Nqobile was born in Durban and moved to Cape Town when she was eight years old. She lives in the township of Philippi and matriculated in 2016 and, like almost every recent matriculate, overwhelmed by the sudden need to choose what to do with her life. “I always wanted to do beauty therapy, but I didn’t get that opportunity right after high school.” Instead, she studied for a high certificate in Information Technology (IT) but after completing it she realized how broad the field is, and was unsure of what career path to take.
In 2018 she became pregnant, making the difficult choice to stay home and raise her son instead of continuing to work. But Nqobile soon got tired of sitting at home and decided to look for programmes to advance her career, programmes that weren’t just IT, but subjects she had been passionate about since a young age, such as beauty therapy. Her younger sister was part of the Amy Foundation’s after-school programmes and talked about it all the time, so Nqobile looked up the Facebook page and applied for the youth skills development programme. “They called me to come for a meet-and-greet and it was probably the best day of my life.” The next week she started the foundation’s beauty programme.
“When I came here, I knew how to put on my makeup and that was about it…I thought I knew how to apply nail polish, but when I got here I learned the right way, the proper way. I had fun learning how to apply nail polish, gel nails, cuticle work, acrylic, and my favourite, massage.” Nqobile was part of the Amy Foundation for almost all of 2019, and also took soft skills courses offered by the foundation. “I learned everything here. Not only beauty therapy but self-esteem, how to start your own business, where to go, who to talk to, how to ask for help when you need it. I learned a lot of things that I thought I would probably have to go elsewhere for.”
At home, Nqobile would practice what she had learned in the programme on family members. She quickly realized that she could make a business out of her skills and urged family and friends to spread the word. Her business increased steadily, but fell slightly during the COVID-19 lockdown, but that hasn’t stopped her. She runs monthly specials and advertises on social media, as well as handing out flyers and business cards. “I’m still aiming for about 100 [clients]. I’m almost halfway…I lost a few clients, so I’m still trying to regain [them] so that at least I have 50 clients. Then I will find ten more, and so on. Until I have my own place.” She currently works out of her mother’s house, but travels to clients if they pay for enough treatments. And Nqobile doesn’t want to leave Philippi, no matter how much her business grows. “I don’t want to own [a spa] in a fancy place. Where I am right now, in my house, I think that’s the right place. So that people know that even if you come from a township, there are good things…I want to create jobs for the people around me so that they don’t have to go elsewhere or start smoking drugs or doing funny stuff to get jobs.”
Nqobile’s business and success are not just benefitting her. With the money she earns, she can support her son. He turned two in December. She can help out with her family’s finances, easing the burden on everyone else around her. And she can be the source for positive change in her neighborhood. “There isn’t much great things happening in my area, so if I could own a beauty spa at this age, they would see a role model and think, ‘whatever I am doing, I have to be like her.’ Because sometimes we do bad things and get in bad situations because we don’t have a role model that’s right here, someone we grew up with, someone we know. We look up to people we don’t even know, like celebrities. We don’t know where they grow up, we just read their stories. But when it’s something that is happening next to you it gives you that energy like you want to do the right thing as well.”
No matter what has happened to her or what happens around her, Nqobile chooses to get out of bed and search for opportunities, applying for training courses and recruiting clients. “Whether I stay in a horrible community, I choose to be positive. I choose to ignore whatever is going on in my community and just be myself.” She went from sitting at home and desperately trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life to running her own business with nearly fifty regular clients. And when asked what she would say to all the young girls like she once was, young girls that are struggling to survive amidst all the challenges and negative influences that come with living in the townships of the Western Cape, she says “they must choose to be positive all the time. They can’t choose their surroundings, but they can choose who they want to be every day. If they are determined and work hard, then they can do anything in the world.”
*Written by Indigo Knights in 2021, based on an interview with Nqobile.