“When you come from a small town, taking financial risks is not part of your vocabulary.”
During high school, I was in the F class. It was the class that had all the misfits who did not have the popular subject combinations and it also housed a number of troublemakers. It was not a great class to be in. When I did not pass the first term of Grade 11, it was a real wake-up call for me. I had let my circumstances and surroundings get the better of me. I had to pull up my socks and, at the end of Grade 11, I managed to obtain fifth place overall for the grade.
The Hope@Maties university preparation programme at Stellenbosch University was my saving grace during my matric year. I am not a natural A-symbol achiever by any means and had to work very hard to achieve good results. I would not have qualified for a bursary if it were not for the Hope@Maties programme. It gave me that encouragement, support and mentorship to give tertiary studies serious consideration over a standard blue-collar job. Hope@Maties expanded my frame of reference, which was critical at that stage of my life.
I applied to the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and to Maties and got accepted at both institutions. My mother wanted me go to CPUT because it was more affordable but we did not have the money to pay the registration fee and then I received the letter that informed me that I received a recruitment bursary from Stellenbosch University. My mother was scared and intimidated and finances were at the top of her list of worries. When you come from a small town, taking risks is not part of your vocabulary. Fear of the unknown pushes you into a corner and you just want to do what you know best but after many serious conversations, we reached the decision that I could go to Maties.
Bridging the gap between matric and my first year was the most difficult thing to master in the first year of my BEd degree. Self-doubt, trying to keep up with the pace, missing home, the new culture, staying in residence – it all became too much to handle. I struggled. I was emotional. I could not focus properly.
In October of my first year, while preparing for finals, I discovered that I was pregnant. My mother, though disappointed, offered to leave her job and look after my baby. I could not let her do that because how would she and my sister cope without her salary? With a baby in the picture as well, things were looking very grim. I had to block out my physical challenges and survive the two months until the end of the year. With many prayers, a guilt-ridden conscience and even more hard work, I managed to scrape through my first year.
In February of my second year, I gave birth to my son and named him Logan. Two weeks after undergoing a caesarean section, I returned to campus and had to leave my baby with a lady down the street who kindly offered to look after him during the week until my mother returned from work in the evenings. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. The guilt of only being able to see my child over weekends was eating me alive but I could not let it show. I would go home on Fridays and be a stranger to him. I did not know how to create a bond with him. I missed many of his milestones.
Having a solid and grounded support structure was what pulled me through those dark days when all I could think about was giving up. I was forced to take responsibility for my life and, in a weird way, that spilled over into my academics. In my third year, I passed with six distinctions and completed my degree the following year.
Today I am a qualified and proud teacher. Receiving bursary support from Stellenbosch University was the ticket to my future. I cannot put into words the difference bursary funding makes in the life of a motivated young person who doesn’t have the means to pay for their studies. I am the sole breadwinner in my family today, all because of the opportunities and support I received while I was studying.