Close your eyes and imagine yourself as the child in this situation.
You live in the poorest part of town, surrounded by neighbors struggling to survive. Your father is gone. Your mother tries to hold the family together by mopping floors at the local hospital. But the few dollars she earns are not always enough to put food on the table. So you have to be farmed out to relatives to find a decent meal. And your clothes are often hand-me-downs from your mother’s bosses.
What kind of child would you become? What would happen to your dreams? What would it take to turn your tale of woe into a story of success?
Like so many children born into families devastated by poverty, you might become a victim, giving up on yourself and your future. You might skip school, hook up with the wrong crowd, experiment with drugs or alcohol, end up in despair or in prison. We hear those kinds of stories on the news all the time.
But there is another scenario; one that starts out as we have described…but takes a different turn into hope, accomplishment and inspiration. It is the story of Nozibele Qamngana.
Nozi, as she is called, has defied the odds, achieving personal and professional heights beyond almost everyone’s expectations. Where she came from, how she soared, where she is now in her life and where she is headed, are all part of her incredible journey.
Nozi grew up in a black township in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Like most young girls she was into hairstyles, boys and having fun. But she also felt deeply responsible for helping her mother and her brother have a better life. And she believed in her heart that there was only one path out of poverty that was available to her—education.
“I’ve always loved going to school because it became my light at the end of the tunnel. I had to be the best student in the class because I felt the fate of my family was in my hands.”
And it was at school that Nozi connected with a startup non-profit that would change her life. It was called Ubuntu Education Fund, founded by Hearts on Fire Visionary Jacob Lief. Ubuntu is an Africa word with profound implications and obligations. It is a belief that all of us on the planet are connected as human beings, that we all deserve respect and that we must have each other’s back.
Nozi says Ubuntu became more than just an organization providing libraries and computer centers in township schools. It gave her educational support and encouragement. But it also provided much more.
“Ubuntu provided me emotional support, teaching me that I’m beautiful the way I am. And it counseled my mother, enabling her to provide a home of safety and stability.”
In 2003, Nozi took part in a cultural exchange, spending three weeks with families in New York, opening up a whole new perspective on the world and her place in it.
Five years ago, Nozi became the first in her family to earn a college diploma, graduating at the top of her class with a marketing degree. From there, she entered the world of business, working her way up the corporate ladder from internship to management.
Her hard work and positive attitude were paying off. But, in her heart, she felt something was missing, and she knew what it was. Nozi was about to take the road less traveled.
“I needed to go back home—to Ubuntu. While some may question why I chose a non-profit organization over a corporation, my answer is simple; I have the opportunity to relive the life of Nozibele Qamngana through the current Ubuntu Scholars.”
Today, Nozi is paying it forward, grateful that she can give hope and a voice to the thousands of children in Port Elizabeth who dream of a better life and can achieve it.
“I am part of a network of successful Ubuntu alumni who are changing the future of our country. And to me that has been enough.”