Windhoek-May 24, 2007, announced the first cry of baby Iyaloo Merijam Ndakeuondjo. Born to Elizabeth Shatonhoka almost 11 years ago, Iyaloo was supposed to be the pure bundle of joy that any child is meant to be to a parent. However, two months later disaster struck when baby Iyaloo was injured after falling off her bed at her home in Ouhongo village.
Shatonhoka took her daughter on that fateful day to Engela hospital in Ohangwena region where the medical staff said they could find nothing wrong with the baby and assured the mother that everything would be fine.
With this assurance from the health practitioners, Shatonhoka returned home with her daughter. Little did she know that a long and painful life awaited them both. A life that would bring many sleepless nights, tears, hopelessness and even doubt whether people still cared for one another.
Though born healthy with no visible signs to indicate that Iyaloo would be diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP), life changed dramatically as she grew older. CP has primarily affected Iyaloo’s body movements and muscle coordination rendering her unable to take care of herself.
In December 2007, Shatonhoka decided to move to Windhoek with the hope of a better life. But even here, not much improved and the struggle continues.
Sitting in front of her blue corrugated iron shack in Greenwell Matongo informal settlement, Shatonhoka narrated her story to New Era. It was clear that this single mother of two has been struggling to raise a wheelchair-bound child.
“Raising Iyaloo is not easy, she needs special attention, wears nappies and cannot sit alone,” a tearful Shatonhoka said.
She said her day starts every morning around 05h00 when she gets up to prepare herself, then it is time to dress and feed Iyaloo before the taxi comes to take them both to Dagbreek School on the other side of the city, a trip that sometimes takes up the best part of an hour.
Even here, it is a small operation to get the child from the taxi into her wheelchair. After, ensuring that Iyaloo is strapped in safely, she pushes her to class where other children with similar impairments are already gathered.
Iyaloo’s condition and lack of clear communication forces Shatonhoka to sit next to her in the classroom until classes dismiss. Then she struggles again to take her daughter home after school.
On arriving home, Shatonhoka feeds Iyaloo, and in between, she tries to manage her small takeaway that is mostly supported by the people staying in the area. Even the takeaway is difficult to manage, as Iyaloo needs constant supervision and attention.
The money Shatonhoka raises goes to support Iyaloo, as the cost of her diapers alone is astronomical and the grant she gets from the government barely lasts a week, hence, the call on Good Samaritans to assist.
“Even if [I can find] someone to help pay Iyaloo’s carer’s wages, so that I can focus on my takeaway to generate more money, I’ll be more than thankful,” Shatonhoka told New Era.
Sitting in the shade of her shack – built from corrugated iron, and no running water nor ablution facilities – one can only imagine the hardships this mother faces to keep the family of three together, what with the taxi fare she has to fork out so religiously to ensure that Iyaloo does not miss class.
“At times I walk and sell oranges from a basket in the area to raise money for Iyaloo,” she narrated.
“It is not easy, I can tell you; it is not easy,” with tears welling in her eyes Shatonhoka described their life in the ghettos.
This is evident, as Shatonhoka during the interview constantly attended to the child’s needs.
She gets help from her neighbours, but even here the community struggles to make ends meet as some are doing casual work, operating shebeens, selling whatever they can lay their hands on. And operating a small takeaway is not easy as the community hardly earns a decent income.
“I do not have formal education, I do not work. Apart from trying to sell food from my takeaway – really I have to be innovative to survive,” Shatonhoka shared her dilemma with New Era.
One can only imagine how she must improvise, as her small shop does not even have a fridge or gas stove to cook. Hence, her only option is an open fire, and hope that the food sells before it starts to decay in the heat.
“Sometimes when I go to town or walk the streets here in my own area, people stare at us and make me very uncomfortable,” Shatonhoka said.
“Sometimes I think of rather leaving the child at home, or hiding her somewhere from the public, but when I see other parents’ situations, then I realise I am still better off than many other parents out there,” she said, adding that she has adapted to her situation.
Despite her own uncertain future and fear of where the next plate of food or taxi fare would come from, Shatonhoka still has words of encouragement for parents and single mothers in the same situation she finds herself in.
“I just want to tell you to be brave and put your hope in God because with Him everything is possible,” Shatonhoka said before wiping tears from her eyes.
Gently pushing the wheelchair with Iyaloo safely strapped in into her one-roomed shack one can see that the mother is fragile, yet strong to ensure her daughter enjoys a normal life with her younger sister.