“Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”  Nelson Mandela

Zanele Hobongwana, born and bred in the humble township of Kwa-Nobuhle in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape, is a Geologist by profession with a passion for education and youth empowerment.  Mother to a 1-year-old, she is the youngest of four children raised by a single mother. Upon completing matric Zanele studied in UFS and NMMU and obtained an Honours Degree in BSc Geology.  Now an entrepreneur, she runs a tutoring company and has trained and employed disadvantaged university students to work as tutors and run the business.

“I decided to pursue what I am passionate about: youth and education, and in the process to empower others.”

When asked what inspired her, Zanele said, “I have always been motivated by education and the development of my community. I am passionate about teaching and uplifting young people in my community and influencing others towards achieving a common goal. That goal is to conquer and erase poverty and illiteracy to allow us to fight the socio economic impacts faced in my community.” She said this with such passion and love in her voice. 

Showing these girls that their lives can be transformed by education and self-belief

Winnie Was a Girl, an NGO begun by Zanele, supports young girls academically, primarily in science and business, and by empowering and grooming them as future leaders. Some of these girls come from backgrounds of great poverty, with many falling pregnant at an early age and others dropping out of school. The initiative’s aim is to show these girls that their lives can be transformed by education and self-belief. By offering a number of classes and activities, the organisation helps keep the girls busy after school and on weekends.  In many cases, the girls don’t graduate with these programs, but Winnie Was a Girl helps them not only finish strong, but also develop their talents and complete their education.

It’s possible to be successful no matter what your background is

The program teaches the girls self-dependence and self-confidence, important tools for the girls to have a great future.  Mentorship programs that showcase other strong women provide excellent role models, showing that it’s possible to be successful no matter what your background is. Saturday and after-school classes during the week help the girls successfully complete their homework, especially for mathematics and science. And on weekdays the Debating Society meet to discuss what is going on around the country and in their communities.

When asked how she motivates these girls to keep their focus, regardless of what is happening around them, and where she sees this program in five years, Zanele answered, “As a woman who grew up in this community and survived similar conditions, I managed to study and succeed. I always share my story with them. As the Xhosa proverb says ‘Inkomo isengwa ngoyaziyo’ meaning a cow can only be milked by the person who knows it. I always remind the girls of their self-worth. I hold events and invite iconic community leaders to speak to the girls. We also receive donations from donors for stationery and sanitary pads.  Some of the girls are going to the next level of their lives, as teenagers, and as the leaders of this beautiful country of ours.”

#ImStaying applauds Zanele Hobongwana and all those involved in supporting Winnie Was a Girl. This initiative is pouring into those young women that will lead and impact the future of South Africa.

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