While many young women would kill to get a professional qualification and climb the corporate ladder, Lulu Tom (30) had to abandon such aspirations when her mother who ran an orphanage called Baby Heaven for children infected and affected by the deadly HIV and AIDS, died a few years ago.
She had to take over the difficult task of running the orphanage, although this was unknown territory for her.
The children’s home - which is situated in Grysblok in Katutura - was started by her mother, who had to give up a house she built with her savings to provide care for children living positively against the disease, as well as abandoned children who do not have a place to call home.
Although Tom is not known to many or does not have a flamboyant lifestyle reminiscent to many youth of today, she believes she is doing a little part to contribute to society and also combat the rippling effects of HIV and AIDS.
The young and vibrant woman admits that it is not an easy task taking care of more than 10 children, but explains that she has devoted her life to the children, regardless of the struggle.
Baring her soul to Prime Focus Magazine, Tom says “people are really suffering out there. We once had a scenario where a mother took her daughter to the hair salon and left her there and disappeared, and she hasn’t been found until today.”
The children taken in by Baby Heaven are brought by social workers from hospitals, or from an abusive home. Some simply walk in from the street.
”A few babies are placed here if there is abuse at home, or babies who are found dumped in riverbeds are brought to us while social workers do their investigations”, she explained.
She believes many children have received the worst life has to offer because society makes them pay for the sins of their parents, something she stresses is rather regrettable.
“If we hear of a child being abused at a certain home, we report the case, and children are then brought to us, “she added.
Although Baby Heaven plays an important role in the community, Tom admits that “sometimes it can get very tough. There are times that we look at each other and wonder what we are going to eat because we do not really have a consistent donor.
The only food we survive on are the little amounts we get per child,” Lulu explained.
“Some of the children have malnutrition and are supposed to be eating proper food like vegetables, but the money that we get cannot sustain those specific foods which are required”, she lamented.
She reiterates: “I do the job as a volunteer. I do not have a basic salary, but I believe in God. We only have two full-time caretakers and two drivers, who are also volunteers.”
Lulu said there are kids who are HIV positive and are supposed to be taken to hospitals to get their ARVs, but sometimes they struggle with affording the petrol to drive the kids to school since they all go to different schools.
Even though Baby Heaven does not have a stable income, they cater for the 10 children, and also get well-wishers who come once in a while to offer their help.
“My mother always believed that being vulnerable and being called an orphan should not be told or made visible to the children.
She believed that if one wants to donate torn clothes, fix them before bringing them. Or if one wants to bring dirty clothes, they must clean them first because they are orphans, yes, but not a dustbin,” she stresses.
Tom furthermore noted that there are times when a child would die, and they would struggle to finance the funeral. Also, when a child gets very sick, they would struggle to get good medical assistance.
Although at times Baby Heaven takes on more than it can chew, they have managed to make a happy home for some Namibian children, who would otherwise be destitute.
“I am glad to say that one of the kids who grew up here is now at the University of Namibia and working at Bank Windhoek at the same time.
That makes us happy to see our children succeed because it motivates us more,” she beamed.
Perhaps Tom’s current lifestyle owes everything to her mother, the late Agnes Tom, who established the orphanage home in 2003.
Agnes Tom, who provided counseling for people living with HIV and AIDS, was heartened by a support group of pregnant women she initiated in 2003, which made her come up with Baby Heaven.
Before the introduction of Zidovudine medication, which prevents the mother-to-child transmission of HIV, many pregnant women were concerned and scared about what was going to happen to their unborn babies.
Tom then decided to give up one of her houses as a shelter which takes in children infected with HIV, children who are being abused at home as well as babies who have been abandoned in various places.
Baby Heaven, which was established only out of mercy, is now not only a home for many children who do not know the words mom and dad, but also a home where many of them have a bed to sleep on and something to fill the empty stomach every day.