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Nontando, Christel House South Africa Graduate

My name is Nontando Fani. I am currently working for the Chevron refinery in Cape Town, South Africa as an Environmental Specialist. I am married to a wonderful husband whom I met at University.

My life was not always filled with roses and daisies. Before Christel House, I was brought up in Langa, one of the oldest informal settlements in Cape Town. The settlements are where black Africans were relocated to during Apartheid. The section of the township where we lived was well known for its vast clusters of shacks – it was home to the poorest people.

At that time, I lived with my late mother, father and brother in a one room shack, which was made out of wood and other recycled material. This was our everything- our bedroom, our dining room, our kitchen. The bathroom and water supply was outside – shared by other families in the community. Proper sanitation and privacy still remain the ultimate desire for many families who live there. It is common for communal bathrooms to be shared by more than 10 families.

Growing up in Langa was a bitter-sweet experience. Sweet in terms of growing up with neighbors who cared and loved you like their own. We never went hungry for we all supported each other. Giving and sharing was a great principle I took out of those relationships.

Bitter in terms of being exposed to gang fights and crime from a very young age. My family was not immune. My mother was robbed and my father stabbed early in the morning on their way to work. Illness was always a threat. When someone in the settlement came down with TB, we knew that the majority of others would be affected too, due to the clustered living conditions. My entire family came down with TB at different times and it eventually took my mother’s life.

Fire was also a persistent fear. Not only could you lose your only belongings, but in such cramped living conditions the flames spread quickly and people died.

During that time, I did very poorly in my academics as studying for exams was always stressful; evenings were never quiet. Many people who live in the settlements abuse drugs and alcohol and get involved in street fights.

Growing up in our area, there was no one who attended University. One’s dream as a little girl would be to finish Grade 12 and then find work.

How Christel House impacted you and your family

Christel House transformed my life by breaking the cycle of poverty I was born into. It did not give me a fish to eat but taught me how to fish in order to be sustained for a long time through free quality education. To quote Tata Nelson Mandela, “Education is the greatest engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that a son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of a farm worker can become the president of a country, for education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. The quality education that Christel House provided changed life for me, the daughter of a domestic worker.

It was not only the quality education I got at Christel House, but character building and values were instilled from a very young age. I learned the true meaning of Respect, Responsibility, Integrity and Independence – the Christel House core values. I use these values daily in my job at Chevron as I relate to colleagues and rise to the challenges of my work.

My life was greatly impacted by Christel House through teachers who loved and cared for me and my classmates. My life was paved with a brighter and meaningful future. At times, my teachers even opened their homes so that I could study in a peaceful, safe environment. When my mom passed, I was in my second year of university studying chemical engineering. It was difficult. Although my dad was there, she was the breadwinner and my emotional support. Who was going to support me like she did? One of my professors even suggested I take a break from my studies and come back the following year. The day following my mother’s funeral, my dad took me to the train station to go back to class. Although I was already at university, I do not think I could have gone through that period of my life without the support from the Christel House staff who had become surrogate mothers for me. They supported me emotionally, spiritually and even financially.

Christel House changed my life by opening doors for me when I had absolutely nothing to offer. I arrived in 2002 as a below average student, could not speak in English and was very shy. I graduated in 2009 as the first valedictorian of Christel House South Africa. My school planted a seed in my life, watered and nurtured it through all my years at Christel House, during university and even now through career and life guidance.

I was fortunate to have opportunities which I never thought possible. I was able to travel to the United States, where I learnt leadership skills, developed self-confidence and met friends from all over the world. I was able to participate in extracurriculr activities, like choir, public speaking, sports and art.

Not only did Christel House impact my life but my family’s too. My parents had access to monthly programs ranging from budgeting to health and wellness. Through it all, hope was raised for a better tomorrow.

My life now

I am currently working for the Chevron Refinery which is based in Cape Town, South Africa. I am an Environmental Specialist, meaning that I am responsible for ensuring that our waste facilities are operating correctly. I track and audit the quality of groundwater at the refinery, schedule hazard assessments, provide field oversight for groundwater consultants and oversee contractor safety.

Outside of work, I am married to a wonderful husband whom I met at the university. He is a good man who has helped me grow and further develop my character to work towards my dreams. I am furthering my studies and working towards a second degree – a Bachelor of Technology in Quality Management, at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. I also serve at our church in the ladies’ leadership ministry.

My life is very different from the girls I grew up with. Many of them became teenage mothers which resulted in them dropping out of school to support their children. Some were exposed to gangs and became involved in drugs. Some have even died from drug and alcohol abuse. Others were forced to find work because their parents passed away and they needed to provide for their younger siblings.

I look at their lives and know that I was just steps from where they are now. I could have been another statistic to teenage pregnancy, drugs, unemployment, etc. Growing up in an environment where there were no role models could have steered my life in the same direction. Because of Christel House, I look at my life now and realize how fortunate I am to have been given such a great opportunity to break those chains in my life.

Seeing how my life could have ended up–was a great motivation. Seeing the world through the spectacles given to me at Christel House, now THAT made me work harder and reach for my dreams.


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