picture of Poulina

Go through whatever difficulties will be along the way; and there will be some because a journey is a journey, and journeys have difficulties. But stand up and be yourself. Our families, our marriage, our kids – they let us down, but don’t hang on to that. Go out, walk tall, smile and shine, and you will see the stars. Because there are always stars. Never give up – whatever you’re dreaming, never give up.

Poulina’s story as told to Starting Chance

As long as I’m alive I want to learn. I want you to see me one day teaching at the high schools; even if I’m 60 years old I want that. When I was little I left school. At the very early age of 19; I had a baby.

I didn’t have a mother, my mother died when I was seven so my grandmother looked after me then she passed away and my stepmother looked after me.

The early part of my life was very difficult. I had problems with my family. It hurt me very much. My son I had when I was 19 is old now, he’s thirty-something years, he’s still my baby and stays close by me. I would do anything for him, he means everything to me. Growing up was hard. I wanted to go back to school but I couldn’t because of the baby. I had to look after my baby and my stepmother’s baby – I had to do everything, all the cooking and cleaning. When everybody my age was still in school, I was sitting at home with the baby on the farm. Until one day I decided to leave because my stepmother and I would argue and it wasn’t nice so I decided to see where I could go.

From the farm I went to Joburg first. Life was too hard in Cape Town. I didn’t like Cape Town. All I could see was that I was going to have babies and babies –men promised they’d look after me and love me but they didn’t, and after my third baby, I decided to leave. I left my children with my brother. I was over thirty then. I went to Joburg for four years, but it was not nice for me, I couldn’t understand people.

When I was away I phoned my children twice, three, or ten times a day, and I sent money on Monday for bread for the whole week, and I’d buy food for the month and buy them each a box full of clothes. I was only working for them. My brother did everything for my kids. He was third born after me and he was amazing, but unfortunately he got cancer and he passed away. I still think about him. He was everything to me. He left two children – a girl and a boy. My thing is now I have to look after both of them.

After four years I came back. I worked at a preschool for 18 years. I was a day-care nurse feeding and changing the nappies; and I lifted myself up there. When I started I could only speak Afrikaans so then I taught myself to speak English. I love children, I’ll do anything to protect them. That’s why in all those years I was working I had that dream of starting my own school.

Someone at my church came to me and said there’s a college that is taking people for level one if you don’t have grade 11. I had grade 7 when I left school. So I did my level one to four, even though the people I worked for said no, they won’t pay for me to go to college and on the days I went to class they took the money from my salary. The way they treated me was very bad. Very bad.

They treated me so badly I decided to leave. I wrote a letter and the principal gave me R2000 and that was all. I went to the CCMA but when I took them to court I didn’t have a lawyer because I didn’t have money and their lawyer said my complaint was too late. My investment policy collapsed so I took the money – only R7000 after 18 years – and then it was finished, it was done.

But I made a good decision. I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t left. I had to give up on that place.

After Johannesburg, the journey was tough. I met this guy at my friend’s wedding. Because he was a pastor I assumed he was good because he was working for God, but unfortunately, it was not a good idea for me to get married. As we prepared for the wedding and he told me he didn’t have money now but his pension would come in December. So I spent my money, and we got married. The first day I entered his house I started to think I made a big mistake. In the first six months I could see it was bad, he was very abusive, a cheater, a liar.

I left his house and moved back to my RDP house, with a small shack at the back. One of my sons moved and left me in the house so that was where I started my crèche, with four kids. I asked my husband to come and help; I never gave up on him. I kept hoping he’d be the person I wanted him to be. We’ve been apart for three years and I’m trying to divorce him now.

One day the rain came and the whole school was full of water. The children were getting sick and it was not a happy time for me. My marriage was falling apart, my school was falling apart, and I wanted to leave to find a job because it wasn’t working – I couldn’t even pay the teachers because the children had left. But I stayed because of my passion. Even growing up, I was always looking after children. After school I would collect the children and sing and dance and make clothes for them.

Then Starting Chance built me a school and things changed. This year, I have big numbers; people want to be at Little Star. The kids are learning English and on tablets and the parents want that for their kids. After this, the kids go to private schools so they want them to have a good foundation.

My story is not about wanting money. When I started I had crates for chairs and I used candle wax for crayons. I begged for newspapers for the children to draw on. But you have to start somewhere. Show them what you can do. Don’t sit at home; don’t be jealous of other people. Go up to someone and ask them how they did it; how they got to where they are. If you want to learn, go to people who can help you. Find out people’s stories. It’s not about dreaming then tomorrow you’ll get what you’re dreaming of – no – you must work hard.