Namibia: Cathy the Coffin Maker Pushes Against the Grain

(File photo).

CATHERINE 'Cathy' Namundjebo says she tries to suppress her emotions when making coffins.

She is acutely aware of the fact that her hard work will be used to bury a loved one in - especially since the country's Covid-19 deaths continue to spiral.

Yet she cannot imagine doing anything else.

"Making coffins is part of my job. We are going through a very difficult time in our country, and we are importing coffins from South Africa. This is not normal.

"Imagine one day we do not have coffins left," she says.

Namundjebo, who is a well-established carpenter in Windhoek, says carpentry is her life, despite it being widely perceived as a man's job.

She says she completed Grade 12 at Kolin Foundation Secondary School at Arandis in 2003 and moved to Windhoek to enrol at the Windhoek Vocational Training Centre (WVTC) a year later, where she completed a three-year course in joinery and cabinet making.

"I discovered my passion by chance. I just enrolled because I wanted to build a future for myself and be able to work and support myself financially," she says.

While at the WVTC, Namundjebo got a part-time job as an apprentice at a Windhoek-based German-owned joinery and woodwork company where she was granted the opportunity of a lifetime to travel to Hamburg in Germany as a foreign-exchange intern student.

This programme saw her living in Germany for close to two years.

"Interning in Germany opened my eyes to a whole new world in this trade, and my passion for woodwork was ignited," she says.

Upon her return to Namibia, Namundjebo went back to the WVTC, where she had to complete her course.

"It was a struggle financially. Nobody would support me, because they didn't believe in what I was doing. My parents didn't understand [...] they said only men are supposed to do joinery.

"But having grown up at Swakopmund I saw German women who were doing the same work, so I wasn't discouraged," she says.

MINISTER'S VISIT

To financially support herself and pay for her course, Namundjebo worked at construction sites on a part-time basis.

"I worked at Chinese construction sites and several workshops around Windhoek to earn some money. That is where I improved my craft. It took me five years to complete my course, because I kept dropping out and re-enrolling. I faced many challenges, but I was determined and persevered," she says.

Namundjebo opened her own joinery and woodwork company in 2011.

"I was lucky at the time when the then minister of trade and industry, Hage Geingob, visited my workshop. He wanted to see who this young woman was who he heard was doing well in the joinery business, and visited my workshop. He was so impressed to see me as a woman working in a male-dominated field, and through that I got my first machine sponsored," she says.

Namundjebo says she has had opportunities to represent Namibia as a female carpenter at exhibitions in Zambia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa.

"Travelling to those countries gave me the encouragement I needed, because there I met other women who were doing the same work. We connected and encouraged each other," she says.

Namundjebo recently added coffin making to her business.

"Before, I was only doing the usual joinery work, but due to Covid-19, I have had clients urging me to start making coffins. In fact, I have also had interns here who are more interested in learning how to make coffins," she says.

Namundjebo is also the proud owner of a brand new showroom in Windhoek, where she employs eight people as well as a few interns from vulnerable communities.

"In conjunction with the Namibia Training Authority and the WVTC, I have been training some students with hearing impairments, as well as women. Many have talent, they just need to be developed. I look at what I went through to get here as a young girl - I never gave up," Namundjebo says.

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