Frieda Nambuli’s memory of her early childhood is of misery and homelessness. Memories that drove her to open a shelter for homeless and abandoned children, where children would be given care, love and affection. Today the shelter, Children Life Change Centre, is registered with the Ministry of Health and Social Services.
Nambuli remembers neither being cared for as a child nor receiving the affection children crave. Her mother abandoned her when she was three months, and the situation was compounded by the fact that a relative took her along when she went into exile. She was only two years old when she arrived at a refugee camp in Angola. When she returned to Namibia as a teenager she knew no close relatives.
Matters went from bad to worse when a distant relative, an uncle, took her in, and Nambuli described her life in Arandis, where the relative lived, as “hard” and “hell”, with ill treatment from the uncle.
“There was no one to pay for my school fees. I went to school on an empty stomach. I couldn’t give up because I did well in school,” she narrates.
“After my Grade 12 the situation got worse. I started eating from dustbins, sometimes slept in the street and felt the pain of being homeless. I then decided to go back to the north. While there a woman from my village called me to Windhoek. I thought life would get better but things got even worse. She started treating me like trash, she made me clean her house every day, do laundry and take care of her children,” reminisces Nambuli.
Those are the bitter memories that motivated Nambuli to open a shelter for homeless children. As a matter of fact the idea started when Nambuli would sit outside the house in Windhoek, resting from cleaning the house. She would observe the children scavenge from trash cans and fight among themselves.
“They started coming to me as the group expanded and we started to play happily around in the streets and I bought them bread when I got something,” she says.
“I felt something in my heart, that the children needed care, love and a home. One of my friends then referred me to the Ministry of Health and Social Services,” she says. There she was advised to put her idea on paper and draw up a constitution for the orphans and vulnerable children organisation she intended to establish. She also received support from the former prime minister Nahas Angula, who ensured she had the money to register the organisation.
In 2007 the Children Life Change Centre was registered as an organisation providing shelter to vulnerable children and orphans.
Nambuli says at that point her life changed forever. Together with her husband, Wilbard, they dropped everything to concentrate on running their organisation and to take care of the children. The husband resigned from his job as a seaman at the coast and pumped his pension money into the centre. “When I got my retirement money I decided to buy a small car to take the children to school, which always took me five to six trips a day. I then decided to sell it for $20 000 and bought a seven-seater car. But now it is broken,” Wilbard narrates with disappointment.
“I found out that a lot of children are suffering, they need care and love. I started advertising for orphans and the vulnerable to register. Parents who couldn’t take care of their children came. I asked for the children’s birth certificate to make sure that they are the biological parents. I started with seven children aged between two years and 18 years. Today I have 65 children under my care,” she said.
Support came from unexpected sources. “One day as we were playing with the kids in the street, some members of the Dutch Reformed Church stopped by and started asking questions. Later they visited where I stay with the children. They donated corrugated zinc sheets and built a bigger room for the children to stay in. They started to provide us with maize meal, sugar, bread and clothing for the kids. They gave us a stove because we used to cook outside. They paid for my course in early child childhood development,” Nambuli speaks of the help she received from the Dutch Reformed Church. “We didn’t establish the centre for profit, we just wanted to help children. I am happy to see these children every morning carrying their lunch boxe to school and none of them go to bed on an empty stomach,” Wilbard chipped in.
He also mentioned the monthly support they receive from Hatutale fish company and the former Windhoek mayor Agnes Kafula, who donated school uniforms. Other individuals who helped was Martin Nepembe, who enabled them to have electricity and erected a shade, as well as businessman Neamen Amalwa, who donated money that was used to buy a car.
“This is our work, my and my husband’s. We decided to just focus on this,” Nambuli says with a smile on her face. “I want to be the mother of the nation and mostly to these children. I believe in them and want to see them shining one day. There are people who complain of one, two or three children but we don’t complain because they are a blessing from God,” said Nambuli.
The 15-year-old Liina Titus arrived at the centre when she was five years old. “I feel very happy and give all thanks to madam Frieda. I take her as my mother as my parents couldn’t take care of me. When I finish school I want to become an accountant,” said Liina.
The Nambuli family are now planning to build a better house for the children and the plan is also to have four teachers at the centre.