Driven by her passion to educate
Upon completing her undergraduate degree in education at the University of Namibia (Unam), Martha Emvula moved on to the experience of a lifetime through the Fulbright scholarship. She was at a crossroads and had to choose between studying in Malaysia through another scholarship programme or going to the United States. She chose the latter, leading her to an adventure-filled stay in California.
“I submitted my application on the very last day,” she recalled, explaining that the submission was made at midnight, while the deadline was actually at the close of the business day.
She did not despair and went for the opportunity again the following year.
In 2015, which was two years after applying for the programme, she was called for an interview.
During that time, Martha was in the Congo for a sports event and thus could not make it to Namibia for a physical interview and a telephonic interview had to suffice, leaving her on a quest to find an internet connection in the Congo, which was a hassle.
The following day, she was informed that they would send her the forms she needed to fill in and she was extremely excited.
The Fulbright staff assisted her with all the processes and paperwork. “I had nothing to do with the university, they just told me, ‘you are going to this university’,” said Emvula. The scholarship chose the most suitable university for her and that is how she ended up at California State University, Northridge.
Emvula studied a masters in special education: mild to moderate disabilities.
“Kids with mild disabilities include, for example, autism.
“They don’t need special settings so much. They can literally be in the same class as other children, but they just need extra accommodation to be able to flourish in class,” Emvula said.
She outlined that in the US there are special education teachers such as speech therapists in classrooms, who collaborate with the general teachers to ensure that all learners are given sufficient attention, which is a system that she hopes to have in Namibia someday.
“A lot of kids in the classroom suffer because we did not accommodate them and we feel like ‘why is this kid so stupid, why is he failing so much’, but we didn’t take a step back to see how does this child learn.”
Emvula added that teachers should pay attention to what works for the children, be it pictures, reading, etc.
“There are different ways in which we can sometimes help kids to learn better, instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach.”
She added that if a child gets a low mark in a class where the average is high, teachers should explore ways to help the child instead of calling them stupid, ,and that is what inspired her to study special education as there is probably “an underlying problem that teachers can help with”.
She added that had she not learned this, she would probably be in the same boat as every other person.
During her academic journey at California State University, Emvula took advantage of the opportunity to have adventures at different sites and places in her new environment.
She visited Beverly Hills, Las Vegas and various eateries and gave her son and sister a full tour when they visited her.
She reflected on the struggles of students to make ends meet, with some having to work and study, whereas Emvula did not encounter any of these problems due to the support she had through her scholarship.
She received a monthly stipend, which was enough to pay for her accommodation and to travel anywhere she wanted. During her California stay, Emvula learned how to snowboard and surf, which she is excited about, because Namibia has some of the best surfing waves.
She has managed to maintain an excellent academic record while constantly adventuring. She maintained this through balancing and managing her time.
“I would do assignments throughout the night,” she said, as her classes normally take place from 16:00 to 22:00, after which she would pull an ‘all-nighter’ and sleep in during the day. “When I get the chance to go anywhere, I go because I feel it is my payment for the hard work.
“Lecturers at my university were awesome. They were helpful in every single way,” she said.
This was a pleasant environment for Emvula, who said she did not have to overwork herself, but still excelled and secured distinctions due to this support. She added that the university was a conducive environment for students. There was as a pantry that provided food and sanitary items for students who couldn’t afford them, as well as an open market where food was provided for free. Free counselling and gym services were also provided to the students.