It is not often that children make sacrifices for their parents’ education. Cassidy Van Der Byl explains what can be achieved through family unity.
Cassidy (16) is the middle sister of three siblings, she has an older brother (20) and younger sister (11), who were all born and raised in Hanover Park.
“We were raised by both of our parents who have been married for 21 years, I remember my parents being loving and respectful towards each other all the time. They both grew up in Bonteheuwel and have had to make sacrifices from a young age. I know when my father was in high school he had to drop out in Grade 10 because his family was struggling financially and he needed to work to help out at home.
“Growing up, we heard stories of how my father had to work hard for his family. My parents wanted the best for us and we were often motivated to work hard at school and to be passionate about education because it can change our lives.”
Committed to changing the life of their family, Cassidy’s parents made the decision that her father would enrol in a bridging course while the kids were young.
“My parents’ ultimate goal was for my dad to eventually study teaching and a few years after the course, when I turned nine, he started studying full-time at the University of the Western Cape. My mother who was always a stay-at-home mom began working in a factory. The thing I remember the most about that time was that I went from seeing my father often during the day to not seeing him that much. He worked as a security guard at night and studied during the day.”
To make up for not seeing Cassidy often her father would find ways for them to spend time together.
“I would ask my father about his day and he would tell me that he read books and sat in class. A great memory I have was when I was ten years old and he took me to university with him. I think he was excited to show me around the campus, and to introduce me to his friends. I was happy to be there and see what he was doing all day. I thought it would be like school, but it was much bigger than what I thought, my dad also introduced me to some of his friends. They all knew who I was and said that they were happy to finally meet me because my dad spoke about me and my siblings to them often.”
Cassidy says that while her father was pursuing his studies the family went through some tough times.
“My dad began working part-time to cope with his studies, even though my mom also worked hard to provide for us, it was a difficult time. I remember my mom calling my aunty who worked at a feeding scheme and asked if she could help us because we didn’t have food in the house. My mom never told us, but I overheard her on the phone talking about what we were going through. On the many occasions that my aunt agreed to help us, we would ask our neighbours for taxi fare to get to her.”
Cassidy adds that because she was the eldest girl her mother started calling on her to help the family.
“When I was about 12, my mom lost her job so things got even more difficult at home. My mom began sending me to the neighbours to borrow money often. In the beginning the neighbours didn’t mind, but after a while it was embarrassing because they would say that your mommy owes us money already, how can she borrow more.
“Every month was the same, in the beginning my mom would buy food and keep some aside for our transport to school and my dad’s studies… there wouldn’t be much left. I always knew that by the third week I would need to go to the neighbours. I hated doing it, but I knew my mother needed my help and that when my father graduated from varsity then everything would be better.
“There were things that I missed out on, there would be school outings I couldn’t go to, or when there was casual day at school I couldn’t afford the R5 I needed to pay to wear normal clothes, so I would be one of the only children at school wearing my school uniform. It was hard to feel excluded, I went through a stage when I would get sad about what was happening in our family, but my parents would tell me to have patience and that things would eventually change.
“My mom would tell me that my dad is only studying for four years and that things would change when he got his degree. I couldn’t be upset with him because he was working hard for our benefit. We just needed to sacrifice a bit.”
Committed to her family and knowing that they need help, Cassidy would always find ways to make home life better.
“Once I picked up a R20 on the street, it was such a good day because I could give my mother money for food. I thought about using the money for myself, but I knew we needed the money, and it felt good being able to contribute.”
“I remember the night my mom went to my father’s graduation. She looked so happy and proud of him, and my dad was equally happy. None of the children went but we saw photos afterwards and felt really proud of him. A couple of weeks later my father came home with his degree certificate, I felt so proud of my dad when I saw it because my mom said that this is what we were all striving for.”
Fortunately for Cassidy’s family due to her father’s good marks he was placed into a teaching position shortly after graduating.
“It happened almost just as my parents predicted. A year after my father graduated he was working and everything began changing at home. So much so that now, a few years later the same neighbours that we would borrow money from are now lending from us. It feels good to be able to help them the way they helped us.”
In conclusion Cassidy says, “My life has showed me that unity can achieve anything. My family sacrificed towards a dream that we could never have achieved without each other. We got through that time because we were open and acknowledged what we were all going through. We dreamt together and our love for one another pulled us through the challenges. I believe if more families worked as a unit, communities would become better places for all of us.”
Cassidy is a Leaders’ Quest participant