Victimisation and shame must not be allowed to blight the lives of young women living with HIV, says alumna Emilia Nambahu, “So, I do my best to help them to realise that what they are going through is not their fault as individuals; and try and put them on the path to being the best they can.”
Emilia lives to lead and help others to attain their potential, whether at Namibia’s Business and Intellectual Property Authority, where she develops skills and manages staff performance; or by mentoring youth via the Namibian Opportunities website; or over the course of more than seven years at Star for Life, a non-profit organisation that seeks to inspire young people to achieve their dreams and supports them in living an AIDS-free life.
It is interdisciplinary work that requires a mix of people and organisational skills and a depth of understanding of the developmental issues involved.
The honours in public administration and development management that Emilia acquired at Stellenbosch in 2014, builds on a range of other human resources, psychosocial and leadership training qualifications that she has acquired, as well as her rich experience as a community worker and researcher with a number of health and education projects.
An early challenge at Star for Life was to ensure its financial viability. “As part of a Young African Leadership Initiative promoted by US President Barack Obama, I learned to manage an NPO, including through fundraising. As a result, I was able to source financial support from international stakeholders, the Namibian education ministry and a number of local parents and schools.”
Another more continuous challenge is posed by the negative responses from parents and many in the community to the very idea of the programme.
“They view the programme as taboo in the context of their cultural norms and beliefs,” explains Emilia.
“However, being part of the community myself and understanding the perspective, I can directly address the concerns, using myself as an example and sharing my experiences of my own youth to forge a sympathetic understanding of the programme’s mission.”
Emilia emphasises the larger impacts of the Star for Life programme in promoting the importance of youth-friendly sexual reproductive services. “Such services can curb the rate of new HIV infections by reducing teenage pregnancy and giving men better access to health facilities, including through the uptake of voluntary medical male circumcision.”
At the regional level, Emilia has highlighted health-seeking behaviours, cultural decision-making and domestic violence as key factors to be addressed. She also emphasises the national importance of stemming the virus in Namibia. “Sexual reproductive health and rights are not only crucial for social justice but also for ensuring the healthy, secure lives that are required to achieve sustainable development.”
However, it is perhaps on the person-to-person level that Emilia’s vision for change is most clearly articulated. Her modus operandi is deceptively simple – in helping others she is leveraging a new generation of women who will do the same.
“One of my significant contributions to the programme was establishing a psychosocial-support and educational camp in 2012, which was adopted as an annual activity.” Subsequently, Emilia initiated a two-year social skills and responsibility programme among Grade 9 pupils, which succeeded in creating a cadre of academically outstanding and motivated students, who went on to do well at university. “I shaped them into being women with purpose, and visionary leaders,” says Emilia proudly.
It is work that never stops. When not tending to her young charges, or coaching wheelchair basketball in her spare time, Emilia likes to read inspirational books and talk, “albeit my talking is mostly meant to have a positive influence, to counsel and to edify. My self-sharing is mainly for the purpose of encouraging others.”
In a similar vein, she says that Stellenbosch University played an important role in her life, enabling her to meet “like-minded fellow students who offered great support in my personal development”.
- By Mark Paterson -