On the 16th of June 1976 in Soweto many students went to school but never made it back home due to a political uprising. Such uprisings back then had become the order of the day because of what the political climate of the country had become. June 16 has been remembered since 1976 as the day to celebrate African children through their various struggles across the continent. Symbolized by an unpleasant picture of Hector Peterson’s lifeless body being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo desperately trying to escape bullets by the police. Young Hector along with many other youth’s lives were stolen. In South Africa the day was since declared a public holiday.
Fast forward 39 years, it is heartwarming to come across students who have gone through what may have seemed like insurmountable obstacles to reach a degree of self actualization. Hani Thusi and Ketelelo Moapare are students at Maru-a-Pula Secondary School. Thusi is on his first year of A-levels. He has already published the first of his series of children’s books ‘Little Yungo the Village Saviour’ and will be launching it in the Bahamas next week. Moapare comes from New Xade and is on his second scholarship. He recently finished A-levels and is on his way to Michigan to further his studies. What they have in common is that they acknowledge hitting rock bottom at some point. How they got through their challenges looking back is what gives them their daily dose of self motivation. Hoping to inspire other youth to persevere, they shared their individual experiences in celebrating the African youth’s ability to overcome struggles daily.
Thusi once attempted suicide for at the time his grades had fallen to a point where he thought they could not get any better. “That was a time when I was living for basketball so much that I had forgotten that I was at school to study. Unfortunately we can’t be allowed to remain at MaP if our grades are not satisfactory so I was basically staring expulsion in the face. That became a very difficult situation I found myself in,” said Thusi. He reminisced over how bad he did in English – he didn’t think one day he would write anything worthy of publishing. “My friend Thero Makepe is an amazing artist so he was the perfect candidate for illustrations. If it wasn’t for him this book wouldn’t have been possible,” said Thusi. He remembered the sleepless nights chosen over hanging out with friends. The completion of the book restored so much of his confidence to study his grades shot back up.
“Through a lot of support from MaP I learnt that our circumstances shouldn’t define us. If I’m born poor it’s not my fault but if I die poor it is my fault and that lesson is taught to us every day whether we internalize it or not,” he said.
Moapare was raised by his grandmother as his mother passed away just 3 days after he was born. “Anybody growing up in that kind of situation would find it very difficult like I did,” said Moapare. But one day in his early childhood, there was a decision made to move all his people from where they were living in Mothomelo inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to a place about 300 kilometers away, now called New Xade which translates to ‘looking for life’. Moapare and his clan along with many other Basarwa clans found themselves having to adapt in a place far from home. Then Moapare was already about 5 years old and said he had very little recollection of what happened as he was only little. “I often hear older family talking about it and apparently the transition was unpleasant,” he said. Moapare said fortunately a plan was soon made to put children in school which he has very fond memories of even though in the beginning having to learn in only Setswana and English was a mammoth task. “All we ever communicated in was Sesarwa, all of a sudden we would get whipped when we spoke Sesarwa in school. Now I speak fluent English, Setswana and Sesarwa!” he exclaimed.
“I came across Ketelelo during my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in New Xade. That day my solar-powered fan had just broken and was spewing black smoke. I decided to give it to this young boy to play with rather than discard it. I watched him take it apart and put it back together, only this time it was working!” said Ed Pettitt, Senior Project Coordinator at the Botswana-Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence, who at the time served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in New Xade for 2 years. “Impressed by the San boy’s seemingly high IQ, I decided to take him under my arm and involve him in development programs such as a library project sponsored by the African Library Project where he developed his love for books,” he said.
Pettitt watched as Moapare excelled in school so much that by the time he completed his Peace Corps service and had to leave New Xade he already could see him going places. In 2012 Moapare passed his Form 5 with flying colours and was awarded by the Minister of Education a scholarship to further his studies. “I was sitting by the fire listening to the news on radio this one morning and it was announced that I was a top achiever in the Ghanzi area. I had the best grades in the District and that was the moment I knew I was turning a new leaf,” he said. Moapare accepted the top achievers scholarship with both hands from the Minister. Coincidentally, Pettitt was back in Botswana at the time to see to the completion of a different project. “I offered to help him find school placement; it was already too late to apply for university so we approached the Principal at Maru-a-Pula School for a place in A-levels. A few days later Ketelelo was sitting in class,” said Pettitt.
“In the beginning it was very hard to fit in with other kids at MaP, to a point where I had to seek counseling, it was hard to make friends. That was when I realized cultural differences are real. With the help of the school counselor I eventually adapted and managed to maintain excellent grades,” said Moapare. He just did very well in his A-levels and with a lot of help from the school career guidance office has been awarded yet another scholarship ÔÇô a MasterCard Foundation Scholarship – to study Engineering at Michigan State University in the United States. ”I chose Engineering because I feel a lot of problems that my country faces could be solved by Engineers, looking at the water and electricity crises for instance,” said Moapare.
Thusi and Moapare said they will carry on believing in their inner ability to adapt in search of a better life for themselves and their community. They believe that people like Pettitt are there for a reason and will forever be thankful for the mentorship they give. One thing that keeps them going in the uphill academic struggle is self motivation, always available to motivate themselves when all other motivation fades and they will go far. They will never forget where they are from, they are so in tune with their inner selves and would really advise fellow youth to also be in tune with their own inner guide that says ‘go do your home work, go prepare for the next lesson or exam.’ Education can become a parent to an orphan, they figured. “Young Africans should use their own stories of hardship as inspiration to get a better life for themselves rather than waiting for someone to bring them a motivational story,” Thusi said.