Soaring with Jessica… An exclusive interview with Jessica Mundie Uiras.

Jessica Mundie Uiras (25) was born and raised in Windhoek, Namibia. She is the oldest of 4 girls and became an orphan at 10, and a mother to her 3 sister’s at 20. Jessica was raised by her grandmother Rosina Rosa Uiras (71) in Freedomland, Katutura and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communications, an Honors degree in Public Relations and Image management as well as a Business M.A in Strategic Marketing.
She is currently employed as a Programme Coordinator at the Namibia Media Trust (NMT) a non- profit organisation that promotes a free and self-sustainable media climate in Africa where independent media can prosper and contribute to the building of inclusive societies to ensure access to credible information to facilitate their participation in decision making. She is the Founder of the Eagles Foundation.

What is your earliest memory of Freedomland?
I am struggling to choose one, because Freedomland was home to life-shaping memories. The foundation of who I am was formed in Freedomland. However, my earliest memory would be falling of the burglar door while using it as a swing which gave me a permanent scar on my forehead.

You became an orphan a 10. That must have been really life altering?
I lost my father, Manfred at 10, a man I didn’t spend most of my days with because he lived and worked at the Grootfontein Air Force Base. Losing him was the most difficult thing I saw my mom go through. She walked the valley of darkness, until she was no more. My parents were literal soulmates, high school lovers, who spend 18 years of life together before his passing.
I was mom’s best friend, her shoulder to cry on and she pulled through the darkest days of life without him by strength from us-her daughters (I have 3 sisters). My dad at was the breadwinner, mom was a stay-home wife. We lost everything to his family after of his passing, but the saddest thing was, not being able to bury him or have any involvement in the funeral or memorials leading up to the burial.
To this day we his children don’t even know where in Grootfontein his grave him. When my dad passed my ouma immediately had to go back to work (domestic work), in order to help raise us. When my dad passed, my mom had just given birth to my younger sister, had no qualification, and no work experience. As soon as my sister turned one, she went out to source for employment and worked as a domestic lady for three households at the same, this meant she was cleaning three houses per day Monday to Saturday. Both my mom and ouma worked relentlessly to make sure all bills are paid on time, and we lacked nothing.
It was a major shift in living conditions, we had to learn how to live without a father all our life, and to do away with all the spoils as a child growing up.

And by the time you were 20 you became a “parent” to your siblings?
Yes, so we lost mom to cervical cancer midnight crossover between 2016/2017 which still gets me confused, because I am not sure in which year, she originally passed. I immediately became a deputy parent to three girls, and oldest daughter to ouma, you will hear me speak more about my mom, ouma and sisters throughout this interview. My mother was the breadwinner at home, and when she passed, I had to juggle work, while completing my undergrad. I was 2nd year at the time, had my modules on full-time and did waitressing at Mugg n Beans in the evenings, and helped out as a hairdresser at Queens and Kings salon during weekends.
I would assist parents in the neighborhood with laundry, babysitting, tutoring just to get extra cash. Ouma was already retired, my sisters were way too young to do anything, but assist with laundry service I used to offer.
The most heart shattering and painful thing was losing the family house 6 weeks after mom’s funeral. One of our extended family members came to ouma with documents making her believe she is signing papers for funeral arrangements, but which turned out to be ouma signing a sale agreement of the house. We were kicked out of the house, and had to go rent in Wanaheda this all happened in the space of 5 months after moms passing.
There were days I walked from Wanaheda to NUST to write exams, because there were no funds for taxi fare or I would sacrifice taxi fare for pap and a packet of sauce. sauce. I had very supportive friends, who would assist where and how they could, women I am lucky to say became sisters and business partners over the years. I can comfortably say, my sisters now have a mother in every one of my friends

You share a special bond with your grandmother. Please tell us about that?
Ouma is one of the strongest women I ever met or come to know. Ouma became an orphan at 12 after losing both her parents in a fire. She was the youngest of three. Her oldest brother got sentenced to life and died in prison, her sister dead of cancer, and she found herself at a Catholic church where she was taken in. They gave her an education, and she became a home nurse.
Ouma brought 7 children into the world, and lost them all over the years leaving her with only one. This making almost all her grandchildren orphans, I am the 3rd oldest grandchild of ouma. We were all raised together in a two-bedroom house with one income, making life extremely difficult.
She went through the highs and lows of life as a child, an adult and elderly. Not once in her life did ouma give up on herself, not even after losing everything as a 12-year-old, and that for me is profound and has molded me into the person I am today. She was left in the world with no one to call family, survived to create her own, but again slowly started losing everything.
To add to her loss, on 31 December 2022, ouma witnessed her 2nd grandchild stabbed and murdered to death on the spot by his own friend and four days after burying him she lost her son to diabetes. She is a woman of steel, one that inspires and strengthens me in everything I do. She is my pillar of strength, a phenomenal woman. To her I am the grandchild who made all her wishes come true, living proof to the 12-year-old girl who could’ve given up on life, but did not.
Everytime, I have in depth conversations with ouma she says: “You are the younger version of me, you are who I was many moons ago. Only you are 100x wiser, ambitious, determined and hardworking.”
I am the first in a family of 3 generations to complete high school, obtain qualifications, and have a white-collar job. She says I am the first of everything she held onto life for, and even if she has to die tomorrow, she has done one good thing bringing my mother into the world for my existence.
So, you can just imagine why that bond is so special, I am nothing without ouma, and her God-given faith and strength. She makes me want to do more, she makes me want to break barriers, she motivates and inspires me in so many ways.

There are people out there who haven’t had the misfortune you’ve had such as losing your parents at a young age but take their family for granted. What would you tell them?
I wouldn’t say misfortunate, because I believe everything happens how it’s supposed to. I was raised graciously by prayer warriors who lived on Faith.
I lost my parents, but I didn’t lose what they taught me, I didn’t have a lifetime with them, but God knew the time he allocated me with them would have divine impact and last me a lifetime.
God gave me that battle because he knew I am strong enough to handle it. I don’t know what kind of goliath the person reading this is up against, but I do know that the best strategy will not come from a place of fear, inadequacy, or insecurity.
I don’t believe anyone would intentionally take their family for granted. No one is perfect, I am not perfect. I have my flaws, and with or without parents I might’ve made a few mistakes and had my mini fallouts with my family.
Mine would be to say that family will always, be family. I believe a family is called to live as a team and fly as a group. Life is full of dynamics; many changes and obstacles may come and go. The pressure will get heavy to deal with on your own, and in such conditions, your family will be there to support and strengthen you.

Is it fair to say that you’ve overcome all those odds to get a good education?
Not necessarily, but watching my mother walk to the ends of the earth to make the impossible, possible for me to have a good education. I have always been a liker of things and wanted to do every extra-curricular activity at school. My mother saw how passionate I was and she was my biggest support system in everything I did. No questions asked.
In 2014, I was selected for a science project held in Germany. The flights and accommodation were fully funded, but preparations leading up to my departure was financially draining for my mother who at the time was the only source of income with a domestic salary.
The last thing my mother did before falling extremely ill was running around with admin from NUST to UNAM and standing in the unending long queues of NSFAF. The last month before her death she had lost memory and the only thing she could remember to say was “Mundie, you will be late for exams go now.”
When I lost mom, and all odds were against me. I wanted to quit school and just focus on getting a job to take care of my sisters, and ouma. But the sacrifices she made for me to have a good education over the years kept replaying in my mind, and I had to just put in the work and push through the valley of darkness even-though the ground was shaky.
The “you can’t throw away everything your mom and ouma worked so hard for.” Is what kept me going, that is my everyday motivation.

Why Marketing and communications?
A question I keep asking myself. I was very passionate about science, and even registered for paramedics, went through the entire selection process, but I dropped out a week or so into the course.
I went back to the registration desk and the BA in Communications programme had space for students. I decided to register for it, because I didn’t want to take a gap year. I didn’t like the course, until three months into the programme. I convinced myself with how much it will contribute to my passion for pageants, and how it will advance my public speaking and communication skills.
The lectures got intense, and I slowly discovered the true beauty of the programme, and eventually fell in-love with it. My lecturers, and co-students played a big part in this. There was never a dull moment, and the class of 2016 was the absolute best to have around while pursuing this degree.
Marketing came from childhood Jess, she used to walk the streets of Katutura selling vintage clothes and empty bottles. I had a very in-depth discussion with myself, weighing my strengths as a person, things I am passionate about, and a lot more which led to me making the choice of studying Strategic Marketing. I absolutely love how my degrees speak to each other, and to who I am as a person.

The field of communications is changing at a fast pace. Do you think Namibians are holding up?
Yes, we are holding on and I am happy to be one of those who can’t let go. The pandemic was proof of how important it is to have a communication/PR and Marketing department in an organisation. Effective public communication, crisis communication and corporate communications are skills we use all aspects of our life. Communications is embodied into everything we do, and the transmission of information is limitless.

What is it that we can do differently as country regarding communications?
There is nothing we can do differently, the act of giving, receiving, and sharing information, through words, talking or writing, and listening or reading will not change. The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, in accordance with the Constitution of the country, is to: Lay the foundation for the accelerated use and development of information and communication technology in Namibia, and coordinate information management.
Furthermore, we have a Communication Act, which provides for the regulation of telecommunications services and networks, broadcasting, postal services and the use of radio spectrum. We have an independent Communications Regulatory Authority, to make provision for its powers and functions.

Tell us about your work at the Namibia Media Trust?
I am the Programme Coordinator and am therefore responsible for the overall coordination of the Trust’s work. That means all its programmes, activities, etc. that relate to its mandate which is to promote media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information in Namibia and beyond. The Trust implements a broad range of programmes to advance free expression rights of all citizens in the most inclusive manner possible. It is particularly invested in promoting journalistic excellence through an intensive media training programme. Youth and inclusion of marginalised communities is a priority for the Trust, hence our focused YouthQuake (youth development) programme and our exciting work to skills persons with disabilities with media production skills.

How much work do you get to do on the continent for the Trust?
This is a full-time position. We are very flexible in our working arrangements, but I can confirm that the work is both exciting and demanding. The NMT is a pioneer in many ways so creativity and focus are important.

What is your opinion about the media landscape in Namibia?
Namibia has a fairly diverse and pluralistic media environment. The country has been very consistent in its global ranking as amongst the freest and safest countries for journalists to do their work. The legislative framework is conducive with the country just having (December 28, 2022) gazetted its along-awaited Access to Information law. Of concern though is the development – like elsewhere in the region – of cybersecurity legislation which, I fear, can potentially overreach and negatively impact citizens’ rights online.
The spread of misinformation, disinformation and fake news – often referred to as the infodemic – is a grave concern in Namibia. Our response to this is an active programme on media and information literacy.
Like everywhere else, Namibian media have not been spared the impact of digitisation and the Covid-19 pandemic. This has created fear and uncertainty within the sector and more worrying journalism cannot thrive under these conditions. Those that still rely heavily on print have been particularly affected. The quality of journalism has also been affected. The NMT has attempted to respond to this through our training programme and our annual ‘Conference on the Future of Journalism Education in Southern Africa’.

You also dabble in beauty pageants. Is that something you pursue seriously?
Everything I do is on the same level of seriousness, I believe in giving all aspects of my life the same amount of attention be it netball, work, academics, pageantry, or my Foundation.
Beauty pageants to me started as a childhood fantasy, which developed into passion, and with a broader understanding and more experience became my image and is a sport I hold dear to my heart.
My upbringing, choices of my qualification, the work I do at the Trust, my Foundation, pageants and who I am as a person are all linked and in sync. One doesn’t exist without the other.
Beauty pageants groomed me into this confident, outspoken, ambitious woman of elegance. My qualifications in communications and marketing are the expertise I use on and off stage, in the industry I create, communicate, deliver and exchange offerings that have value for my clients, partners and society. On stage I use the same skills and align that vividly with the mandate of a pageant.

Who or what convinced you to participate in beauty pageants?
My mother, she saw how much I enjoyed watching pageants growing up, and how I would always play princess or dress-up- and imitate the ladies off-screen.
I would host Miss Freedomland and all those ashy street pageants with the girls in the location, in our backyard. I would cry for money to buy plastic crowns from Stop n Shop, cut up material of her damara dresses to create sashes with a board marker just to host a pageant. My first pageant title was Miss Jesus Centre, and since then I would enter every pageant in the community, and I did that from the age of 12, my first serious pageant was Miss High School, when I won, mom was convinced that I was born to be a model and signed me up for every pageant she saw on a flyer.
Everyone that knew my mom and knows me from when I was a child knows not to call me by my name, but “Miss Namibia”, because that’s how mom would introduce me everywhere we went. She was my biggest fan, and number one support system. In 2016, she entered me in Miss Windhoek, and that’s the last time I saw her healthy and actively doing something with excitement, because she got admitted a week before the crowning ceremony. I was down, and hit rock bottom, and didn’t even want to follow through with the pageant, I went to see her at the hospital to notify her about withdrawing, and she said “No, even if that’s the last thing you do, we are doing it and I am there with you in spirit.”
That was the last pageant my mom was around to witness, I put pageants on hold, because I got busy with hustling to put bread on the table. In August 2017, I went to South Africa, Cape Town for the varsity netball cup at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, where they were hosting auditions for Miss University South Africa. My teammates said “Jess, let’s prank them. Pretend you are from here and go for auditions.” The naughty girl in me was in with the plan. I went for auditions and had the time of my life in those split seconds. Three weeks after I received a congratulatory email saying I was selected to represent SA at World Miss University 2017 by then I was back in Namibia and had forgotten about everything.
The email was the most confusing news, until I eventually had to tell them the truth of how I got to audition, and they said, “No problem, you were great, and, in that case, you can represent Namibia under our directorship.” I had two weeks to run around and get ready to leave for the pageant in Cambodia. This was my first international pageant, the empowerment, and recognition I got from the pageant in itself was insane, I won a few titles, but the best thing was receiving the World Miss University 2017 Peace Emissary award from the Peace Corps Foundation.
I got back fired up, because the experience of being at this pageant for a month was where I learned everything I needed to know about pageants at that time and age. It forced me to do research, and work towards trying to better myself as a pageant queen. I was hungry to learn everything, I studied all the big five pageants and read about pageants as if it was some degree to pursue. I had to take a leap from pageants for 2 years after my netball-knee injury that left me on crutches for 6months, it was extremely difficult regaining my confidence on stage. It was a struggle to get myself back to where I was physically after a 2-year gap of my pageant career. I kept boosting my knowledge about the industry to a point where I sound rehearsed, when talking about pageant.
In October 2019, I got an Instagram DM from the Miss Charm organisation, asking me to share my pageant portfolio, because the owners of World Miss University organisation spoke highly of me at their pageant press conference. The two-year gap threw them off, and they were not convinced I am the right candidate to represent the country. I asked for a MS Teams interview, and auditioned for them virtually, and got an email of appointment from their chairperson officially appointing me as the representative from Namibia a week after. This pageant got postponed from 2019 to January 2023, and I couldn’t participate because it was around the same time, I lost my relatives.
Miss Supranational Namibia 2022 was my coming back into the industry after being gone from stage for almost 4/5 years, and it was taking a chance on myself, it was a rejuvenating journey. I did it for Jessica to find her feet again, to test myself and everything I have been teaching myself over the years. It was an opportunity to prove to myself that everything I need is inside me, and nothing was taken away by an injury that took me out of the game longer than anticipated. I enjoyed the test run back into industry so much, and I learned more than I thought I knew, it was a life-changing journey.

Let’s talk about your commitment to doing charitable work. You started the Eagles Foundation?
Advocacy and charity work are an integral part of who I am. My efforts in my community at grassroot level since I can remember, is testament to this.
As a country with one of the most unequal societies, the duty rests upon ordinary Namibians such as myself to avail our time, skills and passion to make a difference in the lives of those around us. I have taken this plight personally, I may not be able to impact the whole Namibia at once but I take comfort in knowing that I’m touching and changing lives for the better, one small step at a time.
‘Eagles Foundation’, a collective umbrella for all my labors of love namely;
(a) ‘Spoonful of Comfort’ an initiative aimed at eradicating poverty and reaching zero hunger in line with SDG 1 and 2.
(b) ‘Project HearUs’ (#HearUs) an advocacy channel for the much-needed inclusion of the Deaf under the SDGs 4 and 10 .
(c) and lastly, ‘Advocacy for Orphans’ which focuses on the care, support and protection of orphans and vulnerable children under the SDGs 4 and 10
The name Eagles shows a representation of my favorite animal the African Fish Eagle, which is one of the two animals that appears on the Namibian Coat of Arms. The Eagle is renowned for its strength and vision, and these are the qualities I hope for my Foundation to embody- A resilient strength in serving the Namibian people and a steadfast vision that leads us to fulfill our mandate in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, set to be achieved by 2030.

Tell about the core activities of your Foundation?
Advocacy for Orphans, Here I provide one-on-one nurturing to disadvantaged children who might otherwise never realize their potential. My sisters and I help during time of registration to enroll children into different schools.

HearUs, aims to empower the Deaf to engage as informed citizens in democratic processes and capacitate them with critical literacy skills for self-advocacy on issues of concern for their community. This is done through a diverse programme capacity building and training. The project aims for an inclusive and optimally accessible information-sharing platform to assist them to exercise their rights. With that we offer needs-based training on basic Human rights.

A key component of charitable work is to measure success. What, in your personal view and mission, is the success of your foundation to you?
My personal view and mission of the success of my Foundation is by providing direct help, giving information, or raising awareness.

Can you please share some of the highs and the lows of managing a charitable foundation?
I will start with the lows, this for me is not being able to do or assist in ways I can think of or imagine due to the lack of funds and volunteers. I am only able to make donations once in 3months or provide training once a month. Months can go by without spending time at children’s homes, where I assist with homework or tutoring.
The highs for me are being able to do what I am called to do by God. This allowing me to experience life, love children, and seek adventure. I get to take care of, play with, teach, and feed those in need. During those hours at an orphanage, I am able to explore different cultures, meet new friends, and discover unseen talents. I always go home changed, inspired and motivated to find ways to continue helping those in need and satisfy my love for children.

How can Namibians assist?
Namibians are actively involved in trying to make their communities a better place. I see so many Namibians putting in the work and assisting in their own unique way. I see some doing winter drive throughs, others have soup kitchen, some do civic education of health care, some donate pads, others help build shacks and the list goes on.
I’d motivate them to continue doing what they can on their level, because that is changing one life at a time. We must live by the mantra Hold a hand, change a life.

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