SHAPED BY MY CIRCUMSTANCES
Mellisa Engelbrecht’s life has all the external traits that would dictate a very bleak future. But Mellisa, 19, is breaking those assumptions and proving that determination really reaps results. She shares her story with us.
Born and raised in Hanover Park, Melissa was the youngest and only girl of three children. From a young age she was determined to never let her siblings – five and nine years older – boss her around.
Mellisa was raised by a single mother, she knows who her father is but they have no relationship.
“My father is a drug addict, I’ve seen him in our area but his almost always high. We’ve acknowledged each other a few times with greetings but have never had a conversation. Besides his drug problem, I know that I’m also not interested in him because of my mom. I am very close to her and she has warned me about him .”
“My mom is a factory worker but her work has always been on and off. Money was tight but we never went to bed hungry. We always had the basics and because we supported each other it made it easier. My brothers are older than me, I was too young to be with my eldest brother, but I had a close relationship with the other one. We would find games to play together and I would talk to him about school.”
During Mellisa’s primary school years that closeness changed when her brother (16) started to show signs of drug use.
“He was a good student at school, but we think he got involved with the wrong friends. I’m not sure the exact age he started using but his habit got really bad in high school, and he dropped out in Grade 9.”
As terrible as the situation was, Mellisa says that she still studied every day even though her brother would cause trouble at home.
“He was living at home, sometimes he would beg for money for drugs and cause my mom a lot of pain. When she refused, he would become agitated and bang against the windows and doors. It would make everyone feel unconfortable, wondering about what he would do next. It was really hard to see my mom go through that. I wanted to help her but I was young.”
“Other times, he would steal from us, it was terrible. I used to just shout at him and tell him to go away and leave us alone.”
Mellisa says that this lasted close to five years, until her Matric year, when her mother told her brother that he needed to move out.
“He was out of control and we just wanted him to go. We cared about him, but couldn’t help anymore. A few months before, we took him to a rehabilitation centre, he spent three months there and when he returned he went straigh to the habit. The nightmare started all over again and this time as a family we thought enough was enough.”
“He is currently living on the streets, the last time I saw him, he looked terrible. I feel sad for his choices and the fact that I couldn’t help him.”
Going through a difficult situation at home wasn’t easy, but Mellisa says that she would escape in her books. She used her brother’s experience as motivation to do well because she wants to prove that her circumstances will not define her life.
“My peers and people from my community think that if you are from Hanover Park and negative things happen at your home, then you can’t have a good future. I know this is not true and I want others to know as well. Another thing that also motivates me is providing a better life for my family.”
“I’ve always worked hard at school. When the other people in the area would be outside socialising, I would always be inside studying. I would also not allow my brother’s doings to affect my study time. When he would disturb us, I would make sure that afterwards I made up for the lost time even if that meant studying into the night.”
Mellisa worked extra hard in her Matric year and with the assistance of an organisation working at her school she applied to universities and for bursaries.
“I was never given guidance about what to study or how to apply for bursaries. They really helped me, we would spend Saturdays looking at different financial services available and we applied for many. When I was called by a company for an interview for a bursary I had applied for, I was nervous and excitted at the same time.”
“On the day I went for the interview there were so many other kids my age waiting to be interviewed. They were wearing suites and had laptops with them. I had gone in casual clothes with nothing else. I was worried, but kept telling myself that I’m going to be real and honest. During the interview I was proud of being from Hanover Park and I was able to explain how I had overcome my environment. My life experience has made me resilient and goal driven. A month later they called and told me that I was chosen.”
Mellisa later learned that she was one of three successful beneficiaries out of hundreds of applicants. She is currently at the University of the Western Cape studying for a Bachelors of Law degree (LLB).
Mellisa cocludes by saying, “I have learned that you should never be ashamed of where you come from. You have a choice in how you want your past to shape you. If you choose to challenge your circumstances and not get distracted by your life experiences, it is amazing what you can achieve.”
Mellisa is a Leaders’ Quest Alumnus, Leaders’ Quest in an intervention offered by Salesian Life Choices.