On Saturday, 20 July 2019, I was lucky enough to join the Saturday Girls for their Career Guidance Day at the New Dawn Centre in Acornhoek, Mpumalanga. I was asked to talk about my work and personal journey as an Environmental Scientist. I felt really honoured to be invited to this special day. It was a new experience for me to talk about my career and how I ended up becoming an “Eco-Warrior”.
In many parts of Africa, and the rest of the world, gender inequality is still a sad reality. The main aim of the Saturday Girls’ Classes is to help high school girls achieve success within the local school system and prepare effectively for tertiary education, or whichever path they choose to take after school. Thabi Mosenohi, the Seeds of Light Education Support Program Manager, writes: “we want our young girls to think outside the box when it comes to choosing a career path. In the villages of Acornhoek, we find there is limited information regarding career paths and we want to expose the girls to a wide variety of possibilities. We also want them to realize that women are making things happen out there!”
The Saturday Girls Educational Support Program gives teenage girls a voice, allowing them a safe space in which to speak out and advocate for their needs. The girls also learn important leadership and problem-solving skills through the program. Like many other teenagers in South Africa, the teenagers of Acornhoek struggle with reading and mathematical literacy due to a lack of educational support. Rural schools often have minimal resources, large classes and not enough qualified teachers.
In these areas, girls often get left behind because the few opportunities that do exist are usually given to boys. Seeds of Light offers classes on Saturday mornings to local high school girls. The aim is to empower girls to make the most of the schooling they have. Seeds of Light offers some tuition in Mathematics and English, but their main aim is to encourage leadership, critical thinking and problem solving. Economies thrive and the financial resilience of families and their communities are strengthened when girls and women are empowered and given equal opportunities. Evidence like this forms the basis for organizations like the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) commitment to investing in programs and policies that prioritize girls and women.
For me, it was so special to talk to these bright girls. They give me great hope for the future of our South African rainbow nation. It was also an opportunity for me to reflect on my journey as an Environmental Scientist. I realized, once again, how lucky I’ve been with the opportunities that have come my way. Yes, it still required hard work, sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears from my side, but nothing in life that is worth having ever comes easy. I am truly grateful for the people in my life that helped and encouraged me along the way (my family, friends, teachers, professors, and many more). I had a more privileged upbringing than most girls in South Africa, but I hope that in my small way I can give back and encourage other girls to reach for the stars, go after their dreams, and care for nature along the way too (no matter what career path they end up following).
The Saturday Girls program has helped many girls to approach life with a can-do attitude rather than dwelling on their circumstances. There were lots of other awesome women who spoke at the career day too. It was great fun to meet them and learn about their fields of work!
Seeds of Light, South Africa, began in 2000 as the humanitarian arm of CoreLight, a U.S. non-profit organization, when the founders (Leslie Temple-Thurston, Victoria More, Brad Laughlin, and Judy Miller) learned about the plight of over 1.5 million AIDS orphans in South Africa. Seeds of Light vowed to do something to make a difference. They committed not just to help the orphans but also to uplift the larger area of Acornhoek, Mpumalanga, one of South Africa’s designated poverty nodes, where 1 in 3 people is HIV+, and where there is 70% unemployment, and little access to running water.
It was a privilege to meet the Saturday Girls and I hope to join in on more Seeds of Light initiatives and activities soon! I would like to end off my blog with this beautiful quote from Seeds of Light Founder Leslie Temple-Thurston: “Children who are [encouraged to be creative] learn that they are not empty inside—that they always have inner resources to draw on and that they can create something out of nothing. They become adults who find creative solutions to life’s many challenges and therefore adopt a positive attitude. They find their value within and gain a sense of confidence and self-worth: essential qualities for developing a fulfilling life, and perhaps most importantly, a sustainable future for their community.”