From being bullied for not being able to speak English fluently to becoming one of the young Namibians with strong potential to positively impact the country, Anna Shilongo is today finishing her Master’s in Business Administration which is one more degree to add to the other three she already attained.
Hard work, a love for reading, commitment, and overcoming insecurities, according to Anna, are only minor ingredients to her success.
The true secrets are a supportive family, teachers who care for their students, actively engaging with opportunities around her, but most importantly, the positive reinforcement she got from her father and the high importance he placed on education.
When Anna returns to Namibia she aspires to stimulate economic development and international business while improving the role of women in this sector.
Village girl to big city life
Anna enjoyed her childhood years in Onayena in the Oshikoto region. As Anna’s first teacher, her mom taught her how to read and write and after only a few years in the village school, she moved to Windhoek to live with her father. “My father never had the opportunity to be educated but understood the value of a quality education and wanted to give this gift to his child. He allowed me to move to the city to be exposed to different opportunities – cultural and educational – and have access to facilities as basic as a library,” said Shilongo.
Shilongo started Grade 3 at People’s Primary School. The new environment came with new challenges, however. Unable to speak English fluently with her peers, since Oshiwambo was the only language she spoke at the village, Shilongo became a target of bullying.
“It was a rough start in the city, but being a target only fuelled my motivation. I listened to English more often by watching movies and reading books,” related Shilongo.
She attended Jan Jonker Afrikaner High School until Grade 10 before being accepted to attend St Paul’s College through the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Scholarship, which she found out about through the Physically Active Youth Programme (PAY). Shilongo is the first to admit that books are her safe place, but she also believes sports play an important role in maintaining a healthy mind. “Sports are a great distraction from academics and relieve stress after all the work is done,” said Shilongo, who played for the girls soccer team twice a week.
Through PAY Shilongo visited the University of Namibia (Unam) campus, which helped her to create a vision for the future. “I realised I could also go to university if I continued to work hard.”
Getting to know the world at St Paul’s College
Through her participation in EducationUSA events – career fairs, book readings, and motivational speakers – Shilongo discovered another group that would change the course of her life, the Young Achievers Empowerment Project (YA). “The group holds members accountable for their own education, ensuring they strive to reach their full potential. YA encouraged me to remain inspired and focused to reach my academic and social goals,” related Shilongo.
Although thrilled when she got to study at St Paul’s College in Namibia, life had another curveball waiting. She failed her placement exam and had to repeat Grade 9. “At this point I realised everyone has different abilities and should adjust their life goals according to their strengths,” remarked Shilongo.
“St Paul’s College students are extremely motivated, and the school spirit is to challenge oneself to become better. This helped me to overcome the setback. Not that it was easy – it took hard work,” said Shilongo. Besides academics, the cultural experience was once again new and different for her. “It was even more diverse than when I moved from the village in the north to Katutura, which mainly had only Namibian students of different ethnicities. St Paul’s College was my first real exposure to the outside world with learners from across Africa and internationally,” reminisced Shilongo.
She completed Grade 12 in 2011. To this day she remains involved with PAY and the Young Achievers Empowerment Project. “The people I met through these programmes were crucial during my high school years. We remain close friends and I encourage anyone who is trying to find support during their educational years to find groups like these that support your goals,” Shilongo advised.
Officially a global citizen
Arriving in the U.S. was a dream come true for Shilongo who learned about the American Cultural Center after attending EducationUSA events. “We went to the American Cultural Center to watch movies, read books, and use the internet, but, most importantly, it was an excellent place to study,” adds Shilongo with a smile.
She further explains: “I initially wanted to take a one year break from academics while applying to study in the U.S.A. because the application process takes about two years. My father did not approve, therefore I started studying BSc Economics at Unam. Today I’m happy I listened to him because it is paying off,” said Shilongo. In 2013 Shilongo was informed of her successful application. The village girl – who could barely speak English when she arrived in Windhoek and who had barely met another person from outside Namibia when she almost finished high school – was heading across the Atlantic Ocean to attend a women’s only university: St. Catherine’s in Minnesota.
Photo: Anna Shilongo