A mother to Opuwo’s vulnerable children

By Tatenda Tracy Tafirenyika and Hilary Mare

IN the dusty streets of Opuwo, an elderly woman gathers at least 1 000 orphans and vulnerable children to provide them with what would likely be their only meal for the day. It is nearly two decades since she took on this painful yet fulfilling caregiving path and still she harbours no thoughts of ever stopping.

In essence, 61-year-old Emillie Frieda Mungunda Tjakuapi, who in 2002 set up the Kakurukaze Mungunda Orphans and Vulnerable Children’s (OVC) Centre out of her own will and desire to make a difference,  had to endure the added hardship brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic and push on with her philanthropic work.

Speaking to Confidente about her journey this week, Tjakuapi spoke of her great affection for children, an affection that inspired her and her husband to go into charity work for orphans and vulnerable children at missionary churches at the turn of the new millennium.

“My affection for children started when I was youthful and this was when my husband who was and still is a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church led us there. During that time, we had to go to Opuwo missionary [station] in Kunene region to do some charity work. I had a lot of grandchildren and so instead I decided to start my own kindergarten for my own children as I could not afford to pay kindergarten for all my children.

“I started the OVC Centre in 2002 under a tree at my house because I was not having a building to accommodate the children. That time l had one teacher, who volunteered to teach them under that tree. I recall also becoming so keen on our society that I started teaching people how to sew and taking vulnerable and orphans to join the kindergarten. I later decided to register the school as Kakurukaze OVC Centre, a non-profit organisation,” she recalled.

Tjakuapi says she has not gone the distance alone. She gratefully acknowledged the help that not only the community provide but also the Ministry of Education, that once helped her with maize meal packages to help alleviate the heavy task of feeding the vulnerable children of Opuwo.

Last year, Miss Namibia 2019 Nadja Breytenbach, accompanied by her two princesses visited the Centre and also brought some donations to help her with the children.

“Over the years, our community has seen some improvements with regards to children. Back then, children used to be a lot in the streets but now they have become less so, all thanks to the help of the police who have been pushing them toward schools. Many of them are now capable of writing and reading in Otjiherero and they have improved,” said Tjakuapi.

On top of her wish list, Tjakuapi hopes to build a school and a hostel for the vulnerable children of Opuwo. Already, she says the Ministry of Works and Transport has donated a roof structure to kick-start the dream. “I have approached the town council to assist with a piece of land and I was offered a piece of land for N$400 000, which I could not afford.”

In all her efforts and admittedly, Covid-19 has put a dent on the future prospects of the centre and despite social distance regulations in place, many children have been left with very little choice but to return to the streets.

“The pandemic has ravaged everywhere throughout the world, including our land of the brave, Namibia. It has caused agony to all individuals around the globe and it has not also spared us here at the Centre. Many kids are back on the streets and they do not have anywhere to lean on because the school was told not to operate during this difficult time, now many kids are back to their suffering state. We have also found it difficult to cater for the few that come to the Centre because we have not been getting any donations.”

Tjakuapi, however, expressed her appreciation to all those who have been supporting her financially and in kind over the years, and she wished them strength and good health. “So far so good, my children have been my biggest supporters. Regardless of what will happen in the future my children will always step up for me as I continue with my journey.”