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Norwich Christian’s shantytown stage school dream

Award-winning Norwich soprano, Emma Nuule, sang her heart out on stage in the Namibian capital Windhoek recently as the latest step in her God-inspired dream to set up a performing arts school in a nearby shantytown. Jenny Seal reports.

32-year old Norfolk soprano singer Emma Nuule took to the stage for ‘An Evening of Classics’ in the main auditorium of UNam, the University of Namibia.

The concert was a collaboration of classical music with local baritone Paul-William Shipanga.  A few days before, Emma and Paul-William were invited to appear on a morning TV show ‘Good Morning Namibia’ on the national television station NBC (Namibian Broadcasting Corporation) to    promote the event and its cause.

The evening raised 7,000 Nambian Dollars and proved a memorable experience. “The energy in the room was just something else,” said Emma. “We had invited some choirs to be involved and I was in tears; they were just amazing.”

This was Emma’s sixth visit to the South West African country, and coincided with a wedding in the family of her Namibian-born husband, Josef. The idea for the musical collaboration came to Emma when she first watched Shipanga perform on YouTube and got in touch. Both share a Christian faith, a vocal talent and a deep desire to help disadvantaged people in Namibia. 

“Paul-William is very inspiring in the way he talks about things,” said Emma. “He wants to make the world a better place.”

Alongside performing and studying full-time to be a doctor, Shipanga has founded the charity ‘Reach One Serve One’ which serves disadvantaged communities within Windhoek. The money raised from ticket sales went directly to the charity.

One of the charity’s activities is to organise outings for those living in an elderly home to avoid isolation. For Emma one of the highlights of the concert was meeting these elders. She said: “We got to see them to their seats. They were just so emotional. And they enjoyed having their photo taken on the red carpet. It was a moving experience.”

Emma, who regularly sings arias in classical concerts across Norfolk, was struck by some cultural differences around the event in September. “The tickets and posters said the concert started at 6pm,” she said. “So, I got to the venue at 5pm and they said, ‘why are you here so early?’. I said, ‘it starts at 6pm’. They said, ‘No, not really – it starts when everyone arrives! It started at quarter to 7.”

As well as raising funds for a good cause, the concert was a means for Emma to make local contacts within the charity and performance sectors. Some years ago, Emma and Josef bought a piece of land in the most disadvantaged area of Windhoek. Emma has a vision to turn the piece of rubble into a performing arts school for local children.

Located on the side of a mountain, surrounded by homes made of corrugated iron sheets, she believes a stage school would   benefit both the children and give a boost to the area. Emma said, “It’s very basic living and quite dangerous. But the children are very talented naturally. Their voices – it’s like everyone can sing. It comes from their soul.”

Her frustration is the length of time it is taking to see the project take shape. "I've definitely been trying ever since I had that moment where God said you're going to set up this performing school," she said. "The only thing stopping me is money, which is really frustrating. But money can come. God can make money      appear. I just need a roof and I can build it up from there. It’s hot. You don’t need walls like you do here!”

Emma who dresses in beautiful ball-gowns to perform, admits: “It’s a real contrast. I love glamour and I love performing but I would love to live a pared-down life in Namibia. I love it there. The lifestyle – the way that families come together. You’re always around people. I like being around people!”

In 2014, Emma won the global ‘Serco’s Got Talent’ competition and in 2018 she won one of the UK's longest-running talent competitions 'Search for a Star' in Longbridge.  Emma and Josef used the prize money to buy a taxi in Namibia which they have hired out to a local driver, the first step in setting up an income stream to allow them to live there. 

Her next step is to register a charity in Namibia and set about fundraising so planning can start on the design and build of the school structure.  "I don't want to do it when I'm really old," she said. "I want to do it when I've still got energy."

In early 2019, Emma gave birth to her third child, Faith. In May she released a new album, The Passion, and this year she has also performed at events such as the Gorleston Clifftop Festival. It’s clear Emma still has a lot of energy to make it happen.

If you would like to come alongside Emma and help her achieve her dream of setting up a performing arts school for disadvantaged children in Namibia she would welcome assistance. Please contact her at emmanuule@gmail.com

Photo: Emma Nuuel (left) and Paul-William Shipanga (right) with beneficiaries of the concert.

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