So often behind someone who excels is a teacher who believed in them. Noluthando Gatya, who will complete her BCom honours at the end of 2017, had such an economics teacher in high school. “Mrs Nywebeni was my special teacher in Grade 11 and 12,” says Noluthando. “She believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself and she always encouraged me to do my best in everything.”
When Noluthando fell ill in matric and believed she would have to redo the year, this teacher motivated her rather to keep going. “She made it her mission to call me every day, check up on me and ensure that I stayed hopeful about going back to school. I did get better – and passed my matric.” Mrs Nywebeni also helped with money for postage and taxi fares when she was applying for university.
Noluthando – who is from Cape Town and one of five siblings – is grateful to another woman, her maternal grandmother, with whom she grew up in rural Eastern Cape as a little girl. “My grandmother taught me a lot about respect, and integrity and also that I should always be humble and live in peace with people around me.” Noluthando went to live with her parents in Cape Town when she was going into Grade 5 and they were given a government-built house that was big enough for the whole family.
Her sights were set on being an astronaut until in Grade 9 she realised she didn’t enjoy science and was far more interested in commerce-related subjects. Things changed for Noluthando when she was 15 and her father died. “I became an introvert because of the pain. Because I felt like I had no one to talk to, I started using my books as an escape. I would get home from school, sleep, study, study, study and sleep.” This resulted in her achieving an average of 75% in matric.
She was accepted to study economics and finance at the University of Cape Town and got a loan from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme. “My first days at varsity were a nightmare – I was so scared and intimidated,” she recalls. “Most of these kids were well-spoken, confident, intelligent and rich. I asked myself so many times whether this was what I wanted.” From speaking English only during her economics classes at school, she now had “to speak English 24 hours, eat English and breathe English”. Also, the level of thought required, and the amount of work threw her. “I felt really stupid.”
But as she made friends, she realised most people were going through the same thing. A new friend took her under her wing and coached her through her first few months, making the transition easier. Not far into her first year Noluthando found out that she had been awarded a Moshal Scholarship.
“It is the values, the spirit of humility and giving back and the sense of family that really make me a proud Moshal Scholar,” she says. “I never have to worry about fees or having a solid support structure. This is the definition of privilege and I will forever be thankful. “It is not every day that a girl from a poor single-parent-headed family gets to be where I am today, it is because of selfless people like Martin (Moshal).”
Once she has completed her honours, Noluthando plans to start her own small mentorship programme, “to get young people dreaming and knowing that your background does not have to define you”. She wants to change people’s lives in the way hers was. “The development of young people is close to my heart. I am from a township where if you want something in life, you wouldn’t even know how to begin because there are no resources, no role models, no platforms to start conversations about development.
“I want to provide those or help make them available. I want to give young people hope, to ignite the fire within and help them navigate the journey to developing themselves and their communities. That is my purpose in life.”
Unfortunately, she lost contact with the person who ignited the fire in her and helped her navigate her way to university, Mrs Nywebeni. “I went back to my high school to find she had moved. I will keep trying, I know how proud she would be of me,” she says.