Sipho Shezi started off in life with very few advantages; his chances of a bright future bleak.
But a combination of academic talent, a determination to succeed – and Nestlé South Africa’s ‘Adopt a School’ initiative – changed all that.
The programme, which launched in 2011, offers disadvantaged schools financial support to improve their facilities, equipment and teaching practices.
Sipho, a top performer, was one of the first students at Mpumelelo High School in Estcourt to benefit from the programme. He went on to earn a degree in microbiology and genetics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
A born winner
Today, the 26-year-old is building a promising career as a microbiologist at Nestlé. He is now permanently employed at the company’s East London factory, having worked as a graduate trainee in its Estcourt factory.
Said Sipho: “The ‘Adopt a School’ initiative is really changing people’s lives. I’m a living testimony of that.”
When Sipho first started at Mpumelelo High School it had only eight classrooms for its 560 pupils. There was no clean water source, so many of the children had to walk miles every morning carrying heavy water cans to school.
Despite Sipho’s academic talent, the lack of resources at the school meant his chances of going on to higher education were doubtful.
“I lost both parents when I was five years old,” he said. “I was raised by my grandparents who also passed away when I was 13 or 14. My future didn’t look particularly promising,” he said.
When Sipho was 14, he was the victim of a shooting. He was lucky to survive, the bullet missing his heart by just one centimetre.
Nestlé’s interest in Sipho’s school encouraged the Kwazulu-Natal provincial government to invest in it as well. Today the school boasts a borehole for fresh water, technological teaching equipment, an extra 24 new classrooms, computer lab, new library and sports field. Students get support with maths and English while teachers have more textbooks and improved teaching materials.
The programme is also having a knock-on effect for the children’s families and their local community. There is now an access point for water, increased employment as a result of the school renovations, and a community that is learning new skills.
For Nestlé South Africa’s public affairs manager, Monako Dibetle, it is the children’s passion for learning that makes this programme so special.
“Despite their uncertain futures, with difficult family backgrounds and an under-resourced school, they still manage to give their best performance in class,” he said.
Since ‘Adopt a School’ began, Nestlé has funded 63 students. Many have gone on to higher education studying engineering, technology or science. The scheme is creating a valuable pool of skilled, creative, and innovative thinkers, who are desirable future employees for businesses across South Africa. For Nestlé, these students are its future engineers, artisans and factory managers.
The initiative is Nestlé’s response to the company’s global youth initiative, Nestle needs Youth, which aims to help 10 million young people around the world have access to employment opportunities.