When Lerato Modau was a little child, walking kilometres every day to fetch water and wood and then cooking and cleaning for her family, she dreamed of a better life. “I was born into this but tomorrow I will be in a different place” she used to tell herself.
Today, Lerato is an assistant accountant at Regents Insurance and well on her way to that life she dreamed of.
She grew up in Thohoyandou in Limpopo with her grandparents. Her mother was a domestic worker in Hartbeespoort in North West and she never knew her father. “I was three months old when my mom left me with my grandparents so she and I weren’t close. My grandparents were more like my parents and we lived off my grandfather’s pension. I did all the domestic chores for them.”
They lived in rondavel mud huts, which were swept away in floods in 2000. “We were homeless until my uncle built us a three-room shack ...”
Her grandfather encouraged her to get a good education, even if she didn’t have food. “He taught me not to let my situation get me down and that only I can change it.”
Lerato excelled at academics, as well as netball and soccer. It was while playing netball in Grade 8 that her bag containing all her school books was stolen.
The rule at her school was that you had to hand in your textbooks at the end of each year to get your results and go into the next grade. “I pleaded with the principal, but he insisted that until I could buy the books for the school I would have to remain in the same grade. I was devastated because there was no way I would ever have enough money to buy them,” she says.
So in January 2004 when her classmates were starting in grade 9 she packed her bags and went to her mother in Hartbeespoort. There, she got a job earning R30 a day on the farm on which her mother was employed.
The following year, she went to the local Hartbeespoort school and the principal insisted that she repeat Grade 7. Desperate to get back on track, she accepted. “Everyone thought I was crazy, but it was my only way.”
Lerato was soon back to being the top achiever.
At the end of Grade 10, however, she dropped out again. This time because she was pregnant. A year later, her boyfriend’s parents in Durban agreed to look after the baby while Lerato finished school. She went back with a vengeance, even resuming her soccer-playing and becoming the captain of the girls’ side. “I went to visit my baby often – I didn’t want her to grow up without me.”
Lerato matriculated with two distinctions, the first one in her school to get distinctions and to go to university.
She was accepted to do a BCom at Wits, but she had no idea how she was going to pay for it. Her school social worker introduced her to Wendy Hanan, the chairperson of Friends of Parents and Child, an organisation that assists vulnerable youth. Wendy arranged payment for university registration, initial accommodation and food and promised to find her a bursary. “This stranger did so much for me when I was fast losing hope,” Lerato says.
In April of her first year she was told she had won a Moshal Scholarship and her financial worries were over.
Every opportunity she got she would head to Durban to see her daughter. “She still remembers me telling her that when I finished studying, I would fetch her so she could live with me. I remember her asking if I would buy her a big house and a bed of her own and I said ‘yes’,” Lerato says. “Whenever I wrote a test and didn’t do well, I reminded myself that I wasn’t just failing myself but I was failing her ...”
Lerato graduated in March 2015.
“My daughter lives with me now in a rented flat and is in Grade one. At her birthday party at school last year, she said: ‘You see, Mommy, you are making our lives better.’”
Lerato has even bigger dreams. She plans to study further by correspondence and, ultimately, to start a construction company.
She has helped and inspired 10 students from her previous school to get to university.
Lerato says her inspiration is the Moshal Scholarship team. “They saw a potential in me, believed in me and helped me grow into my potential. I had the dreams, but I wouldn’t have been able to realise them alone.
“There were so many times when giving up seemed the only option, but I just looked a little further,” Lerato says. “Now, looking back, I seem to be on an interesting journey.”