Posted: 6 May, 2019

“I want to be to others what Aunty Christina was to me.”

Marelize Matthyse is a first year B.Ed student at the University of Stellenbosch. The 24 year old was born, raised and schooled in Jamestown; a residential community 40km’s east from Stellenbosch central. The community has two schools; Weber Gedenk Primary and Stellenzicht High School where a large percentage of learners are from surrounding farms.

Involvement at Usiko

Usiko Stellenbosch is a Jamestown based Youth Development Project. The organisation presents several rites of passage programmes in schools. Their School based programme aims to assist learners with the transition from primary school to high school, with the goal to prevent school drop-out and promote healthy development. Marelize took part in these programmes from Grade 7 to Grade 9.

“Usiko was a place where you could talk freely about your circumstances. I gained self-confidence at Usiko. I used to be really shy and withdrawn.”

Usiko is a Zulu derivative word with an all-encompassing meaning, including ‘first ritual’ and ‘new beginning’. True to its name, it was specifically the check-in and check-out ritual where each person had to say their name, how they feel and what they have learned, that elicited a sense of courage and boldness, adding to Marelize becoming comfortable with sharing her feelings. Her enhanced self-confidence along with the guidance and reflective space created by the programme set her life on a new meaningful trajectory. Supplementary to the programmes, its structure and content, it was one of the mentors, Aunty Chirstina, who had the biggest impact in her life.

“I could and still can speak to Aunty Christina about everything, especially because I cannot speak to my mother as she is not always in the position to help me, mostly due to her drug abuse. Aunty Christina is very encouraging and always offers to help.”

Family life

Marelize is the oldest of four children; two sisters and a brother. She and her siblings; twenty, eighteen, and ten years old, reside with their grandparents. According to Statistics South Africa’s general household survey of 2011, 8% of children live with their grandparents of which 65% live in a household with a per capita income of less than R650 a month.

Marelize and her siblings used to live with their parents in what Marelize describes as a supportive and loving home. Her father became ill and sadly passed away two years ago. The devastation of her father’s death was too unbearable for her mother to handle and she numbed her pain and feeling of loss by using drugs. The drugs made her mother act outside of her normal character and in a very short space of time their happy and secure home fell apart. Fortunately, Marelize and her siblings could rely on their grandparents to step in, although, the added financial responsibility of four children on two pensioners might be a heavy load to carry.

Education journey

The mentioned obstacles did not weigh Marelize down; she was set to continue on the chosen path she set for her life of becoming a teacher and a respectful member of society. When Marelize first applied to study teaching at the University of Stellenbosch, her application was rejected because her Grade 11 marks did not comply with the requirements set by the university. Determined to follow her dream she worked hard and by the end of Grade 12 she obtained the required marks. Unfortunately, Marelize was unaware that she could immediately re-apply with her new marks and decided to revisit her situation and goals. She then enrolled to study financial management at Boland College. After her studies, she struggled to find a job and in the process was reminded of her passion and dream of working with children.

After hearing that Marelize was unemployed, Arnold, the director of Usiko, offered her an internship, where she helped with administration duties for four months.

“Those four months at Usiko were a huge blessing. The staff encouraged and assisted me throughout the application process. Arnold kept on saying that he is proud of me. That meant a lot to me. They also contributed financially towards my studies at Stellenbosch. I am thankful for the opportunity to follow my dream.”

Lessons from her life

Marelize is motivated to make a success of her life, for the sake of herself and her siblings. It has not been an easy journey. She has learnt throughout all the difficulty that she encountered to stay grateful and phrase her life in a positive manner; there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Today she is a stronger person who wants to encourage others to stay positive and never give up. Beginning 2018, Marelize enrolled herself as a mentor at Usiko and later this year she also availed herself as a volunteer at the Usiko Aftercare programme. She recognised that by choosing to ask for help and be mentored she could choose the path of her life amidst her circumstances. Now it is her turn to be a role model to the other young people in her community. It is her time and her honour to be a mentor and give back what was given to her.