Selina Thabede, a human resources administrator for an international company, dreams of emulating her benefactor, Martin Moshal, and lifting the life trajectory of other young people.
“When I see him I wonder if he realises the impact he has on our lives,” says Thabede, 25. “He has given us a future and hope, and for that rea-son I want him to know my story.”
Selina, who has a BCom in industrial psychology and an honours degree in HR development, was one of the first five Moshal Scholars in South Af-rica. She grew up in Katlehong, east of Johannesburg, living with her mother — a nurse and the family breadwinner — grandmother, two broth-ers and many cousins. “There were 16 of us in our small house. Until I got to university, I had never had anything of my own, I shared everything,” she says.
Her mother was so determined to get Selina a good education that she sent her to a private primary school, which cost more than they could af-ford.
“I could never understand why my mother always worked night shifts and through Christmas and New Year, but now I know it was the only way she could get extra overtime money.”
That Selina excelled both academically and in sport throughout primary school was her saving grace, she says. “I remember in Grade 5 when I was meant to get my report the headmistress told me I should have been kicked out because my parents didn’t pay enough. I used to get called in most months to ask when my mother was going to pay.”
Eventually in Grade 8 she moved to a government Model C school, leaving behind a debt that was paid off only two years later.
But while Selina sometimes had to do without, her mother refused to scrimp on anything that would help her academically and she had extra lessons when she needed them. “It was this tutoring that made me want to tutor others, which I did when I could in high school,” she says. She also coached younger children in squash.
Selina's biggest motivator and mentor at school was her accountancy teacher, “Mr T”. “He instilled leadership in us and got us to push ourselves. He always said: ‘There are bigger dreams and challenges and you need to be as big as those dreams.'
Selina wanted a career that would incorporate her love of numbers and helping people. By attending university open days she realised industrial psychology would be a good choice.
She worked hard, staying late at school, spending hours in the library and having sleepovers with friends so they could study together.
Selina considered being chosen as deputy head girl a huge achievement. “It felt like an opportunity to show everyone how much of a person I could be. That year my marks were better than ever despite the fact that I tutored a lot in the township,” she says.
When Selina was provisionally accepted to study at the University of Jo-hannesburg she was happy but stressed about financing it. “Mom said she would make a plan, but I felt like studying was going to be a burden for years to come.”
Her mother and grandmother managed to pay for registration and when Selina heard about the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), she applied.
In March she received the loan and decided she would do so well that some of it would be turned into a bursary so she wouldn’t have to repay the total amount. “I worked so hard, with such dedication, and managed to get five distinctions out of seven subjects in my mid-year exams.”
In the second half of first year she noticed a lump sum in her bank ac-count. Inquiring about it at the university finance department she discov-ered it was from the Moshal Scholarship Program. “I still don’t understand why they chose me, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me, changing my life forever.”
Not only did Moshal cover her fees going forward, it paid off her loan and gave her money for accommodation. “I became a student without financial difficulties and - although nothing had changed at home - I had taken this burden off my mom and there was nothing I couldn’t achieve.
“I studied better and had an all-round student life … I played squash and did community work.
“But for me the highlight was being part of the Moshal Scholarship, which presents as a scholarship but it became my family. We grew from five of us to way over 300. We shared stories and problems and learnt from each other. The Moshal team gave us tools and skills to go into the working world and to handle university better.”
Now Selina loves her job, at which she started as an intern. But she dreams of creating a foundation to support schoolchildren in their studies and making the right decisions for their future. She also wants to move up the corporate ladder and be able to help younger people grow in her field.
Right now she is living with her family. “I plan to move out on my own, but I need to make sure I can support them as well.
“My mother is putting my brothers through school, but when it comes to me, she has no words. She wants my brothers to see that, like me, with de-termination you can achieve anything.”