MARILEE VAN DER MERWE thought that 2015 would be the year she would have to give up her education to find work. But things are look brighter than ever for the 22-year-old from Atlantis. She told Raâ€™eesa Pather what changed.
I persevered all through high school and made it to university, to study for a BCom in finance, but I thought 2015 would be the year Iâ€™d have to give up my education to go work.Â There just isnâ€™t enough money for studies, books, transport, and everything that goes with it.
I live in a garage with my mother and sister. Mom works as a cleaner and gets paid R800 a week. Sheâ€™s been on a housing waiting list for 18 years.Â We rent a garage at someoneâ€™s place. Thereâ€™s no toilet; no taps with running water. We use an outdoor tap to wash up.
People think itâ€™s a sad story, but itâ€™s not. We do our best. Iâ€™ve learned that your circumstances donâ€™t determine where you will be one day.
My mom doesnâ€™t want me and my sister to be in these circumstances; she wants whatâ€™s best for us. Sheâ€™s got a lot of debt because she made loans so that we could have the best she could give.
This year looked impossible. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme wouldnâ€™t give me money to study, so I went through the newspaper looking for bursaries, and I read this article about the Imam Abdullah Haron Education Trust.
I took a chance and I applied. When I got the email that I received the bursary, it meant so much to me. I was so happy, and my mom too. They pay R10,000, which is basically half of my studies. Itâ€™s a huge help for my mom.
Iâ€™ve had to sacrifice many things to get through the year. I didnâ€™t have the resources many students have. On campus, I didnâ€™t have money for food. I have to borrow textbooks from the library and sometimes the textbooks canâ€™t be taken out of the library or they are only for overnight loan. I didnâ€™t have a laptop, and it was difficult because I could never submit my assignments on time. I was still driven to work hard though, knowing that eventually I would get there.
After I got the bursary, the Cape Times shared my story and people just wanted to help. The university told me they would pay my outstanding fees and that they would see that I have a place to stay near campus. Iâ€™m so happy. I never expected all this help.
When I put the article on Facebook, my friends were inspired, because they didnâ€™t know about the conditions we live in. My friends never come to visit us. Even now, some of them donâ€™t believe that I stay in a garage. Inviting people to our house was never an option. I donâ€™t like people to feel sorry for me. Thatâ€™s why I would rather try my best, even if I donâ€™t have as much as others.
Things are still difficult. I havenâ€™t moved into the new accommodation yet so I have to get up at 4.30am to catch the 6am bus to campus. I get there by 8am and only get home again by 6pm.Â But I know Iâ€™m not the only one going through this. Iâ€™ve learned to have a positive attitude towards my circumstances.
My dream is to get my degree and start businesses. I want to create opportunities for other young people. Our community is filled with people who donâ€™t have hope for tomorrow anymore. They donâ€™t believe there are any opportunities for them.
I want to open an internet cafÃ©, and I want to create an atmosphere for students to go there, and do their assignments. It must be a community business, where young people can make education a priority.
Iâ€™m so thankful, because now, my life has changed. When those people told me they have a place for me to stay, I was so happy I could cry. I want to do my best this year. I see myself among the top students and thatâ€™s where I want to be. I have big dreams despite what we are going through.