Olwethu Gobe


Many families and children move from the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape with the hope of finding employment and better education. We spoke to one youth who gave us an insight into the struggles she faced with moving from one world to another. Olwethu explains how despite setbacks, she completed matric at the age of 21 and is now furthering her studies to realize the dream of a better life.

Olwethu Gobe, 23, originally from Umthata in the Eastern Cape recalls what her life used to be like, ‘I lived with my grandmother because my mother had moved to Cape Town to be a domestic worker. She had separated from my father but I still visited him on holidays. We were five grandchildren in one house and relied on my grandmother’s pension to get us by. I was the first born and this meant I took on a lot of responsibilities to assist my grandmother with the children.’ Olwethu attended school but struggled to perform well due to her high absenteeism, ‘It was a two hour walk to school and I would often have to carry the younger children who could not walk that far. If one of the children was sick, or I needed to help my grandmother I stayed home and missed school. In grade four, I only attended school for three months as my grandmother became very sick and I needed to look after her.’  This meant Olwethu had to repeat some of her grades and only completed her primary school when she was 15.

‘Another challenge we faced was when my grandmother lost her pension. We then relied on the little money my mother sent, only R500 a month to survive.’ Olwethu took the initiative to report their struggle to a social worker and they were able to apply for a grant of R210 per month for the youngest child, ‘this helped us to survive. I decided to use some of this money to buy chips and sweets and sell at school.  In this way, I was able to make the little money to become a little more.’

She continued to attend high school for two more years in the Eastern Cape but when she turned 19 she made the decision to join her mother in Cape Town in a community called Delft. ’I struggled to find a school as I spoke very little English and no one would accept me. I was scared and it felt like I was in a foreign country.’ After two weeks Olwethu was accepted in a school where she began her grade 10. ‘I was glad to be in school but I struggled to make friends and I often sat alone.’ Olwethu began to grow in confidence when she joined a peer education programme at her school, ‘the programme helped me a lot and I began to socialize a little, I was determined to complete my high school and this motivated me not to give up.’

Life was still challenging, ‘Delft community is dangerous and I was robbed on many occasions. I was not used to being unsafe and this meant I could never walk outside after 18.00. After school and on weekends, I ran a food stall near the clinic, this helped in earning some money to live. But also meant I could only study in the evenings.’ Despite the struggle Olwethu passed her matric in 2010 at the age of 21, ‘I was so happy and proud of myself and I dreamt of going into law but unfortunately my marks were not good enough for university and I had to look at my choices again.’

Despite the disappointment of not being able to pursue her dream, Olwethu did not give up and she continued trying other things. ‘I applied for an internship with AVA and volunteered with them for four months. They placed me with an organization that was involved in social welfare; which made me happy, I felt like I was taking a small step towards my goal. This placement also helped me to gain confidence, I started to make friends with the other volunteers that were there.’

After the internship, Olwethu gained a bursary for an FET college – Northlink where she is currently studying civil engineering. ‘I have been back in school for nine months now, although it wasn’t my first career choice I love the work that I am doing. I used to think that engineering and construction was a man’s world but I have realized that it can be a woman’s world too. I enjoy working with my hands and I have enjoyed doing plumbing.’ Olwethu’s course is a total of three years and she is looking forward to a brighter future for her and her family.

We asked Olwethu what makes her unique and she said ‘I never give up. Failing is not the end, you must keep going and that is what I do every day.’

Olwethu was a Salesian Life Choices peer-educator.

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