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My name is Martha Muulyau and I come from Omishe in the far north of Namibia.

This is my story and the story of Penduka’s origin.

I remember the last day that I walked. I was four and playing in a field with my sister, when our mother told us to look after our baby brother in the stick hut, while she delivered water to her sister-in-law. I eventually fell asleep and during the night needed to go to the bathroom, but I couldn’t move my legs. I was crying. My mom lifted me up. Then she was screaming. My father came. Many people came. We set forth for the hospital, somebody was carrying me, my legs dangling. The family stopped at a traditional healer and the old woman mixed my blood from cuts below my knees, with water and my own hair. My mother then pressed on to the hospital, but by the time we arrived, I was in a coma.

When, months later, I awoke, I was like a two-year-old. I could not speak. I could only cry. Family members put me in the care of my aunt who took me to another traditional healer. The healer dug a hole. Each day she put me into the hole and covered me with sand up to my waist. Twice a day, she lifted me little by little, so that I knew what it was to stand erect. I began rolling, crawling, sitting, and in time, was standing holding onto furniture. I began to walk, bent over, holding onto my left ankle to pull it forward and drag the right foot ahead. My aunt made crutches out of sticks. When I asked for help, my aunt told me that I must learn to help myself. My mother told me to notice that every flower was different. She told me that there were other children like me but they were hidden away. In contrast, my mother took me to church and showed off her special flower.

Polio did not beat me. I went on to finish secondary school and to have multiple painful surgeries to straighten my back and realign my ribs and hips. These surgeries left me having to learn to sit and walk all over again. Also, I have to wear a pace-maker.

I was very happy when I found a job at Ehafo, a project that helps handicapped people in Windhoek. At Ehafo's, I met Christien Roos. Christien came to Namibia to work for Ehafo after she finished her studies in the Netherlands. In 1992, Christien and I co-founded Penduka. We founded this organisation to help disadvantaged women to improve the standards of living for themselves, but also for their extended family and immediate environment.

I now am a teacher and help Penduka groups in the north of Namibia. There, we have already achieved a lot, such as the little playground that we built, and the school for the kids in Omishe. Still, there is so much to be done. I would like to help the elderly that never left Ovamboland and are on their own, with their kids and grandkids having moved away to Windhoek or other cities to find a job. I support my larger family with the money I earn, such as the food and the tuition fees for my cousins, nephews and nieces.

A few years ago, I handed over the lead of Penduka’s operations in Katutura to my niece Kauna. She took on the challenge as Penduka Namibia’s General Manager and is now responsible not only for the production of our Penduka handcrafted items but also for the accomdation and restaurant, together with a management team which she leads and holds regular meetings with. It’s a big job, but she’s cut out for it – and she grew up watching me and my work at Penduka closely. I couldn’t ask for a better successor to keep up the good work Christien and I started.

We are strong women, and we can change other’s lives for the better.