STANDING OUT FROM THE CROWD
For Anushqah Van der Venter, 16, from Manenberg life-changing decisions have played an important role in her short life. Perhaps the biggest decision has been to let go of a world-class education for the love of her dad.
Since the age of two, Anushqah’s mom became her teacher, ‘my mom used to take me to the library and show me picture books. At the age of seven I got my first library card. ‘Reading became my passion and any opportunity I had I ran to the library’. Anushqah remembers that in that time you were only allowed to take six books out of the library, ‘through my persistence, the librarian started allowing me to take seven books at time. I was so excited that I used to read a book per day.’ Anushqah brought the books everywhere, any time there was a break at school, she used the opportunity to read. In grade 2, 3 and 4 she got the ‘best reader’ diploma in school.
This passion for reading made Anushqah a top student. In the beginning of Grade 6, when Anushqah was 11, a teacher gave her an application form for the ‘Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy For Girls’. This initiated a one-year recruitment process, consisting of different stages: writing English and Maths tests, recording interviews and going to an interview at the academy. ‘From one stage to the other I used to wait few months, it was nerve wracking. I used to think, “there are so many clever girls in South Africa, why would they choose me?”
Two hundred girls reached the final stage of the interview and only fifty were chosen. After two months, Anushqah received a letter informing her that she had been accepted. ‘I felt on top of the world, it was a mix of excitement and a feeling of overwhelmed, I started crying.’
So when Anushqah was 12, she left her family behind to pursue her dream. ‘My first two terms were tough I was home sick. I missed my family’s cooking and their presence. Every day I went back to an empty bedroom, but I was thankful for the resources and level of education that were provided for free. My older peers and residency mothers comforted me and assisted me to deal with the transition.’
Every three months Anushqah visited home, ‘every time I walked out of the airport and saw my family I felt unbelievable. After all the hugs, I always asked my mother if she had prepared my favorite food, macaroni and cheese. Our routine was that on the way home, my mother read my school report and we discussed it. After that, for the rest of my holidays we did not talk about it’.
For three full years, Anushqah attended the academy and performed well. In the middle of the third year, in a visit home, her family told her that her dad was sick with lung cancer. Anushqah’s grandmother told her that he had accepted his condition and that the only thing he required was that the family did the same, ‘I started crying, I was afraid to lose him.’ Anushqah’s father started radiotherapy and Anushqah went back to the academy.
The next time Anushqah visited home, her dad was in a wheelchair. He had lost a lot of weight, become debilitated and was in a lot of pain. Anushqah said, ‘I continued praying and hoping that he was going to recover.’
In her forth year, things got worse. ‘There were few times I called home and my dad was unable to talk.’ Anushqah decided it was time to go home and be closer to her dad. Everyone tried to persuade her to stay but she decided to leave the academy.
After six weeks Anushqah’s father passed away, ‘I was grateful that I made the decision to come back. Only after he was gone, did I start to value his protective character and caring nature. When he was alive sometimes his nonsense really upset me but now I really miss it.’
To be back to Manenberg was not easy. I had gained mannerisms and a way of speaking English that made me look like a snob in the eyes of my peers. To adapt to a culture where studying is not the norm, teachers are back-chatted and if you carry a book you are made fun of, was complicated. But through dedication and flexibility I am able to manage it.’
‘I know myself and I believe that I can succeed and not be influenced by my surroundings. I am working hard to be able to fulfill my dream of becoming a Software Engineer and also teach. In my first year at Manenberg, I got five diplomas and a trophy for the best achiever of my grade. During my free time I am also helping other children in my community by tutoring them.’
When we asked Anushqah for her advice to others she said, ‘when you overcome one challenge you feel you can conquer the world. Keep going; do not give up on yourself and your capabilities. We are all born to succeed.’
Anushqah Leaders’ Quest participant, an intervention offered by Salesian Life Choices.