This story is part of a campaign run by the GEM Report, #Iamthe1stgirl, to accompany the launch of the 2020 GEM Gender Report. The campaign tells the stories of many girls who were the first in their family to graduate, demonstrating progress in gender equality in education that the Report shows has taken place since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 25 years ago. The campaign aims to amplify the message that an equal generation is an educated one.
I was born and bred in the Alexandra Township, one of the poorest townships in South Africa. Thanks to scholarships and hard work, I was the first girl in my family to graduate. I have a Master’s, PGCE, BA Honours, Btech and a National Diploma. When I was 24 years old, I established an organisation called Tsogo Ya Bokamoso Foundation to help young people in my Township to continue their studies. Hard work, determination and a desire to learn are the traits that have helped me overcome all my challenges and break down the barriers in my family. What I hope and aspire for my children is a better, stable and secure future. I desire for them to be able to stand up and be able to do things for themselves, just as I did.
This is my story:
I am the youngest sibling in my family; I have 4 siblings from both my parents and 2 older sisters from my late father. My mother is retired and my father passed away 2 months ago. My mother used to be the main breadwinner. She worked as a store cashier all her life. My father was unemployed for years, and financially, it was always a challenge to afford everything.
In 2008, when I was completing my final high school year (Grade 12), I desired to study at a university in South Africa, but my mother could not afford university fees. I also realised that the information I needed in order to seek higher education did not exist. It took me quite a long time to navigate through all the options.
I applied for and received a student loan from the National Student Funding Aid Scheme in South Africa, which funded my first qualification at the University of Johannesburg. I completed my first qualification, National Diploma in Human Resources Management with distinction and the Faculty offered me a bursary to complete my second qualification, a Btech Degree in Human Resources Management, which I also passed with distinction. I later applied for BA Honours in HR, and the Faculty again covered my tuition fees. As always, I worked hard to maintain very good grades.
It was then that I was offered my first job in HR, which I did while continuing to study on a part-time basis towards completing my Honours Degree. After a couple of years, I changed careers to pursue my passion for education. I wanted to help the poorest students from the township access information that would allow them to go to university – information that I felt had been lacking for me.
That led me to apply for a PGCE and become a teacher at Maryvale College in Johannesburg. While a teacher, I also mentored students from the public school in the township. I organised open days at universities, I helped students pick their courses, helped advise them on careers and ran mentorship programmes.
In 2014, at the age of 24 I established a Non-Profit Organisation called Tsogo Ya Bokamoso Foundation to assist and encourage young people in the community who wish to further their studies. It has helped to shape lives of many young people from Kwa-Bhekilanga Secondary School in Alexandra Township with academic and career development.
I didn’t want to stop there. I applied for, and was subsequently awarded a Chevening Scholarship to pursue a Master’s Degree in Education and International Development at University College London, Institute of Education. Coming to the UK and being part of these prestigious organisations has really changed my life for the better. Hard work, determination and a desire to learn are the traits that have helped me overcame all my challenges and broke the barriers in my family.
Having access to an education has developed my skills and broadened my knowledge. It has created platforms and opened bigger opportunities for myself, including international exposure. Education has spread my wings and helped me use my network to my advantage. It has given me access to endless opportunities and put me in the forefront of achieving my dreams. Today, I am among the 15% of Top Achievers at the University of Johannesburg and have previously been featured in a noble magazine – Destiny to represent women in their 20’s. I have also been featured in a local newspaper post completing my master’s in the UK.
What I hope and aspire for my children is a better, stable and secure future. I desire for my children to stand up and be able to do things for themselves, just as I did. I wish for them to be independent, and not receive everything on a silver platter. Instead, to work hard and avoid being spoon-fed. My hope is that they do not let fear and doubt stand in the way of achieving their dreams. I hope they will think out of the box, not be limited by their circumstances but to believe in themselves and their dreams. To believe that they can be anything and anyone they want to be in the entire universe.