Help South African H.S. Grads Attend College

by Christel House International
Zola, Christel House South Africa Graduate
Zola, Christel House South Africa Graduate

Abandoned by her mother, raised by her father, valedictorian of her graduating class and admitted to Stellenbosch University—one of Cape Town’s most prestigious institutions—heartbreak, struggle and determination mark Zola’s journey.

When Zola M. tells the 12th grade class of Christel House South Africa to get their heads in their books, they listen. The no-nonsense 24-year-old is one of Christel House South Africa’s most respected alumni, who overcame difficult circumstances to fight her way into one of the country’s top universities.

Her father, Zolile, raised her from the age of 18 months after her alcoholic mother deserted them.

“He always wanted the best for me. I am from Langa, a township known for extreme poverty, but was sent to schools in more prestigious areas even though the fees and transport costs had to be shouldered by my dad, who worked as a driver for a car dealership.”

Her father was laid off when Zola was in the 3rd grade. He struggled to keep their heads above water, she recalled.

“One day, just before I was to start Grade 4, he sat me down and explained he could no longer afford to pay for me to attend school. He promised me he would sort it out soon and until he did, I was to go to the local library every day and read.”

On every school day in 2001, Zola would be at the Langa library when it opened. Her father would join her in the afternoon and tutor her in basic math.

“My dad wasn’t an educated man. He had passed Grade 4 when he dropped out to work and provide for his family. But he believed in the power of education. He wanted the best for me.”

That year her father, who later started a small takeaway business, heard of an independent school aimed at improving the lives of needy children. He took her to Christel House South Africa.

Full scholarships

Christel House offers full scholarships, meals, transport, uniforms, textbooks and learning materials to impoverished children.

Because Zola did not have a school report for that year, she was assessed to determine in which grade she would be placed.

“I was found to be competent for Grade 5. Because of those hours in the library, I was able to skip Grade 4.”

Her years at Christel House were among her best, she remembered.

“I took part in everything – choir, public speaking, you name it; I was there.”

In Grade 12, she was named the valedictorian.

“I was in tears and almost unable to talk when I spoke of my gratitude for my father and all he had done for me. My friends later told me my dad had been just as emotional. This was weird for me. My dad never cried.”

Zola applied at a number of universities after graduation, eventually settling on studying political science at Stellenbosch University.

“I remember my dad and me taking the train to this faraway place. We were broke. He had a bank bag of 10c and 20c coins to pay for our tickets.”

“My registration and fees came to over R10,000, but my dad stood outside as I followed the registration process without the cash.”

Kept going

“He told me to tell the assistants that he was a pensioner and to show them the marks I had achieved. When I did, I was sent to see a man in the finance department. He looked at my report, nodded, and signed a slip which I had to take with me. I didn’t pay for anything that day.”

Her father was proud that his daughter was going to attend one of the top universities in the country,” Zola said, smiling.

“He wasn’t a man of many words, though. But his face said it all. The years had been stressful for him and everything was finally coming together.”

After she completed her first year, Zola’s father died at the age of 70. She lost her home where she grew up after he passed.

“I kept going, remembering all he had taught me. He always told me to speak up and to be proud of where I came from. He insisted that I never allow anyone to make me feel inferior.”

She suffered from depression in her third year and dropped out of university in 2012.

“I realised I had no one. My dad had been the one who was always there for me,” she said.

“But in the past four years since I left, I have realised that I need to go back. After all the sacrifices he made, I owe it to him and to myself to get that degree. My dad didn’t spend his last coins to get me to Stellenbosch for me to simply walk away from it. I need this.”

She hopes to complete her studies part time while working at Christel House as the executive assistant to the CEO.

She spends time encouraging pupils, especially girls, to aim high and go on to bigger and better things.

“I try to teach them to be proud of who they are and where they come from. My dad taught me that. And I believe in looking people in the eye when I tell my story. It’s who I am. I need to own it.”

(Adapted from an article written by Tammy Petersen, News24)

Zola at the Langa Library where she went to study
Zola at the Langa Library where she went to study
Zola at Christel House South Africa
Zola at Christel House South Africa
Zola visiting the Langa community
Zola visiting the Langa community


Nontando at chemistry class in college
Nontando at chemistry class in college

This month, Nontando, a 2009 Christel House South Africa graduate, has been sharing her inspiring Christel House story in a 3-part update.

In case you missed her earlier updates:
Nontando Update (Part 1 of 3):
Nontando: Growing up in the Township
Nontando Update (Part 2 of 3): Nontando: How Christel House Impacted My Life

(Part 3 of 3)

I am currently working at Chevron Refinery, which is based in Cape Town, South Africa. I am an Environmental Specialist which means I am responsible for ensuring 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 and 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 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. But 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, was a great motivation. Seeing the world through the spectacles given at Christel House, NOW that made me work harder, sacrifice and reach for my dreams.

For children with statistically bleak futures, your support of Christel House South Africa opens the door to a brighter outcome. Your investment is so important to the lives of our students. We cannot do it without you. Thank you. 

Nontando, Environmental Specialist at Chevron Oil
Nontando, Environmental Specialist at Chevron Oil


Nontando as a Christel House student
Nontando as a Christel House student

This month, Nontando, a 2009 Christel House South Africa graduate, is sharing her journey from shanty town to Chemical Engineer. If you missed part 1 of her update, you can read it here: Nontando: Growing up in the Township

(Part 2 of 3)

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 a free, quality education. I 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 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 freely gave changed life for me, the daughter of a domestic worker.

It was not only the quality education I received 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 really paved with a brighter and more 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 hard. Yes, my dad was there, but she was the bread winner 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 return 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 Christel House staff who became 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 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 USA, where I learnt leadership skills, developed self-confidence and met friends from all over the world. I was able to participate in extramural activities, like the school 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.

Thank you for your support of Christel House South Africa students. Check your inbox soon for Part 3 of Nontando’s story.

Nontando receiving an award in 7th grade
Nontando receiving an award in 7th grade
Nontando at her high school graduation
Nontando at her high school graduation


Nontando with her husband
Nontando with her husband

Nontando is a 2009 Christel House South Africa graduate. Over the next few weeks, we are excited to share with you a few updates written by Nontando. She will share with you her experience growing up in the shanty towns of Cape Town, South Africa, her journey at Christel House and about where her education led her. She has a truly inspiring story and we know you will love hearing from her.

My name is Nontando. I am currently working at 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 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 of wood and other recycled materials. This was our everything—our bedroom, our dining room, our kitchen. The bathroom and water supply was outside—shared by other families within 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 bittersweet 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 tuberculosis, we knew that the majority of others would be affected too, due to the clustered living conditions. My entire family came down with tuberculosis 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. Constant worry was a norm during paydays as candles or cooking fires would be lit by people who passed out from drinking or fell asleep.

During that time, I did 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.

Thank you for your support of Christel House South Africa students. Check your inbox soon for Part 2 of Nontando’s story.

Nontando in the township
Nontando in the township


Kristen, 2010 Christel House Graduate
Kristen, 2010 Christel House Graduate

By Kristen Matthews, Christel House South Africa, 2010 graduate

“I was nine when I started at Christel House in 2002. I had already learnt the ways of hardships and poverty. My mom worked long hours and my father was unemployed, so every day after school, my brother and I ran home to fetch our baby sister from the neighbor’s house. We would juggle changing diapers, doing homework and doing our chores before our parents got home to a meal cooked by one of us.

Growing up in notorious Manenberg (a township in Cape Town), I always hoped for something better­­–­­­a big home filled with toys and happiness. But my home was no different than our neighbors’ homes, where substance, physical and drug abuse are served with breakfast, lunch and supper. Unemployment is high. Poverty greets you at dawn, gunshots wish you goodnight and drug addicts want to be your friends. But, Christel House was my safe haven.

There, everything changed. I went from unhappy and unlucky, to being the happiest and luckiest kid ever! At Christel House I was taught values, morals, etiquette, communication skills, emotional intelligence, education, happiness – everything. The journey of Christel House was precious. From being picked up in the morning, to receiving wholesome meals, quality education and lifelong values, I learned Christel House was my family. 

A Christel House teacher taught me fencing and later I became a qualified fencing coach. On weekends, I offer free fencing lessons to children in Manenburg. I also help young people from my community make decisions about their future, apply to school or find meaningful jobs, just like Christel House helps me and 190 other graduates.

I am now a final year student at university, completing my Sports Management qualification. At Christel House, not only did I learn to become independent, responsible and respectful, but I also have what I know is the foundation to living a successful life – integrity.”

Your support is helping Christel House South Africa students, like Kristen, attend college, pursue their careers and accomplish their dreams. That’s the power of your investment.

Kristen is a qualified fencing coach
Kristen is a qualified fencing coach



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Christel House International

Location: Indianapolis, IN - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Bobbi Bosch
Indianapolis, Indiana United States
$2,695 raised of $25,000 goal
25 donations
$22,305 to go
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