Caroline Phala has bold ambitions – and the resilience, drive and confidence to bring them all to fruition.
Some people are just born confident. Some acquire it through sheer resilience. Caroline attributes hers to having to deal with constant change as a child, which led to her attending four different primary schools.
“It impacted my confidence because I always had to start afresh; at first I struggled to fit in, but I got to learn that I am who I am and it’s up to people to accept me,” she asserts.
Born in the Limpopo village of Thabakgone, just outside Turfloop, Caroline and her younger brother relocated to Diepsloot in Johannesburg when her mother got married.
Caroline was only seven, and had just started school; adjusting to the city lifestyle wasn’t easy, and this was further compounded by school bullies picking on the newcomer. “I had to learn to stand up for myself, to be confident within myself,” she reflects.
The eldest, and only girl, in a family of four children – her mother has since had twin boys – Caroline found her stride by the time she got to Kwena Molapo Comprehensive Farm School, where she remained until she matriculated. It was also where she determined her career path.
As a developing teen dealing with confusing body issues, Caroline also frequently had to contend with the unpleasant side effects of prescription drugs. “I went through a stage where I was pumped with antibiotics, knowing it was not good for me – it got to a point where I just wanted to be part of initiative that will help generate medication that doesn’t affect bodies in negative way… it made me want to actually manufacture a pill that doesn’t have side effects,” she explains.
While she could easily articulate her ambition, she had no idea what the actual science was called. “Each time a person asked me what I wanted to do, I didn’t give a name, I’d simply explain. At some point I wanted to be a biomedical engineer, because I thought that was it.”
She finally found her answer in matric, when she attended a career day and met with an initiative called Career for You. “They were the first people who knew what I wanted to do and got me connected to the university programs,” Caroline recalls.
Now studying Biochemistry at the University of Pretoria as the first step to a career in pharmacology, Caroline has bold ambitions: “I really want to own a pharmaceutical company distributing medication around the world,” she says. Materially, she hopes this will also lead to her owning her dream car: “I’d love a Porsche,” giggles Caroline. Travel, too, is on the cards, and Caroline aims to broaden her horizons by studying towards her Masters abroad.
There’s no doubt that this young woman’s empowerment advocate will achieve this, given her fierce determination to be independent. “That’s my strongest drive; I’ve always strived to live a life where I’m not dependent on anyone – where I can stand by myself and help others,” she says.
Caroline is actively involved in church activities, and runs a cell group that empowers young girls, helping them deal with everyday life, and encouraging them to become leaders. She also works part-time on campus, as a student IT assistant aiding students using the computer labs. This, she says, means she has little free time. “Some days I have 6am shifts, which means I have to be up really early to prepare for work, then head straight to class after,” she explains.
The secret to Caroline’s confidence can be found in the daily pep talks this self-confessed loner gives herself: “The one thing most people don’t know about me is that I have conversations with myself in front of the mirror. I can end up having a real laugh with myself, but mostly I just start with: ‘Hello, you look so pretty today’; and I can go on and on…” she laughs.
Caroline got accepted into the Moshal Scholarship Program during her second year of study and says there is a massive difference between studying with and without the backing of Moshal. “It made a huge difference because they offer us support; they’re not just giving us money. Of course we need the money, but they are there to guide us, which means so much more. Having that security and knowing that a group of people have my back, makes all the difference,” she says.
“I know I’m not just a student at university but belong to a scholarship program that really cares. And MSP values, such as integrity – doing something right even if no one is watching – are rubbing off on me; I find myself implementing it in my everyday life,” adds Caroline.
Her advice to others? “Never lose sight of your dreams. Keep the end goal in mind, always strive to be at your best and, most importantly, seize the day – and have fun while at it.”