Interview with Given

Given is the first student from Zulufadder who have earned a bachelor's degree. Read about his background, dreams and future plans.

Given, why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself 

My name is Given. I am from Eshowe.  I grew up in a rural area called Umlalazi.  My family has lived there for 18 years.  We were originally from CT, but when I was 3 years old, we moved away from CT and I have been here ever sense.  I went to Ekuphakameni primary school for a year, which was a good primary school.  You had to pay to study there.  My dad was able to afford this for a year.  Then my dad went a way, but became broke and could no longer pay.  My mom was really sick and could no longer work, so I had to change schools.  I had to go to Umlalazi primary school.  Then I stayed there from grade 2-7.  Then I moved to Gawozi high school where I attended from grades 8-10. 
I had to move again and go to another high school.  The main reason that I moved is because I feared that I would not get the good results that would take me to university.  So I moved to Bizimali high school, in a rural area in the middle of nowhere (no electricity, toilets, running water etc.)  However, I really liked it there because they worked very hard.  The teachers were better and worked hard, they were educated.  Among the learners, there was a positive competitive community.  It was really a great experience.  So I got great results.  In all of my classes, I used to be the top learner.  In grade 12, I got five distinctions and two level Bs.  This means out of my seven classes, in five of them I received more than 80% and in two I received above 70%. 
I was very excited.  They actually got me a scholarship to university.  For my first year of university, I was on a vice chancellor scholarship. 

What is the vice chancellor scholarship?

Each year the vice chancellor gives scholarships to the best students with the best results.  Luckily I was one of those for one year.

Tell me a little bit more about your family life.

My parents met in Eshowe.  Then they moved to Cape Town.  I was born in CT, and they decided to move back to Eshowe.  Because of family matters, my dad had to go and abandon us for awhile.  There was a point when we had to stop schooling and stay with her for a month.  And that’s the year when Zulufadder came. 

Before Zulufadder came, there was a project called Noah.  I would go there everyday and we would drink soup and eat bread.  They were doing home visits and one day they came to our house.  It was Mandla, Mari and Rung from Zulufadder.  They encouraged us to go to school and promised to figure a way to help my mom.  Luckily my mom got better, and I’ve been with Zulufadder ever since. 

I have heard that when Zulufadder came, you were one of the only children who could speak English.  How did you know English at such a young age?

I can’t really fully answer that. But I went to Ekuphakameni primary school, which is kind of better and they were teaching English there.  But I was also really keen to learn as well.  Then it just kind of happened that I grabbed the language, and at such a young age my brain was still very active.  I was also very flexible and willing to talk to English speakers, so I had a little more practice. 

In my neighborhood, there were actually colored people who spoke fluent English.  I would play with them and they would speak English with me.  I began to pick up certain things. 

And when Mari and other Norwegians came, I got to practice and talk to them more.  That’s how I learned actually.

What made you want to transfer from Gawozi to Bizimali High School?  What made you have this realization that you should switch schools?

I should tell that at Gawozi, I was not a bad student.  I would always work very hard.  Even in grade 8 I was achieving good marks.  There were five grade 8 classes, and I topped all of them.  I just realized that I was looking at the people who passed the final year at Gawozi, and I was thinking we have different systems.  The education system is different.  For example, if you get symbol D or E in your matric results, that’s really bad. In Gawozi, there were rarely even Bs.  Distinction was a really rare thing at Gawozi.   If you got a distinction, you were considered a god.  And finally I said that was enough, I want distinctions.  I want to go to university. 

I remember this one time I was talking to a friend of mine, Stian.  He is also from Norway.  He came with Silvia and all the others.  I told him once “I am scared that I will pass Matric and not go to university.  I find it difficult.  I just want to go to university.”

And he told me, “Given, just work hard.  You are going to get there, and you are going to get a scholarship.” 

At this time, I didn’t know anything about scholarships.  My thought was that if I worked hard, Zulufadder will help me pay to go to college.  That they will pay everything for me. 

Then one day (I thought she was joking) Silvia told me, “Given, don’t forget that we cannot pay for you to go to university.  Zulufadder cannot not help with university fee because Zulufadder has so many students that they are helping.”

She told me all of these things when I was in grade 9.  She actually helped me because she told me early, and then I realized that I need to work hard for myself.  I need to get good results, because at that point I knew that there’s something called a scholarship. 

So I knew I had to switch high schools.  But I was scared, because I wanted to stay in Zulufadder.  I talked to Silvia personally, and told her that I wanted to switch schools.  I would be going to a new area and living with relatives, and I didn’t think that Zulufadder would continue to support me.  But Silvia told me that I should do what’s best, and that Zulufadder would continue to support me. 

Really, though, for those next two years, Zulufadder really helped support me every step of the way. If I needed help, I knew I would get it.  Even now, even today, they still help me with things that I need.  They don’t pay for my fees, but help with the smaller things.  Like if I was going for a fieldtrip, and I ask for help, then they do still extend their hand to help me.  I really appreciate that.

Do you think that you would have been able to accomplish all that you have without the help of Zulufadder? Would you be where you are today?

I won’t lie to you.  Maybe if it wasn’t for Zulufadder, I would be working in someone’s yard today, or pushing trollies in town, or I would be a car driver, or I would be just sitting at home.  They literally gave me all the basics.  They told me that if I really wanted to go somewhere, here are all the basics. We can give you the basics.  With that help, I became very motivated and dreamed of doing big things.  I tried to stay focused.  

 Back then some kids used to consider me better than them. I told myself that I’m not better, I haven’t got anything, except my dreams.  One day at the Zulufadder center, Mari and Silvia sat me down and told me that they knew I was doing really well in school, but I must remember where I come from, never consider myself better than others, and that I could reach whatever I wanted.  The talk was very short, but I really understood and took what they said. I told myself that I’m not better, but I work really hard and dream big.

I know that if it wasn’t for Zulufadder, I wouldn’t even have these really big dreams.  Other people do have dreams, but they don’t have the opportunity to unleash their potential.  I told myself that I have this chance, I have been given this chance, and that I should go and grab it.

Without Zulufadder, I truly don’t think that I ever would have tasted the life of university: being independent. owning your own room, having your own space, and doing your own thing, getting to explore, getting to know other types of people (of different races), and learning more about other people. 

My life is kind of different now.  I feel like I am a modern man.  I feel like I can interact with all sorts of people.  I can do anything.  The opportunity is there. I have the basics now.  I can actually go everywhere that I want to go.

A lot of kids in the area have a very similar background as you did growing up, but not a lot have the opportunity to go to university.  What made you different or helped you succeed? Also, do you have any advice for kids that have a similar background as you?

One thing is, that I realize I am not comfortable with the life I was living. Through my family, through all of their issues…ok, with the family that God has blessed me with, through them, I have learned about the things that I do not want to be in the future.  I just realized that if I don’t do anything about this, if I don’t do anything about myself, I will end up just sitting at home and doing nothing.  The first thing I can to realize is that fine, we are poor, we don’t have much, we don’t have money or education, we do not really have assets that will keep us going.  So I said, fine, let me do something about this.

I have been told that I have always kind of a been a better student. I know that I am a hard worker.  So I told myself that I should work hard, and take every opportunity I have that comes my way and grab it with both hands, and make good use out of it. 

The other thing that I used to think of is if Zulufadder just suddenly stopped, what would I be one day?  If Zulufadder stops whatever it is doing now, it will go back to the old days where people didn’t really have anything.  They have made me who I am today and given me so much. I am a better person because of everything they’ve done for me.  

 Fortunately, I am thankful that they didn’t just give me physical things.  I have learned a lot.  Socially, I’ve learned a lot.  I have learned how to treat people and how to talk to people.  I have learned how to behave well in a group of people.  They gave me the greatest asset, which is education.  I am still working on uplifting my education.  That just gets me off of my comfort zone.  If Zulufadder just stops, I think about what I will be.  That’s what really always keeps me going. 

One day I want to help kids like Zulufadder has helped me.  In the future, I want to help the Given of that time. 

What has happened to my life has really changed the way I see people, the way I think, the way I treat people and talk to them.  It has really humbled me.  I am really humbled by what has happened to my life.  I hope that I will stay like that, and never brag about things that I have been given.  I want to help other people as well to reach the place that I have reached.  I am trying to give as much as I can to help others get what I have, and even beyond that. 

What would be your best advice for children, and especially high school students, who come from where you are from?

My best advice would be to work hard and stay humble.  Know what you want.  Know what’s going to keep you a better person in the future.  Know your dreams and work hard.  Don’t think of yourself as a superior, but work hard.  Focus on what you want more than other things.  Because we people, do other things that don’t help us.  It is important to really focus on what we want.  When we do this, we can get whatever we want to get and go wherever we want to go.  It’s important for them to work hard and recognize this opportunity.  When they think of Zulufadder, they should think of it as an opportunity for them to get somewhere.  They must grab the opportunity, work hard, stay humble and dream big. 

Most of the hardworking students fear that they won’t get to university, even if they pass the final exams.  My best advice to tell them is that they should talk to people who have passed.  I used to tell other Zulufadder kids that there is nothing to be afraid of, especially with all the advantages that come from being from a disadvantaged background.  There are many scholarships that help people from disadvantaged backgrounds.  So, if students get good results—not even really good results—but if they pass, they can still make it.  So the best way to overcome that fear is to use people that you think can help you.  I doubt that Silvia and Zulufadder will ignore you if you come to get help with studying at a higher level.

Actually, that’s what I did.  I came here and they helped me.  I didn’t even know how to use a computer.  They gave me the tools I needed and told me to come to them if I had questions with anything.  I really appreciate that.  If there’s anyone that comes to me asking for that same help, then I will do it delightfully, because I will be helping a dream.  The best thing to do is talk to people who know how to do it and who have been through the process.  And then the other thing would be to stay motivated.

Tell us about your life at university.  First tell us about your first year and the transition into a completely new life. 

The first few weeks of university I wanted to pack my bags and go back home.  It was very very hard. 

Did you know anyone at university?

Nobody.  I didn’t know any one.  I think I was the only one from Eshowe to Port Elizabeth.  And that’s what I wanted.  I just wanted to go to a new place where I didn’t know anybody and can just be myself.  But when I got there, I faced many difficulties.  One, because I am coming from a rural area, where I am taught literally everything—even English—in my home language, which is Zulu.  Even English classes were taught in Zulu.  So when I got to university, I experienced many different people from different tribes and races, and students who come from very good schools who are familiar with the language.  When I got there, I had to figure out the paper work.  When you get there, you have to register and get a student number.  You have to get a place to stay.  You have met your lecturers so that you know who will lecture you.  You know the buildings so that you don’t get lost.  So it was kind of hectic. 

 

 

When I got there, I had to improve my English a lot.  One, my English wasn’t very good, and they speak very fast which was one of my problems.  And they also use big English words, so I didn’t understand.  At times I would nod my head, even though I didn’t understand.  So in classes sometimes I wouldn’t even hear a word.  Other kids would be speaking English very fluently.  They would be very flexible.  When anyone spoke to me, my face would kind of change because I didn’t understand.  I would speak in low tones and make sure I didn’t make any mistakes.  But I would make mistakes even without realizing.  I would even realize later sometimes that I had made mistakes to my lecturers.

I realized that I needed to work on my English.  I need to practice more. I need to watch more TV and speak more with people I’m not shy to be around.  I even told my friends that I will speak English with them, so if I do any mistakes then please correct me on them.  I saw that as time went by, I got better.  But those first three weeks were very difficult for me.  It was really bad.  I would sleep at half past twelve in my first year, studying the lecture slides I didn’t understand and taking the dictionary.  I would search for a word in the dictionary, and then the description of the word I have to look for a certain word in the description that I also didn’t understand. It was very difficult.  But I actually strived and worked really hard, and it got a little better as time went by.  But yes, the transition was really bad and I just wanted to quit.  Then I said no that I wouldn’t quit.

Was it very difficult to make friends in university? Tell us about your friends.

Well in the Eastern Cape, it’s mainly Xhosa people and not Zulus. So I have Xhosa friends, English and Afrikaans friends, and I have the Vendas (another South African tribe).  I am friends with a mixture of races.  It was hard in the beginning to make friends, but as time goes by, they get used to me and get to understand me.

I wasn’t really hiding my situation.  When I speak with them and they didn’t understand me, I would try again.  I knew that my English wasn’t very good, but I would try again and they would appreciate that.  They would see me trying, and then they would help me.  But now, I have many friends. But in the beginning it was difficult.  In the beginning I had three friends.  And those three friends have stuck around until now. 

Do you have a roommate or what is your living situation like?

First year and second year I used to have a roommate.  But this year I am actually an academic mentor that is mentoring first years.  So I have my own single room, so they just come to me if they have academic problems or social problems.  I help them because I know of many resources on campus.  I am employed by the university.

The university pay for me to live on campus.  The incentive was to stay in a single room and they do give me a stipend every month.  The purpose is to help other students making the transition into university life.

 

Follow up questions – April 2016

What are you studying now? Do you enjoy your classes?

I'm currently busy with honours degree in Environmental Geography. I recently graduated in BSc Geosciences, which I was majoring in Geology and Geography.

The transition from high school to university was quite an incline. However, as time went by, I started to enjoy my classes. Now I do presentations in class and before the staff of department of Geosciences.

What do you want to do after university?

After university I want to work in any private environmental consultant company or work for government institutions like Department of Water and Sanitation or Department of Environmental Affairs. If I find it hard to get a job, I will start my own environmental consultant company and other small businesses.

What would be your dream job?

My dream job is to work as an Environmental scientist, with a specialty in water quality studies. This dream will answer to a common water crisis that Africa is facing, especially the remote areas of Africa where most African people do not have access to clean water. And I would also like to work as a Geologist, my love for rocks still rocks! 

Do you have any last words or things you would like to tell us about you?

What I can say really, is I'm no better person, little things that I have achieved don't prove that I am incredible intelligent person. I put more work in whatever I'm working on to achieve a goal.

I hear you want to go to USA?

Who doesn’t want to go to USA? (laughs)

 

Interviewer: Jennifer Bradshaw from Nevada, US
(Original intervju done in July 2015, additional questions added April 2016)

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