By Peter Cottrell
Constance Nengovhela is an inspirational South African, offering a vision of hope that is so desperately needed at this time in our history.
Born in Ha Mashau village in Limpopo, Constance serves as an active seafarer on international shipping routes. In between, she is an entrepreneur having launched an inspirational clothing line “Life Beyond”, offering clothing by a seafarer for seafarers. Her vision is that her clothing will be available online and at seafarers centres around the world and she has already made great progress in achieving her goals. The attractive clothing range includes t-shirts, hoodies and sweaters, all with positive messages printed on them to motivate seafarers as they face hardships at sea.
It is Constance’s explanation of the “Life Beyond” name that gives a true perspective of her amazing life vision:
At an event at Durban Seafarers Mission in February 2020, celebrating the one year anniversary of Life Beyond clothing, Constance recounted her experience of a voyage between Australia and the Middle East, a passage of about 21 days with no sight of land in between. During the voyage the crew encountered terrible weather with the ship being battered and rolling around. It was so bad that they could not sleep for two nights, and she wondered if the hardship and suffering would ever end. During such times, seafarers often wonder whether working at sea is the right thing to do? The following day she reported for duty on the bridge and there in front of her was the most blue sky with the sun breaking through in shafts of light. As she was contemplating this, a beautiful rainbow appeared on the horizon. Her realisation was that there is always life beyond the storm and we need to look forward to that in hope, even in times of great adversity.
While this hope inspired a clothing line, her vision also gives us much to reflect on as we endure our own Coronavirus lock-down storm.
Constance’s passion goes so much deeper, as she reflects on the needs of seafarers – in her words:
“Our Seafarers, the men and women who are mostly misunderstood by non-seafaring friends, neighbours and family. These are the kindest people.”
Constance goes on to make an impassioned plea to understand the needs of seafarers and do everything we can to meet those needs. She offers profound thanks to those organisations who are involved in caring for seafarers, whether on board ship or through seafarers centres. Constance’s passion of caring for seafarers goes beyond mere words and at the anniversary event she was witnessed making an effort to engage with every seafarer who was in the room, and even going as far to travel on the Mission bus to collect the next group of seafarers who were coming in from their ship!
Meeting Constance in person is an experience in itself; she is vibrant, cheerful and full of energy and there is an overwhelming impression that nothing is going to hold her back! She has an infectious smile and is never short of a story of her life at sea.
Spare a thought for Constance and her seafaring colleagues during this time of global lock-down and isolation. Due to severe restrictions in ports around the world, seafarers are not able to leave their ships at the end of their contracts to enjoy a well-deserved period of shore leave with their families. Added to this, it is almost impossible to leave the ship even for a short break while in port due to the restrictions in place, as well as out of a concern for the well-being of the crew. And the friendly welcome of a local port chaplain during a ship visit is a seemingly long distance memory. Imagine being stuck at your place of work for three, four or six months, maybe even longer? All without the opportunity to put your feet on dry land and enjoy some recreation for even a few minutes. Meanwhile, they will be suffering very real anxiety for their family back home who will be enduring their own storm during this Coronavirus pandemic.
On the converse side, there are seafarers who have been at home on shore leave and are now not able to return to their ships. Constance herself is at home in Limpopo province, enduring the national lock-down and unable to meet her ship for her next contract. Constance has offered the following reflection on her current situation, which is related to her “Crew Change” clothing design:
“The uncertainties that comes with a crew change and not knowing when one will be joining again or signing off for that matter, it’s almost as if I was prophesying what a life beyond my last Crew Change will be. Here I am now unable to join my ship. Many more seafarers are unable to disembark off their vessel.
“The nature of our industry, the uncertainties, it’s always a ‘let me just get through today’. Without a doubt I would have been depressed and scared about the future if there was no Life Beyond. Our business continues to inspire me on a daily basis and I fell humble to be able to inspire others through our work.”
Not one to be held back, Constance has embarked on an online course at Wits and states that her graduation will be her life beyond lock-down!
Let us remember that 90% of all goods, including medical supplies, food and fuel are carried by sea. Seafarers face a time of unprecedented hardship without access to land or to those who normally would be there to care for them. It is these very seafarers that we will rely on so heavily as the global economy attempts to reboot itself.
But let us also celebrate Constance and her message of amazing hope! Passionate seafarer, entrepreneur, motivational speaker and a genuinely good person; Constance stands out as an inspirational South African!
A note from the author:
I have supported the work of caring for seafarers for over 20 years through my involvement with the Mission to Seafarers. I presently serve as a Trustee of the Mission to Seafarers in London, Chairperson of the ecumenical Durban Seafarers Mission and a member of the Durban Port Welfare Committee. These roles have given a unique insight into the importance of caring for seafarers. While we all love watching ships and wondering about their previous and future destinations, the reality is that life on board ship is hard with long periods of loneliness away from family and loved ones. The response measures to the Covid-19 pandemic have presented a time of unprecedented hardship for seafarers, and the need for care is more real than ever. The issues around crew changes and access to shore based facilities apply in ports around the world and are of universal concern to the maritime industry, welfare providers and seafarers alike. If you would like to find out more visit:
ICMA open letter: https://icma.as/open-letter-un-icma-covid-19/
Mission to Seafarers: https://www.missiontoseafarers.org/the-missions-response-to-covid-19
International Port Welfare Partnership Programme: https://www.portwelfare.org