How This Woman Achieved Her Dream of Completing Her Education Despite Enormous Challenges

Overcoming mockery to achieving her goals, Nandipha Sithilanga shares her story.

Nandipha was born and raised in Eastern Cape, South Africa. She was raised by a single mother and has never met her father. She has a twin sister and three other sisters.

“I was born in a very disadvantageous family that led [to] me being raised and growing up in diverse places and environments,” Nandipha told The Weight She Carries. “My mother couldn’t afford to take all us to school so she had to give us (me and my twin sister) [to] other family members who were willing to help. Sometimes I’d drop [out of] school in the middle of the year because I had to move to a different city and that delayed my schooling.”

As if her family background was not enough to derail Nandipha in terms of her schooling, in 2004 when she was in Grade 10, she got pregnant. She gave birth in 2005 to a son who was diagnosed with a disability.

“My son couldn’t breathe when I gave birth to him so he was rushed to the hospital’s high care nursery.  For a month, he couldn’t breathe or eat on his own. But soon we were discharged. After 3 months, I noticed that he was not behaving like how normal kids are expected to,” she said. “I took him back to hospital where I was told that he was living with a disability. I was shocked.  I had to take him [to] therapists for body exercises. I didn’t get much support.  I had to see myself through in all of that. So I couldn’t go back to school the following year because I had to figure out what was wrong for three solid years (2005-2007). Then towards the end of 2007, I decided to resume my studies. I was 22 years and in Grade 11. I completed matric at 23 years.”

Nandipha opened up about what transpired when she returned to school:

“The school that I enrolled to in 2008 to do my Grade 11 was a completely new environment for me. I had [to] adapt quickly.  Most of my classmates were between ages 16 and 17 so I was the eldest which resulted in me being bullied and teased by being called a “gogo” (grandmother),” she said. “No one wanted to be associated with me. It was a painful experience, but I had to snap out of it and remind myself why am I here which was to break my family’s generational curses and to prove [wrong the person] that told my mother…that no child of hers will ever go to matric or finish school.  And also, mentally, I was so mature that I understood they were just being school kids. That’s how I dealt with it.”

“I was able to excel in my matric and I decided to further my studies. I applied for national student funds (NSFAS). I got NSFAS for the first semester only. Second semester I was financially excluded due to lack of funds so I had to make a plan. I worked as a nanny. After that I worked as a packer in one of the supermarkets and then I’ve worked as a domestic helper to enable registration of at least two or three modules a year. This resulted in me taking nine years to complete a four-year degree.”

Nandipha Sithilanga

Nandipha credits herself as her main support system.

“My family [was] against me going back to school. They wanted me to find a job so I can provide for my son. They didn’t understand, but I had to be okay with that,” she said. “And people I’ve been working for [have] given me support especially the lady called Claudette Bigger. I appreciate her a lot. She’s given me what my family failed to provide…support.”

Nandipha considers the completion of her B.Ed. and her volunteering work as some of her main accomplishments.  She stresses the importance of determination.

“It is important to get your mindset right.  You have to believe in yourself no matter what the external circumstances are. Strengthen your vision and hope that things can get better. Your character is defined by what you do when things get tough,” she said. “When things get rough and are out of your control, don’t forget to laugh. Stay strong, be humble and lean on others for support when necessary.”

You can follow Nandipha on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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