look, here’s one of Theresia,” she said. Look, here it is,” she says taking out an old South West African card – that bears her mother’s face.
For her late dad, Joao dos Santos, she pulled out a ruffled piece of paper in the form of a driver’s licence. On it is written ‘1985/07/11 Rundu – Payment R2.00.’
“I pray to God and think about my mom. Sometimes she smiles at me in my dream, and then I get this hope that I’ll be getting more donors to help me. And then it happens,” she says.
Just recently Namibia Diamond Company (NAMDEB) donated N$200 000 for building a soup kitchen at Mavanze Village. The completed building was officially opened on July 20 this year.
Being the only girl among four boys, Hilger was the darling of the family, and this is the same way she treats each and every child that comes to stay in the home.
“All children should be treated in a special way – with love, affection and with a sense of hope for the future. They must be fed, educated and loved at all times,” she added.
But who is Hilger, apart from this children’s home? Well, unlike many young women, she chose not to follow her husband, Patrick Hilger, to live a luxury life in Luxembourg, but decided to tackle head-on the issue of dumped children and orphans.
“Rundu viva! Luxembourg – no, no!” she said, recalling her life story.
“I got married to Patrick in January 2003 and we have a beautiful two-year-old daughter, Joyce. There was no honeymoon because I was working. I did not want to leave my home-grown dream and go to Europe. We spoke about it for a long time, and he finally understood me. My love for Patrick is not based on where we stay, and I managed to win his heart over and he decided to stay with me here in Kavango,” she said.
At the time her friends thought she was crazy. “They would say ‘how can you get married to a Shirumbu (a white man) and not want to go to Europe’? But I knew in my heart we were doing the right thing. I listened to my inner voice that told me my dream would one day bear fruit.”
Having completed Grade 12 at Linus Shashipapo Secondary School in Rundu and having worked as a secretary at the Rundu Town Council in 1999 to support her unemployed parents, Hilger is happy to be a home mother to 163 children today.
“When you encourage children, you water the very seed in them that will help them grow into who they want to be. To live in this world without parents is not something easy, especially when you are still young. That’s why my heart goes out to these young children we care for at the project in the village.”