Pretoria - Very few people can boast about teaching in the same school where they used to work as a cleaner.
But Thembi Jele, 52, is living proof that you can be anything you want to be if you set your mind to it.
Jele is proud to say she worked hard to ascend from being a cleaner who struggled to make ends meet to become a Grade R teacher at Windmill Park Primary School.
Jele has qualified as a teacher at Sants Private Higher Institution, after studying since 2016, interrupted by breaks imposed by difficulties with fees.
With probably a decade left before Jele goes on pension, she still fought and pushed to ensure that she exchanged her tools of the trade from the mop to the chalk.
She admits the experience of working in a beautiful dress instead of the uniform and boots she was accustomed to since she started to clean at the school in 2001, is still foreign to her. The beautiful part of her story is that she was actually pushed by educators at the school to pursue a career in education. They could see Jele had the potential to be a good teacher and turn her life around.
She said the educators and a gardener inspired her to study. And it was not only she who was hit by the study bug time – the gardener has become a human resources graduate from the University of Johannesburg.
“I tell you now that finishing the qualification has definitely inspired my other colleagues, one of whom is finishing her matric and plans to further her education at tertiary level.
“It was not an easy journey because I was struggling to afford my living expenses and pay my fees, but I fought through and made it thanks to my uncle, Bafana Jele, who realised that I was losing my dream due to financial constraints and gave me money to finish my course.
“To balance studies and work and parenting was another challenge, but looking at my daughter, Nkosimphile, 13, inspired me to set a good example for her.
“She goes to Glendana Primary School, where she sees female educators looking beautiful and well dressed daily. She just could not wait to see her mother as one of those women.
“When I stopped because I didn’t have money because she is a child and children sometimes do not understand how money runs this world, she would say, ‘Mommy, please finish your studies; please finish.’ She is so happy today to say her mother is an educator,” said Jele.
Jele grew up in Vosloorus township, where she attended Zimele Primary and later Vosloorus Comprehensive School. She finished her matric in 1989.
She thought she could be an educator some day and she studied business administration at Usizo Technical College and later bookkeeping at Damelin College.
However, when work was not coming and life continued to be hard, she ended up doing any work to support herself and eventually found herself cleaning a school.
She hopes her story inspires others to better their lives, something former president Nelson Mandela taught the nation when he said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”