Cape Town: The student revolt that rocked the Western Cape in 1985 cut short Vanessa Ontong’s Standard 6 year. She repeated the standard the following year, passed, moving on to Standard 7, only to quit school in the middle of 1987.
She held down a few jobs, with no great prospects in sight considering her high school dropout status.
At this stage Vanessa’s story sounds sad. But it actually gets worse. In 1999, the single mother was involved in a horrific motor vehicle accident. She was paralysed from the waist down. The prognosis was that she would never walk again.
But those who thought that the young woman from Belgravia, Athlone, would give up and spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair didn’t consider her courage and grit. She fought her way back to mobility.
Today, aged 40, she walks with the aid of a walking stick. But she’s walking and not in a wheelchair. And what’s more she is eyeing a tertiary education, her goal to study social science as part of her mission to contribute to changing and improving her community from within.
On Thursday, she will walk on stage with 48 others to collect a diploma for successfully completing a Higher Education and Training Certificate in Development Practice (SAQA ID 23095) course offered by the Athlone-based Fundamentals Training Centre (FTC).
This is a fully accredited NQF Level 5 qualification which is in line with FTC’s vision of developing South Africa’s future leaders through a programme called Building Capacity to Lead and Govern in Our Communities.
Members of the group of 49 are now community development practitioners, trained to return to their communities to develop leadership potential at various levels of society.
For each one of them their certificate to be received on Thursday night is their passport to tertiary education. Without it they would not have been able to study further or plough back into their communities.
Each member of the group has a heart-rending story that reflects the reality of poverty and limited opportunities facing millions of South Africans.
Vanessa and her triumph epitomise the spirit of this group.
She said: “In Belgravia, the drug tik is a big problem among the youth. I want to use drama and dance to show them that there is an alternative to drugs.”
FTC has challenged the corporate world to support its cause of changing lives in poorer communities.
“Old Mutual has supported us in hosting our graduation ceremony. If more corporates were to come on board we would be able to touch so many more lives,” said FTC Managing Director Noel Daniels.
The 49 have been drawn from the following organizations: Catholic Welfare Development, Lifeline, Mitchell’s Plain Education Forum, Youth Unplugged, Future Factory, Jazzart Dance Theatre, Home SPM, Royal New Life Ministries, Retreat Community Health Care, Active Social Assistance, African Development Options, Cancer Association of South Africa, Women’s Circle, Lighthouse Grouping, New Women’s Movement, RedZebra, Scripture Union and Koinonia.
Thursday’s graduation ceremony starts at 6.30pm and will be held in the Presentation Room, Old Mutual, Mutual Park, West Campus, Jan Smuts Drive, Pinelands.