The Women Who Embody the Phrase Lift as You Rise

“I was told by my primary school teachers that I would be a teacher. It planted something in me,” says Nonjabulo Mavundla, a high school English teacher from the Free State. Understanding the influence that she has in learners’ lives, Nonjabulo asserts that, “What you say to learners, it stays with them. It is important to be positive and make them feel good about themselves”.

For the last 12-years, Nonjabulo has developed her own strategies to improve language skills amongst her learners. Her passion for English came from a desire to share new languages with more children from rural schools.

Through the Motsepe Foundation, she has also learned a thing or two about science and coding at the annual Girls in STEM workshops.

If my teachers had motivated us, the way I am motivating them, I wouldn’t have been a teacher

Nonjabulo Mavundla

“When I was told about girls in STEM, I didn’t want to do it. It was too science related and it was difficult,” she says. Despite this initial frustration, Nonjabulo led the team of learners participating from her school. During the 2022 Girls in STEM workshop in Johannesburg, they won the innovation prize, along with a science kit valued at R7 000.

“When I was done, I realised it wasn’t difficult, I just needed time. At first, we used the guide that was shared, and it becomes easier with workshops.”

“I think the workshops are valuable to learners because it teaches them that there are more careers out there. It exposes them to a variety of things that they can look into, and by participating they get to choose wisely when they get to grade 10,” she says.

Automation, artificial intelligence, and other technologies will replace some of the jobs we have now, posing a significant risk to learners who pursue traditional career paths without other options.

“If my teachers had motivated us, the way I am motivating them, I wouldn’t have been a teacher. There were many opportunities we weren’t exposed to. But I don’t regret being a teacher,” she adds.

For Nonjabulo, what she enjoys most about teaching is learning about each student and understanding their unique differences. “I love having active learners who ask questions. We have different pupils every year and we have to do things differently every year. I am always challenged.”

After attending her second Girls in STEM workshop, Nonjabulo found that she had a better grasp of the coding and science materials. While the workshops are aimed at learners, to inspire their interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Nonjabulo is also upskilling herself and finding new ways to incorporate technology into her work.

*

People don’t want things. A lot of times, they just want someone to care

Vino Govender

“I don’t have major profits; I am barely breaking even. But you don’t give because you have a lot. You give because you know what it is to have nothing,” says Vino Govender, an entrepreneur and philanthropist.

“After my dad passed away, my mom and I relied on state grants to complete my matric. We had to move from the house we were living in, and we had nowhere to go. We lived with my sister and her baby in her one-bedroom apartment, and I slept in the entrance hall,” Vino recalls. But this wasn’t her only experience with having little.

“My husband passed away and a few months later I was retrenched. He passed by suicide, so there was no insurance and in 14-years of marriage we hadn’t accumulated wealth. My son had to be taken out of his private school. I would buy a quarter loaf of bread and only eat when he was finished.”

Before her son was born, and when he was still young, Vino would give in small ways. “I started at the children’s home because I wanted my son to be grateful for everything he had. He would go with me and play with the children.” But after her husband passed, Vino found comfort in old age homes where she offered her time to others who also felt lonely. “Their stories really tugged at my heart. Some parents had not been visited by their children in years.”

This inspired her Forgotten Moms High Tea for mothers who live in shelters or in homes forgotten by their children. She uses the annual tea to spread love to women who often have no love shown to them.

“My mess is my message” she says. “When your journey is traumatic, it makes you bitter, like you’re filled with poison. But when you share your story, a bit of poison is released, and you start to heal.”

Over the years, Vino has expanded her work to include supporting girls at local schools and women in rural areas with the Motsepe Foundation’s Little Black Book for Women.

“I talk to girls about teenage issues such as menstruation, sugar daddies, suicide, and sexual harassment. These are taboo issues and I hope to make them comfortable talking about it and I support them where they need help.” Before the pandemic, Vino would arrange a coach, legal assistance, psychologists, and sanitary pads for the girls, depending on their specific needs at the time.

Armed with the Little Black Book, Vino has travelled to rural areas to work with women. She talks them through the book and also trains them in basic computer skills to improve their access to economic opportunity. “They may have access to a smartphone, but they don’t know what they’re looking for. The reading material makes more sense, and the most useful information are the contact details and steps to take.”

Vino admits that her sacrifices have made an impression on her son, who now works to facilitate employment for ex-offenders and former drug addicts.

“I know what it is to sacrifice my own education so that my son can go to a good school,” she says. But she has also learned along her own journey that “People don’t want things. A lot of times, they just want someone to care.”

*

I don’t want others to quit when they think opportunities aren’t there

Busisiwe Khauoe

“I was exposed to the many different things that people are doing and how they are solving the problems of their community. I was inspired to start something,” says Busisiwe Khauoe, a final year BSc student who joined the Motsepe Foundation at the 2019 Women Deliver conference in Vancouver, Canada.

At the time, Busisiwe was in her matric year and was preparing to start her academic journey in Film and TV. “I remember one of the speakers at the conference saying activism isn’t just about posting on social media and lobbying. Activism looks like anything that disrupts any form of oppression.”

“With film, I wanted to represent where I come from and the story of people like me; The stories of people who are written off from the get-go. The plan was to get to university and start changing things for the better but instead, university changed me,” she says.

Busisiwe began her first year in Film and TV and quickly realised that she was more analytical than creative. She recalls feeling disadvantaged and unsure of her capabilities. “I competed in debate competitions at high school but at university they talk about topics we were not used to like the war between Israel and Palestine. I felt out of place and very small.”

The first year of university became a year of discovery. Busisiwe expanded her interests into genetics and then into medicine. “I never thought I could get into medicine, but I learned that it wasn’t out of reach. I started shadowing doctors, surgeons, and people working in genetic labs to see where I fit in and could be most productive.”

Busisiwe has since settled onto a path to clinical medicine and will transfer into medical school next year.

“When you haven’t been exposed to certain things, you’re not aware of opportunities that exist, and you have to work twice as hard,” she says. “Other schools have university tours to learn about the courses and opportunities. These students knew about the bridging programme for medicine, while I only learned about it at the end of my first year. These opportunities are shared with other students to engage their interest.”

Another area where her limited access to resources and information was clear was in the computer lab. “I had to be taught how to run Microsoft word and excel, while others were only focused on solving the course content. We have the same deadline, but I also have the problem of operating the software.”

“We don’t have the same starting point. Had I been exposed to other opportunities; I wouldn’t have had to go through trial and error.”

Despite these setbacks, Busisiwe has persevered to find her purpose. “I don’t want others to quit when they think opportunities aren’t there. It’s wasted talent and wasted intelligence,” she says. Busisiwe has continued to expose herself to activists and solution-orientated changemakers, including the university SRC, so that she can be of service to others and stay inspired.