Your age shouldn’t stop you from improving yourself through education! Just ask Thembela Hlela, a 51-year-old mother of three who doesn’t let a packed schedule stand in the way of her studies.

Juggling family, work and community involvement

Living in Mitchell’s Plain, Thembela supports a family of three children — all at various stages of their education — and also takes care of her elderly mother.

“They all look upon me as their supporter and comforter,” Thembela says.

During the day, Thembela’s caring personality is put to good use at a school for children with special needs, where she is a manager, teacher and leader.

“I am really passionate about assisting children in need and playing my role in helping my community.”

As if this schedule wasn’t busy enough, Thembela also holds a leading position in the women’s union of her local church, where she acts as a mentor to young adults and provides emotional support to families.

Fitting studies into her life

Although most of her life is spent caring for others, Thembela also has a strong desire to keep improving herself. She enrolled with Oxbridge Academy to study the Skills Certificate in Entrepreneurship. With her hectic schedule, she initially found it difficult to fit in her studies.

“The evenings I set aside for studying were mostly occupied with family matters. I spent most weekends on church activities. This resulted in me sometimes studying until dawn to complete my assignments. Also, work-related pressure caused me to feel like I couldn’t do it anymore – I almost gave up!”

Thembela says that encouragement and support from Oxbridge Academy gave her the motivation to continue.

“The college would send me daily SMSs reminding me when assignments were due, and they were very patient with me. I humbly thank the staff and my student advisor for having confidence in me. The message was strong, saying “You are on the last lap; you can do it”. I told myself I would not give up.”

Thembela passed her skills certificate, and now looks forward to starting her own business.

“I have told myself that when I turn 55, it will be time to focus more on myself! I’m not sure what business I will open, but I plan to study more courses before then as well to gain further knowledge about the fields that I am interested in.”

A word from Thembela’s daughter

One of Thembela’s daughters, Athi, is currently studying hospitality. She says that her mother sets an exceptional example for her.

“She is courageous, humble, strong-willed and a firm believer in making the most out of what you have. She embodies so much resilience and passion that inspires me.”

Athi explains how much effort her mother puts into helping others.  

“She has introduced so many projects at her school to teach the students skills which would sustain and develop them. She is passionate about helping people and in assisting them to be independent so they can achieve great things. My mother supported and encouraged me to continue studying during a very difficult time of her life.”

Athi adds that she particularly admires her mother’s dedication towards becoming something greater.

“She furthered her studies at the age of 50, and she is not done yet!”

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