‘DON’T THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX; BLOW UP THE BOX AND BE PHENOMENAL’
Life has never been a walk in the park for Nicola Jacobs from Bonteheuwel. Growing up in a single parent household was particularly tough for her as her mother suffers from Bipolar disorder, a mental health condition that affects over four million South Africans. Nicola has just recently turned 17 and is already in her matric year. A top student in her school and on her way to university, Nicola shares her story of the challenges she needed to overcome in order to achieve her dreams.
‘Life was difficult. I faced a lot of emotional turmoil as a child as my parents divorced when I was only a year old and my mum has Bipolar disorder. Despite being young, I grew up very quickly, learning to manage my mum’s episodes and supporting her emotionally while maintaining my grades at school.’
Nicola’s father supported her when he could. Despite a troubled relationship, the two of them grew to be close. It affected Nicola greatly when her father was arrested and given a prison sentence. Her schoolwork declined and trying to cope with her home life became even more challenging.
‘My father has been in prison for six years now,’ she says. ‘I went through many phases: denial, withdrawal from people around me, self harm and using food as a comfort. I wasn’t coping.’
Two years ago, Nicola turned life around. ‘Forgiving my father was key. We are now in a stage of reconciliation. I still visit him when I can. I needed to take charge of my own life and use my anger as a motivator to achieve my goals and that is what I am doing now.’
Nicola is a member of her school’s Student Representative Council and last year took part in a competition, Innovate the Cape, which saw her and her team take 2nd place for her imaginative idea of a Lumo Board.
‘I was in a taxi one afternoon on my way home from school. As we drove past an informal settlement, a random thought crossed my mind. I wondered how emergency personnel locate the homes of the people that need their attention in serious, life-threatening situations at night. Many informal settlements do not have adequate infrastructure or proper lighting. I developed the idea of creating a board that would have the house number made of a fluorescent, glow-in-the-dark paint or reflective material that would be visible at night. This board would be known as the Lumo Board.’
Nicola has written and essay on her innovative idea, which is due to be published. She was also nominated to give a Ted talk in Switzerland. She plans to study law at university so that she can become a family lawyer.
‘I want to give children a voice who cannot speak for themselves,’ she says. ‘I am passionate about community development and this is how I want to use my skills and my life.’
In sharing her life motto Nicola says, ‘Don’t think outside the box; blow up the box and be phenomenal. Youth need to dream big. They have the power to change the world.’
Nicola represents many youth who are struggling but she demonstrates that young people can achieve anything if they choose to take all the opportunities life has to offer. ‘Tough times don’t last forever but tough people do. Take charge of your life and keep focused on your goals. If you don’t, who will?’
Nicola is a former Leaders’ Quest participant, and intervention offered by Salesian Life Choices