Our media is filled with stories of a “dysfunctional” education system, skills shortages and jobless youth. To find the good news in this sector you need to dig beyond the broad social and economic trends to the kernels of hope buried beneath. 101 Stories of Choice, published by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) does just that.
It tells the stories of 101 young South Africans who are going places. Many have
found their way through difficult circumstances and onto a road that that offers a tertiary education
and a brighter future. South Africa is faced with many challenges. However, to quote one of our storytellers, young people are “privileged and lucky to grow up in South Africa at a time when there are so many opportunities for young people”. It is up to each person to search out these opportunities and to make choices that drive them through barriers that have held back others in their families and communities. 101 Stories of choice is a collection of life stories, in their own words, of beneficiaries of SAICA’s Thuthuka Bursary Fund. These young people who have made a choice to leave behind destructive and disruptive patterns of communities where many have come from, communities where “the only thing you can dream of is to get an ID and look for a job,” in the words of one of our storytellers. These are stories of young people who have set goals and who have acted purposefully towards realising those goals. We looked for those who could share a kernel of wisdom that would inspire others. We looked for people who were path breakers in their families and communities: many are the first to pass matric or the first to have a university education. Being a pathbreaker comes with a large degree of responsibility, and our storytellers show will to give back to the communities they come from and to smooth the way for others to follow. These young people are on a path that takes them beyond the many social ills that they have told us about in their stories: alive but absent fathers, teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, retrenchment, divorce, financial hardship, domestic abuse, rape, violent crime, the death of parents and siblings. The important role of parents and teachers in scripting the future of South Africa by influencing the lives of young people is a theme that comes up repeatedly. “We were taught to be independent, to think for ourselves and to make our own choices,” says one storyteller pointing to his parents influence on him from a young age. Many acknowledged the one person who believed in them, the person who changed the course of their life for the better. One tells of a teacher whose words and belief in him inspired him to such a degree that he became known at school as the “King of mathematics.” Yet others have achieved despite being derailed by the demotivating comments of others. “When I was told by my teachers that I was stupid and had no future, I believed them,” says one young man who at that stage of his life considered suicide. The book is also a tribute to single mothers and grandmothers making great sacrifices today to achieve a better future for their children tomorrow. Their investment in time and limited resources will pay great dividends as their children make their way through university and go on to become contributors to the economy. While the book was published in 2012, the sense of optimism that I was left with when curating and editing these stories remains: optimism about the lives and futures of these young people; optimism about the future of South Africa in their hands. The good news is that for each of these individuals there is a lot of story still to unfold. “This is not the end of my story, but only the beginning,” says one young woman. “Greater things are yet to come.” 101 Stories is available from SAICA: www.saica.co.za