Earlier this week we told the successful story of Phamela Ndyalvane and her high school scholarship. Back in Masiphumelele her two friends Esethu Mahlumba and Alive Somaguda were delighted for Phamela but also concerned about their own future education. Masicorp’s Jan O’Connor was also concerned for them. While the two girls had been busy pursuing the scholarship from the Alan Gray Orbis Foundation many of the better schools in the area had completed their admissions for the new academic year.
Jan was way behind but helped the girls with the time consuming process of completing application forms. Of course even if she could find places for Alive and Esethu there was the considerable matter of the R30,000 tuition fees that would be required. It looked like a hopeless task.
Help came unexpectedly when a fellow Masicorp volunteer, Fran Louden, had a chance meeting with a local physician who expressed an interest in helping to fund a disadvantaged child’s education but had no idea how to begin. One swift introduction later and Jan had her on board. During the school break Jan returned home to the U.S. and ran into old friends who also expressed a desire to help. Incredibly within a matter of weeks she had two sponsors willing to finance the girls – if only a school place became available.
Having sent letters describing the girls achievements to every school within a 30 mile radius of Masiphumelele she finally got some interest. Wynberg Girls School – a century old school in the southern suburbs with an excellent reputation, would interview both Alive and Esethu. Jan took the girls to Wynberg to meet the principal and was probably more nervous than the girls themselves who wowed everyone with their personality and eloquence. At one point in the interview the girls were asked what conditions still needed to change in South Africa. Almost without thinking Esethu produced the response:
“I have heard that Nelson Mandela said that in order to move forward, we must forgive the past. I think that we have the things we fought for during apartheid. We have schools, we can live where we want to, we can vote. Now it is up to us to find a way to solve our own problems. We cannot blame others for the things that are our responsibility to fix”.
A statement so profound and delivered in so stately a manner that it could have come from Nelson Mandela himself rather than an 11 year old pupil. Not surprisingly the principal was too stunned to reply.
What a triumph of perseverance for Jan and her informal book club. Within a year all three girls were placed in prestigious high schools with their futures in their own hands. Already the girls are considering studying journalism and drama at University. With the motivation they have shown so far anything is possible as they take the next step on their life changing journey.