Siphosihle Xoki, 17, a Grade 11 student, has a shy disposition, making it hard to believe that she recently represented the Western Cape at a national public speaking competition hosted by the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation. A dedicated and hard worker, Siphosihle joined the Leaders’ Quest programme from Salesian Life Choices in the beginning of this year. “I originally joined Salesian Life Choices because I thought it would help me with my studies. Leaders’ Quest offers academic tutoring to learners each Saturday, so I thought I did not have anything to lose by joining. I had no idea that I would gain so much more with the programme. Especially the leadership workshops, they have  made me think about myself differently – more positively.” Siphosihle grew up in Khayelitsha, she is the daughther of a domestic worker and a taxi driver. Talking about her parents, Siphosihle tears up as she says: “My parents are my rolemodels, they have always worked hard to give me and my brother a good life. My mother especially has always motivated me to be better and to succeed through education.” With her first language being Xhosa at home, Siphosihle’s parents thought it would be good for her to learn how to speak English and so they enrolled her to attend English medium schools since Grade R. An attribute that led heavily to Siphosihle’s success as a Public Speaker. Her journey into Public Speaking began when Siphosihle’s Grade 10 Life Sciences teacher, Mrs May told them about the Department of Water and Sanitation Youth Summit’s Public Speaking Competition held in Johannesburg. “Mrs May would always tell us about the previous learners who took part in the summit. I always wanted to enter but I never believed that I could do it. But this year when Mrs May approached eight of us to enter the competition, I was ready because I felt good about myself. I think being part of Salesian Life Choices definitely had something to do with me entering the competition. Since the beginning of the year, our coaches told us that where we are born doesn’t need to dictate where we are going. We worked with this message in so many different formats that after a while I started to believe in it. This made me feel that I can do anything I choose to and that competitions like these are not only for other people.” “Mrs May told us that we needed to do research on the uses and threats to ground water for environmental purposes. We had to write about 800 words and speak about it in front of a panel from the Department of Water and Sanitation.” Siphosihle says that the timing of the competition proved very challenging because it was the same time as the beginning of the June exams. “Only four of us remained in the competition after the others dropped out.  My peers said it was too challenging because we had never been taught about ground water in class and because it was exam time so they couldn’t spare the time for the project. But I committed myself, I would work on the speech after school and over the weekend. The extra classes I received at Leaders’ Quest really helped me because it prepared me for the exams and allowed me to have time to work on the speech.” “I know that if I didn’t receive the leadership training from Salesian Life Choices I might not have stayed on and I would have dropped out like the others. One of the leadership modules was about ‘Your Story’ and for few weeks I worked on my life story and publicly presented it to my peers and the staff. This gave me a lot of confidence on my public speaking. With the training, I also began seeing myself as a leader and understood the importance of commitment and hardwork. Even though it was difficult I knew that if I gave my best in the end it would pay off.” Two weeks after giving her written speech to Mrs May, three officials from the Department came to Siphosihle’s school and she presented her speech to them. Siphosihle and her peers were told that the officials are visiting other Western Cape schools and that they would be told who was chosen after two weeks. “I was writing my second last June exam when Mrs May said that she wanted to see me after the exam. When Mrs May told me I was chosen to represent the Western Cape, I couldn’t believe it.” “I was so excited, in the past I would have describe myself as a shy person and would never think I would do well in public speaking. I was so happy that I had proven myself wrong.” After a week, Siphosihle  left for Joburg. In Johannesburg for the first time, Siphosihle says that she was overwhelmingly excited and that she had opportunities to listen to speeches about the value of water and also met the Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation Affairs Pamela Tshwete. On the day of the competition, Siphosihle says she was nervous but prepared. “While sitting in a room before we were going to present I looked around, and the others had cue cards, but because I memorised my speech I thought it was an advantage for me. The judges gave us ten minutes to present.” “I had never spoken in front of that many people, I just kept telling myself I can do it and pushed myself to do it.” “The girl before me was really good. When I did my speech, I skipped a line, but I just thought to continue because I didn’t want to mix up. All the others used a famous quote in their speeches and I didn’t. But I kept thinking that I am being true to who I am, and that I was just grateful to be there and be given this opportunity.” Siphosihle says that nothing could prepare her for what was going to happen next. “When they were announcing the winners and they said, number three Gauteng, number two Siphosihle Xoxi from the Western Cape. I couldn’t believe it, I was so happy.” Siphosihle was awarded a bursary to study any water-related career at any university in the Western Cape. “I don’t think I would have been able to succeed in this competition without my friends, my mom and Salesian Life Choices. Exercises like when we had to make a dream chart really let me see what I want and where I want to go. So when we were told about this competition I knew I wanted to go to Johannesburg because it represented a step closer to my successful life.” “I know now that I am a public speaker and a leader in the making. I know that I wouldn’t have had the courage to agree to enter the competition or the commitment and focus to complete the speech if I didn’t believe in myself – I learned that from Salesian Life Choices.”
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