When people notice confident young businesswoman Suvanna Pitamber driving around Cape Town in her Polo Vivo, they would have no idea just what it took to get to where she is today.
This 24-year-old KPMG trainee accountant grew up living in someone’s garage in Isipingo, near Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, with her mother, father and sister. Her mother was a poorly paid secretary and her father a machine operator at a shoe factory, and they battled to afford even the bare necessities.
Although the straight-A scholar’s school career was focused on doing exceptionally well, university was going to be almost impossible financially. But her parents dreamed that she would be able to make a life for herself that they had not been able to.
“My parents truly understand the importance of a good education because they weren’t able to get it. Both their sets of parents died when they were teenagers, so they had no choice but to go work to survive. They didn’t even finish school,” says Suvanna.
Attending a school where many pupils were well-off, she was self-conscious of her family’s financial situation. “Once we were doing a group project and as the leader I had no choice but to bring them home to do some work. After that, some of them stopped wanting to be my friend.”
Although her parents never shared their financial difficulties with her, Suvanna says: “I always felt their pain and I would do my best to get holiday jobs to help them …
“Since I can remember, I have always been determined to change my family’s situation.”
She considered studying medicine or commerce and worked extremely hard to make sure it would be possible.
Her English teacher in Grade 8, a Mrs Ramrod, became her mentor and confidante.
She encouraged her to apply to the University of Cape Town (UCT) to do a B.Com and, with her eight distinctions in matric, getting in was easy. But the deadline for financial aid had passed and her 20 applications for companies were unsuccessful.
Suvanna was about to give up, but a woman in UCT’s applications department told her just to get to university and the “funding would come”. The company her father worked for gave her R10 000, as did an uncle’s business, but there as a shortfall of R65 000 for the year. “I settled in at UCT, but the financial issue kept me up at night because I wouldn’t have been able to stay past June unless I paid.”
She applied for financial aid, which she got. Shortly thereafter she was notified that all her expenses would be paid by the Moshal family. “I didn’t know who they were but was told they were going to pay for my entire degree and then some… I just burst into tears! I had never known such generosity.”
She worked hard and at the end of her first year was placed on the dean’s merit list and attained the highest marks in her residence. “I felt proud and believed I had made the Moshals and my parents proud. But more than that, I realised that my goal of becoming someone was in sight.”
Suvanna emphasises that the Moshal Scholarship Program was not like a corporate body that just gave money and the rest was up to the student. “We had their constant support and care. Jodi Bailey (the program coordinator for South Africa) became my second mother and I could call her any time for anything.
“The program gave us courses on how to develop our personal skills in ways that would enhance our abilities at university and in the working world. It was incredible.”
And when things were really tough back home, she called on her Moshal support for guidance, such as when both her parents were retrenched last year while she was doing her B.Com honours.
“My best memory of university was graduating with my honours. Seeing my parent’s faces was priceless. Then, I loved being able to relocate my parents to come live with me in Cape Town.”
“If not for the Moshal Scholarship I would not be the successful CA-in-the-making that I am today. Martin Moshal has left an indelible imprint on my life.” Had he not decided to share his gifts with needy students like me, none of us would have been where we are today. Martin inspires me when I look at everything he has achieved.”
While Suvanna is already involved in soup kitchens and KPMG corporate social investment projects, her ultimate paying it forward dream is to one day be able contribute financially to the Moshal Scholarship Program so she can help young people like herself.
But all her plans aside, right now she is thoroughly enjoying being able to drive around in a car she bought for herself.