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Knocking at the door of opportunity

| March 23, 2020 | 0 Comments

This is the title I’ve decided to give my story.

I am Thatohatsi Makgotlo: born and raised in Alexandra Township, in Gauteng, where people don’t see any growth, where people think less of themselves, where crime has become a popular activity and poverty has become part of families. One would wonder if there would be any hope for someone who loses both parents to HIV/Aids at the tender age of three. With no one to turn to, with no shoulders to cry on, no one to tell you that it will work out, with seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel, you tend to wonder if this misery will ever end. It almost seems to be a dead end, with nothing to look forward to but darkness. That’s when God decides to reveal a glimpse of light, to restore your faith and install hope once again. He sent a man named John Lightfoot, whom I met through a powerful woman of God, named Peggy Chauke. This happened when my mother was sick and didn’t seem to get any better. John and his team tried helping in every way, whether it was with medication, water and care of all kinds. They really went out of their way to try to help my mother. At the time, antiretroviral medications (ARVs) were not readily available in public clinics.1

Not alone for long

My mom passed away on 20 October 2003 and it didn’t take long before my dad also passed, on 24 December 2003. This was when I was officially declared an orphan. I was then taken in by my loving grandmother, Rita Gadiboleloe Malele, who reared me to the best of her ability. She taught me to read and write, to sit, act and talk like a lady. I learned how to eat, to bath and generally to take care of myself. She saw the goddess in me that no one else could see. She saw beyond the label ‘orphan’. She saw light in me and up till today, I cannot help but glow in the best way possible. During this time, John continued to play a huge role in our lives, helping with groceries, uniforms, clothing, school fees and anything else we needed. He enrolled me at Bramley Primary School in Johannesburg. This is where I discovered my talent in drama and developed my leadership qualities. Fast forward to 2013. I went to Parktown Girls’ School in another part of Johannesburg, where I repeated Grade 8. Thinking back, I made a bad choice of friends and was heavily influenced by peer pressure. I wasn’t happy and suffered from depression. During this time, I moved around a lot, trying to find the cheapest way to get to school. I ended up at The Kadey Home, which is an orphanage in Alexandra Township, run by Ma’am Peggy Chauke.

A joyful coincidence

This is where I met other children who were attending United Church School (UCS) in the suburb of Yeoville, Johannesburg. They were extremely happy, and I remained miserable. In 2014, I begged and pleaded with John to send me to UCS. He asked me to give him valid reasons as to why I wanted to change schools, and the only reason I came up with was that I wanted to be as happy as the others who attended UCS. One term passed and eventually John allowed me to go to UCS. In April 2014, I stood at the green gates of the school, where I discovered learners who came from various backgrounds and who spoke different languages, but who through their blue ties and grey blazers were united. This is a school where everyone was your sister or brother. It is a place where I also met so many teachers who were like mothers and fathers; who guided me, mentored me and groomed me. During my stay at The Kadey Home, we were offered the chance to attend a Saturday School programme at St Mary’s School Waverley, one of the top schools in Gauteng. Whilst studying there, I was offered a bursary by the programme directors of the Saturday School, as I was one of the top achievers. It was a difficult choice that I had to make, but in the end, I decided to stay at UCS, simply because I loved being at the school so much and felt totally at home there.

Recognising a calling

Over the years, I’ve always thought I’d be a lawyer. However, when I was in Grade 12, we had a Principal’s Day with the matrics, where we discussed various topics, including careers. The following week, I took the first step and knocked at my door of opportunity – this was Ms Helenne Ulster’s door. I wanted to discuss my future with her. She is the principal at UCS. We discussed my challenges, which included financial support for further studies. We had a long discussion about how she identified me as a well-spoken, passionate, caring learner, with an ideal personality for teaching. This is when she offered me an internship at UCS. I was extremely excited and accepted the offer immediately. My final examinations were to follow, and I was very capable of achieving great results at the end of that year. Ms Ulster gave me a psychology book off her shelf, entitled One Child: The True Story of a Tormented Six-Year-Old and the Brilliant Teacher Who Reached Out, written by Torey Hayden.2 She encouraged me to read this book, so that I may get an idea of the psychology behind dealing with children who come from challenged backgrounds – very much like the learners at our school.

Fulfilling responsibilities effectively

In January 2019, I enrolled at the University of South Africa (Unisa) for my Bachelor of Education degree and started my in-house training in the senior phase at UCS, where Mr Z Dube is the deputy and all the teachers are my mentors. It was a great experience and I got along very well with the learners. I worked alongside the teachers in the classroom, where I assisted with the teaching of English and economic and management sciences in Grades 7, 8 and 9. I also accompanied teachers to the President’s Award Camp3 and later to the Awards Ceremony.4 Besides studying and teaching, I assist with stationery distribution, and I phone parents of learners who are late or absent, and help organise extramural activities. I am so grateful to be one of the interns today at our school and, most importantly, to have teachers who are very supportive – still like mothers and fathers, but now more like colleagues. Thank you to Ms Ulster for giving me such an opportunity and to Mrs Susan Hobbs and the Hobbs Family Trust for sponsoring my internship.


1. See: and

2. Hayden, T. (2016) One Child: The True Story of a Tormented Six-Year-Old and the Brilliant Teacher Who Reached Out. New York City: William Morrow and Company.

3. See: and 4. Ibid.

Category: Autumn 2020

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