During youth month we not only honour the contribution of the youth in the struggle for the liberation of South Africa, but we also celebrate the achievements they’ve made – their legacy. Although inequality is still rife in South Africa and access to quality education for all still only remains a goal to strive for, one school in Thembisa is fanning the flame in the hearts and imaginations of its learners and parents.

Nokuphila Pre-Primary and Primary School in Thembisa, under The Love Trust umbrella, caters to the poorest members of its community and offers a quality education that includes psychosocial support for learners. The school is dedicated to equipping learners with all the needed academic, environmental, emotional, physical, nutritional, and mental support to remove as many barriers as possible as they embark on the next phase of their academic journey – High School.

The Nokuphila management team help learners to apply for scholarships to reputable high schools. We had the opportunity to speak to one of their alumni who was awarded a bursary to one of the most prestigious high schools in the country: St John’s College.

Meet Mpho Kekana, a grade 9 student who enjoys subjects such as biology, maths, English, and history, as well as playing sports such as basketball, hockey.  He also enjoys boxing lessons after school. Mpho is a bright, eloquent, and well-mannered young learner who has had to overcome many challenges on his journey to one day becoming a paediatrician, and St John’s College is one of the steppingstones to bigger things.

When asked what he felt was the greatest challenge that he had to overcome, Mpho believed it was the various distractions along the way and the false friends that he felt were the most difficult to deal with. It was hard at times for Mpho to distinguish between good friends who only wanted the best for him and are supportive through tough times, versus bad friends who seemed to disappear when things get complicated.

Mpho’s teachers at Nokuphila, noticed that he was struggling and offered their counsel on how to choose the right types of friends, which also helped him regain his focus and drive. He says the experience has given him the “will be to be strong, independent, and to stay focused. Until I reach my goal. Even when I do reach my goal, I have to keep working hard to make a difference in my life”.

Mpho is still friends with a number of his former Nokuphila classmates and has also grown his group of friends since starting at St John’s, which he says was a scary experience in the beginning. “Firstly,” says Mpho, “no one knew me and the maths was kind of hard. The school traditions were something to get used to, there’s a lawn that only matric pupils can walk on”. To help navigate these new waters in those early days, Mpho had a mentor, Dave, who taught him a lot about the school, helped him with his math and even helped him look for his bag when it was lost. Mpho is now friends with Dave’s younger brother who shares many of the qualities that he so admires in Dave.

We asked about his favourite memories about Nokuphila and his current favourite thing about St John’s. These experiences, far removed from his life in Thembisa, provide him with a sense of joy, festivity, and excitement. At Nokuphila his favourite memory was when they went on a field trip to the zoo and while they were looking at the lion’s enclosure, a lion rushed towards them, and everyone screamed. “It left a lasting impression. We were terrified,” Mpho recalls, “and we were happy because it gave us some attention”. Mpho’s favourite thing about St John’s is the war cries they chant during sports events at school.

With the pressure to keep up a good average Mpho still faces quite a few challenges. But Mpho has found a healthy and productive way to channel his stress: “I used to make music. Anytime I need a song I’d name it after what I’m going through. And every time I listen to it, it kind of relaxes me”. The school lent him a laptop and a friend showed him how to use a software programme to create music.

When asked what words of advice he has for other learners, Mpho stated: “Everyone has challenges. But we need to let go of something to gain something”. Words we can all live by.

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