Young people fought and died for freedom in this country. That’s why we have Youth Day tomorrow, June 16, but for many, like 20-year-old Naeela Green, of Manenberg, the struggle continues.
Naeela isn’t struggling for political freedom, but she is fighting for a better life and to be reunited with her child.
When Naeela was 3, she and her five siblings were separated and placed in different foster homes.
Naeela matriculated from Manenberg High School last year, but during that final year, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, she fell pregnant. History seemed to repeat herself, as her son was placed in foster care because she could not provide for him.
But last year, Naeela applied for a bursary from the Vulamathuba Empumelelo Bursary Fund to study teaching. The fund is for those from previously marginalised communities who want to study at an accredited institution of higher learning.
Naeela is now pursuing an Infant and Toddler Certificate from the Montessori Early Learning Foundation, funded by the Vulamathuba Empumelelo Bursary Fund.
Manager of Vulamathuba Empumelelo, Noma-Afrika Nkwenkwe-Maxwele, says the bursary fund is a way for individuals to get the sort of training that will improve their lives.
Naeela is determined to complete her studies and get her son back from the system, but she also wants to help young people from her community who find themselves in similar circumstances.
“It is a blessing because I know I can work hard to get my son back and better my life,” she says. “I want to especially give back to children so that they know they do not have to give up. I want them to fight for their dreams and know someone is always there.”
Good role models are pivotal in a young person’s life, she says, recalling how she found pillars of strength in some of her school teachers.
“Based on my own experience, I believe I can help children. A few teachers in my life, especially my geography teacher, managed to positively impact my life and helped me improve my self-esteem.
“Many children in my community often grow up quickly because of their situation at home. I want them to come to school and feel like kids and to be inspired to pursue their dreams.”
Naeela spends her free time volunteering at St Joseph’s Home for chronically sick children, in Montana, and at the SA National Zakah Fund office in Manenberg.
Naeela hopes to one day get her Master’s degree in education and open her own school and a shelter for young girls who are at risk.
Her advice to those who want to study further, especially young girls and women from similar communities as hers, is to surround themselves with people who inspire them and never let anything hold them back.
Raeesah Benjamin, who fostered Naeela since 2002, says she is a strong person who works toward her goals.
“She is an independent person, and she will go far. She has so much potential. I try my best to rear and guide her. I want her to become the best and not another statistic of Manenberg.”