Siyamthanda Hlangwana

Aspirant chemical engineer

Studying at home is almost impossible for Siyamthanda Hlangwana. The 16-year-old lives in a one-room house with her grandmother, two cousins and her aunt in a small township in the Eastern Cape. “I find it difficult to focus because people are having conversations or watching television,” she says. “I have to learn to block out everything so that I can concentrate better.”

Hlangwana credits ArtWorks for Youth — a program which provides free visual art instruction, academic support, mentoring and other forms of assistance to financially disadvantaged students in Port Elizabeth — with helping her cope effectively with her set of circumstances. She has been attending ArtWorks for Youth programmes four times a week for three years now.

“One of the most important things I have learnt at Artworks For Youth is being resilient,” she says. “This has helped me to continue doing well at school even when life is throwing me curveballs. I let my situation at home encourage me and not break me. I realised that sitting and feeling sorry for myself was not going to help me at all, so working hard academically was my solution.”

This attitude has paid off. Due to her commitment to working hard at school, Artworks For Youth was able to secure a sponsor who funds Hlangwana’s schooling at Ethembeni Enrichment Centre.

Hlangwana is also passionate about encouraging young people to read. Together with her peers at Artworks for Youth, she initiated a junior reading club for children in grades one to four. Children are divided according to their reading skills, and each Friday, Hlangwana and her friends teach them how to read and write in English as well as in isiXhosa.

When she finishes school, she hopes to study chemical engineering. She has a powerful message for her fellow South African youth. “Life is not a wish-granting factory. I know it is not easy to hope when all seems to be falling apart, but you have got to wake up even after a night of sorrow and you have been bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to secure your future. There is a saying: ‘The light of a star shines brighter when it’s dark.’” Fatima Asmal