When looking after displaced children becomes a calling
JENNIFER Lizzie Ngulube’s life story began in a war-torn small village of Matabeleland South Province where she was born during the beginning of the country’s liberation struggle. Being born as the third daughter from a family of eight in a small village formerly known as Essexvale, now known as Esigodini, Jennifer spent her formative years attending Mzinyathini Primary School then went on to attend Mzinyathini Secondary School for two years before it was closed due to the intensity of the liberation war.
At the age of 12, her life took a sudden turn as she unexpectedly assumed adulthood after her mother became seriously ill with her father working far away from home. The young Jennifer had to play the role of a caring mother and help look after her younger siblings, while worrying about the ongoing war.
Cheated of an ideal world where children would play and have a carefree existence, Jennifer lived in constant fear and became a troubled child with a terrible speech problem, but she found refuge in reading books while the war failed to thwart her kindness.
“I developed a deep sense of responsibility and resilience at a very young age as l grew up with the hardships of the war of liberation and political turmoil our country went through. However, later on, I moved to Bulawayo to finish off my secondary school at Njube High before pursuing a career in teaching,” Jennifer told the Daily News on Sunday.
Cognisant of the trauma caused by disturbed childhood, in her adulthood Jennifer found her true calling, taking care of the youngsters and abandoned children which saw her fostering more than 20 children as a single parent.
Her act of kindness moved the Queen of England Elizabeth who honoured her on the Queen’s Birthday Honours roll and received an MBE from The Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, at Buckingham Palace.
The 56-year-old Jennifer said she began her career as a special needs teacher in Zimbabwe and later moved to the United Kingdom where she went into fostering and adopting children who were affected by trauma caused in their early years due to severe neglect, physical and emotional abuse.
Withstanding the ugly face of segregation and racial abuse while on foreign land, Jennifer has not stopped doing what she does best — “building back young broken lives”.
With her own personal troubles, she became drawn to displaced children and felt the need to do more than just teach them. She opened up her home to look after them and ended up becoming a foster parent, raising and rebuilding children’s lives.
“I went into teaching after high school and enjoyed it for a number of years until tragedy hit my family. I lost my sister suddenly and went through a deep depression and felt the need to do something more fulfilling with my time than main stream teaching, hence my journey into special needs teaching,” she narrated.
“I found myself again working with the physically disabled and mentally challenged children. My last job here was at John Slaven special needs school in Hillside, Bulawayo, before living the country to pursue my passion in the UK where l faced many challenges, mainly racism and segregation yet l sailed through.
“My main wish was to see children who would have suffered sexual, physical and emotional abuse mainly from the birth families and removed from their families by the department of social services,” she said.
“I have raised over 23 children over and above my own four biological children and one adopted child. For a long period of time l raised all the children as a single parent, but now l do have a very supportive partner who understands my passion for what l do.”
Jennifer went on to acknowledge the help she got from the UK state while fostering the children.
“The State really does help with the fostering and give what they call living allowances to the children which vary according to the needs of the children,” she said.
“Some are classed as high needs and some are classed as low needs so it’s anything from £250 per week per child, but l still have to supplement the allowances to meet all the needs.”
She added that the biggest challenge of working within the special educational needs background is lack of understanding from the general public about children who have learning, physical, emotional and behavioural needs.
She said there is a lot of ignorance in the need for treating children as individuals with different individual needs and sometimes parents do struggle asking for assistance for fear of the stigma of having a child who has challenges either physically, mentally or emotionally.
“Society tends to have umbrella expectations of how children should behave and any child who does not fit the mould generally faces discrimination,” Jennifer said.
“Children with additional needs are extremely vulnerable to abuse irrespective of their geographic location as most of the time they do not have the voice to express themselves and get heard. They then tend to let us know they are unhappy through the way they behave.
“I would urge the teaching professionals to desist from labelling children as naughty, rather l believe they should try to understand different types of needs, childhood conditions and ways of trying to help children enjoy their childhood and thrive within their own individual capacity.”
Jennifer boosts of a Psychology and Counselling degree and has extensive knowledge on parenting children who have attachment issues and exhibit different behavioural issues.
“I have actually recently launched a parenting life coaching business where l help organisations and individuals in reaching their full potential,” she said.
“I talk to schools and organisations dealing with women and children in improving family life and have people realise they can live more fulfilled lives with an emphasis on helping children and families develop resilience.
“I have a passion in helping mothers get the confidence to realise how strong they are and pat themselves on the back for what they do in keeping families together.”
She added that her biggest dream right now is to open an orphanage in Zimbabwe and will work hard to bring her dream to reality.
Jennifer has written her first book — Sailing Through the Storms of Life — which chronicles her life struggles and she continues to get global recognition for the work she is doing for children.