For former Southernwood Primary School headgirl Ayabulela Mahamba, being a leader has little to do with politics and everything to do with helping children rise above their circumstances.
Mthatha-born Mahamba, 21, now a final-year BCom accounting student at Nelson Mandela Metro University, started a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Aliwal North when she was just 19 and spends her university holidays helping children get through primary school.
“We moved from East London to Aliwal North after I completed Grade 7, and while I was in high school it worried me how many little children were without care.
“They are in homes, or with their grandparents, or their parents are very young.”
Mahamba was struck by how many youngsters were emulating their elders by falling pregnant early in life and said her NGO, the Mighty Walkers Foundation, aimed to stop the cycle.
“They have so much talent and potential but it becomes a trend to have babies when they are 13 because they think they can get a social grant.
“Then there is a new generation of children who are not being parented or guided.
“These children have no vision because they have no role models and so their dream is to be in a society where education is not valued and their aim is to get a social grant.”
Mahamba named the NGO Mighty Walkers because her surname means ‘to walk’.
She and her mother Nosabatha Phakathi, and other family members, reached out to school principals who identified needy children with potential.
These pupils are then given afternoon and holiday classes.
“We have 115 children aged from five to 11 and our aim is to get them through high school and to help some of them get scholarships in good schools.
“They also performed in a concert to fundraise for things like school bags, calculators and netball shoes.” While she was consulting with the Department of Energy for funding, Mahamba was referred to the Kouga Wind Farm in Oyster Bay, which was so impressed with her that it sponsored her trip to the International Student Energy Summit in Mexico last month.
“What stood out for us was her sense of community responsibility and the fact that she started her own NGO as a teenager, which is why we invested in her,” said Kouga Wind Farm’s liaison officer, Trevor Arosi.
At the summit, Mahamba met former lord mayor of London Fiona Woolf, who also was impressed with the student’s work in child development.
“It was life-changing,” said Mahamba. “She said I should be involved in humanitarian work and told me to send her an e-mail so she could maybe hook me up with a scholarship in humanitarian or development studies.
“But I first want to finish my studies and qualify as a chartered accountant as a gift to my mother.”
In the meantime, the dynamic young woman wants to spread her motivational message to schools around the province.
“I can be a leader and set an example without being in politics. For me leadership is not about holding rank, but about your actions.” — barbarah@ dispatch.co.za