Being able to express myself and developing capacities of others to do so too, is probably the best way to describe the myriad of things that ignites a flame in me and fuels me to dig deeper.
Born to a Baster family in the 80’s I had little knowledge of the conflict the country was experiencing, however like many others felt the echo of its effects all through my life. I believe it shaped me greatly; and now it has become my passion birthed from pain.
I grew up in a sheltered community and years later moved to Swakopmund. I just turned 9 when I experienced the ocean for the first time. And to this day, the smell, sight and sound of the majestic moving mass of water still amazes me. The sea mesmerizes me, and I always think she performs when I’m around! Living in Windhoek I’ve learned to appreciate the color palette of the mountains during various times of the day. Our city being built in a crater allows for beautiful views of the space we live in and my favorite sight is when the mounts are covered in a pinkish purple shade, just before sunset.
I did not always appreciate the beauty of the little things around me. I lived my life according to a plan, for most part and as a child I was always up to something. I’m grateful to my mother whose unwavering support allowed me space to form me. She asked me once why I wanted to be part of everything, some of which she couldn’t actually afford, I proclaimed; “I need to find what I’m good at”. A path that led me to choose my high school at the age of 13, start employment at 15 and move into a flat with a friend when I was 17 years old in Grade 12 at Namib High School. The faith my mother had in me inspired me to such an extent that I excelled during my studies in Cape Town, returned to work at the Swakopmund Hotel & Entertainment Centre and really discover what I’m good at. At the age of 22, I reached a level of financial security, job fulfilment and needed a new challenge so I moved to London.
Within my first year, I headed straight into a collision with a guy from Johannesburg. It was what can be described by some as love at first sight which turned into a nightmare for 7 years. I made some really bad decisions and stayed in an abusive relationship. It took me to lose the greatest love of all, that of my daughter, to realize that I needed to wake up and smell the roses. It will always be my greatest life lesson as it reset my compass. After several years, and a number of therapy sessions to deal with the trauma and grief I can find comfort in the fact that it shaped who I am today; the mother of an angel.
Lily-Mae would’ve turned 10 this year, and her story began at 4 months when I discovered I was pregnant in London. The day I heard her heartbeat, I named her Lily. She passed on during delivery. My family and close friends still talk about Lily, remembers her and I believe she even has a personality, of course taking after me.
What helped me process the hurt was being able to help others, especially children. I remember my first interaction with children was when I hosted a Warm-a-heart-day in Mahetago, Swakopmund. While being entertained by local artists the 60 children and 10 volunteers enjoyed potjiekos and the kids walked away with a clothing parcel. It really warmed my heart to see some of the little faces lit up with huge smiles and I’ve not stopped working for and with children since that day in June of 2011. Now, 6 years later I can testify that it has been a privilege and honor serving the children and youth of Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, and Kenya.
All of this accumulated to founding Children and Youth on the Move at UN Plaza, June 2015. CYM, as a social movement using performing arts as a tool to stimulate dialogue and allow young people to contribute to the national discourse has been an exhilarating journey. CYM is a voluntary membership based community based group of 40 children and youth aged 13 to 23 who through debates, dramas, dancing, singing and writing express themselves on issues that affect them, and in doing so create a safer and better Namibia for children.
Last year, and for the first time in the history of the Namibian Championships of Performing Arts sponsorships were availed for 40 underprivileged children and youth to participate in the semi-finals. 20 children, mostly from children’s homes and living in shacks in Otjimuise went through to the finals. Marred with funding problems, only 2 were able to attend the finals held in South Africa and qualified for the World Championships taking place in Los Angeles later this month. Fundraising is still a huge challenge and investment in children is not a priority.
At 35 I can truly say that I’m inspired when it works. It may not start perfect, or be what I wanted, but when it works, the outcomes are better than anticipated. It all had to happen exactly as it did, for me to be where I am today. Getting here wasn’t easy, and it started with being aware of and honest about where I was, emotionally, physically and financially. I also had to reflect critically on my choices, and learn the lessons that would unlock the next phase of my life. Being recognized as a Young African Leader, under the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI), is testament that I am on the right track. I am excited about my 6 weeks academic and leadership training in Hanover, New Hampshire and look forward to learning with other inspiring young people.
By Lizette Feris