WINDHOEK, 31 MAY – Ebenhard Ripunda’s trials and tribulations can be measured in numbers; one violent, life-altering crash, seven months of recovery in hospital and one spinal cord injury that left him unable to walk again.
On the morning of 24 December 2007, Ripunda was a backseat passenger in a family vehicle travelling between Oshivelo and Ondangwa in the Oshikoto Region when a herd of goats ran across the road, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle.
Ripunda hit his head on the car roof as it swerved off the road and rolled countless times until it landed on its roof.
Recounting his ordeal in an interview with Nampa, Ripunda was seated by the computer in his living room, working on a letterhead design for one of his clients.
He speaks with an unsteady voice, constantly rubbing his hands together as he relives the memories of that fatal morning.
“The police vehicle was the first to arrive at the scene. As I was gradually gaining consciousness, they were laying me in the back of the bakkie. There was no comfort or protection for my neck and this inflicted further damage as they were rushing me to the Oshakati State Hospital,” he recalled.
After 24 hours, he was moved to Ongwediva MediPark where he was admitted for four days before he was flown to the Mediclinic private hospital in Windhoek, where he would spend the majority of his recovery period.
Ripunda fought a host of negative thoughts when his doctor informed him that he would not be able walk again and that regaining mobility in his arms would be a miracle.
“The battle in my mind began as I learned the shocking truth of what the future holds for me and the inability to do the physical activities that I once loved, such as playing my guitar,” he said.
However, once the shock subsided, he turned into a passionate advocator for people living with disabilities and began his journey building an identity that he said was based on who he was in God and not his physical ability.
“When I was weak physically, my character helped me to be intact, to find solace and hope in God. That’s what helped me emotionally,” said Ripunda.
In 2010, he went back to the College of Arts to complete his studies in art and web design.
Shortly after completing his studies, he secured an internship at Ogilvy and Mather Advertising Agency in Windhoek.
He realised then that his achievement was inspiring to those around him and that is when he began to transition into advocacy work.
But questions of whether he would find love, get married and become a father began to linger in his mind.
In 2009, a special relationship began to blossom with someone who had, up to then, been just a friend.
“Four days after the accident, I was admitted to Mediclinic Windhoek. Jozika, who was just a friend at the time, would visit me on Fridays and bring me lovely, warm, home-cooked meals. I started looking forward to those Fridays,” he said.
The thought of finding love was not just a question in Ripunda’s mind anymore, but became a reality when Jozika said “yes” to his marriage proposal in 2012.
Still, Ripunda had his doubts as to whether the woman he was about to make his wife was really in love with him or just felt sorry for him.
“But her persistence in communicating love throughout began to speak louder for itself,” he said.
With only three days to go before the wedding and with preparations at their peak, another tragedy struck Ripunda’s family.
“On 31 July 2014, my wife and I were busy with the preparations for our wedding when I received a call from my aunt saying my sister had been run over by a mini-bus. The accident was so bad that she died on the spot,” he said.
Although this might have opened the doors for more questions and self-pity, Ripunda stood resolute and went ahead with his wedding.
After a year of marriage, his brother asked him the difficult question of whether or not he was capable of fathering children.
“This question opened up a new chapter. This question became my responsibility as I began to do research and paying regular visits to my doctor,” he said.
However, while still hopeful, Ripunda and his wife kept an open mind about the chances of a man in his condition becoming a father.
Finding little hope in his research, he decided to reach out to someone who was in the same situation as him.
“I met a good friend who was married and I inserted myself into his life and just found some inspiration from there,” said Ripunda.
“In January this year, we got the surprising news that my wife is pregnant,” he said, smiling.
Ripunda is today the president of the Namibia Association for Wheelchair Users, an organisation he formed in 2016 along with other wheelchair users, family members and stakeholders.
He lobbies extensively for the rights of people living with disabilities and works to improve wheelchair-friendly public infrastructure and access.
Ripunda was also selected this year as the ambassador for National Youth Week, which was held under the theme; ‘Promoting behavioural change among young road users’.
Aside from the advocacy work, he owns a graphic design company which caters for small and medium enterprises.