Triumph against all odds...

Her story is that of Poppie Nongenda, the woman with a child strapped to her back walking the dusty streets of a miserable city in search of a house of her own.

Edith Mbaga’s best advice to women is to grab every opportunity because your family ultimately depends on you.

“Whenever there is an opportunity, grab it because if a man is kicked out of a rental house, he wont be the one who must sleep under a tree with the children, he can just tell another woman ‘I love you’ and get a place to sleep,” she emphasises.

Mbanga came to the capital in the early 80’s earning a measly N$120 per month, working as a domestic worker and a part-time hairdresser.

“I suffered a lot. I had eight children to take care of; four of my own and the rest were my grandchildren. I worked as a domestic worker but only two days in a week and earned N$120 per month. I used to rent a room for N$300.

“Luckily, I was taught how to do the perm, so I could do that aside from plaiting to earn more money,” she relates, adding that it was while doing hair that she learnt about Saamstaan.

Saamstaan is a savings group to which a group of disadvantaged people belong to. Members save up money by contributing as little as N$1a day, which is used to build homes for members. Members of this group are taught to make bricks and build houses manually.

“I went to their office where I met a certain Gideon Tsuseb. I still remember that name very well. I explained to him that they would not be building houses for people but that they would be helping people to build their own homes. He showed me the bricks made by women, then invited me to a group meeting the following Sunday,” she recalls.

After going to the first meeting and buying a membership card for N$5, Mbanga started losing faith because as she notes, “I just wondered how a woman could build a house; it is a man’s job.” She only attended meetings until the third meeting, then quit.

But while at home, she argued, nothing had happened, so she may have just had to go back and see if something would happen.

Now two three decades later, she is the head of the savings group and more than 3000 homes have been built.

When she joined the group, there were only 60 savings groups in the whole country. As of today, there are 613 savings groups accross the country that help people with very low income to improve their living conditions.

“I know at times it takes a long time, because it takes time to get the land from the authorities and people grow impatient, which is normal but they must learn to be patient - things don’t happen overnight,” she notes.

But the money saved is not only to buy a house, it is to improve and support community members as well.

“Should someone need to buy maize or pay school fees for their kids, we lend them some of the money saved,” she points out, adding that independence brought not only political independence but also a better life unto Namibians.

“As a community, we can now do things for us. Before independence, we were not allowed to have shacks and most people could not even afford a brick house. Our people suffered a lot. Now they can have shacks anywhere.

“However, we are working towards getting them out of those shacks, into brick homes. Today, we can do a lot for ourselves and improve our living conditions,” beams the woman who scooped the 2011’s Windhoek Lager Ambassador prize.

“It was a big surprise, I never expected it. Of course every person dreams of winning an international prize like the Nobel prize but those are just dreams. I did not even realise people knew about what I do. I am happy people are recognising the small contributions people like me make towards improving other peoples’ lives,” she smiles.

And as I cried with Poppie, so do I now smile at Edith Mbanga who has come out a stronger woman. PF