Meet Nonhlanhla ‘Nonny’ Ambrose

Mothers are busy people, and Nonhlanhla Ambrose, known to her colleagues as Nonny, is one of the busiest.

As Programme Manager of Africa Foundation’s CLEF (Community Leaders Education Fund) programme for the last seven years, Nonny has been beloved mother, mentor, counsellor and confidante to hundreds of CLEF students.

At this time of year in particular – January to March – her mobile phone goes everywhere with her and is never switched off. Why? Because this is when a new batch of CLEF recipients are in the starting phase of their first year of tertiary education, and Nonny is on standby to support each and every one of them. This year she has yet another 100 aspiring learners to caretake.

This psycho-social support for CLEF students that have taken the quantum leap from their remote, rural villages to tertiary institutions in big cities, is one of the defining factors of this successful bursary programme with a remarkable first-time pass rate of 99%.

Over and above being a passionate advocate for CLEF’s ability to transform lives, Nonny is a wonderful storyteller, and the hour spent talking to her about something so close to her heart, flew by. We asked her: “What does CLEF mean to you?” This was her answer.

What does CLEF mean to you?

Giving hope where there is nothing to look up to - giving meaning to Faith.

You know, when we talk about Faith …it’s believing that there’s something. CLEF brings that hope – that there is a better world, if only I could just do this.

So it’s that glimpse of hope that I see in every young person that I interview who has ever heard of the programme. It’s the one thing that gets them up every morning – the motivation to go to school. It’s their way out.

So when I go to the communities, it’s like this:

“Have you applied for University?”
“No, I haven’t.”

“What do you want to study?”
“I’m not sure.”

“But you look like you haven’t been sleeping…”
“Yes Ma’am.”

“So what are you doing to keep yourself awake?”
“I put my feet in cold water when I study. I want to sleep, but I can’ sleep because our exams are actually two weeks away. I can’t afford to sleep. I need to study hard.”

“But you haven’t even applied for University…”
“I know that if I study hard, I will pass and I will get CLEF.”

So, this is what you find in all our communities – what really drives the young people – I know my home situation is dire, but if I do my part, if I work hard, there is this thing called CLEF that will take me to the other side.

CLEF’s a gateway

It’s a gateway that I see all the time in the eyes of these young people, and I am always amazed at the form that CLEF has taken in our communities.

It has brought about a dream that would never have existed – that would never have been allowed to flourish – because you can’t dream ‘beyond’ when you look at your circumstances – circumstances that tell you that no one has ever made it past High School; no one has ever been outside this community; you are just another statistic.

CLEF breaks that mould of limitation – that cycle of: this is where your life ends and begins, ends and begins, ends and begins…

CLEF says: “You know what? You get to dictate what happens to you. You get to influence not just your life’s outcome, but also that of your family, your siblings and that of the rest of the community. You get to have a voice you never had – not just in society, but where it REALLY matters – in the place you come from. When you go back, and now you’re a mentor, you are a visible role model that young people can look up to – now other families start saying: “You can do it. She did it. So you can.”

There was more that Nonny had to say. So much more – but that will be a conversation for another day. Before this interview, we were familiar with the facts and stats behind CLEF. Now we had a whole new understanding. We had seen its heart.

There’s something about educating an African child – you are guaranteed that the rest of the community IS going to benefit. Whatever they become – the link between the graduate and their community is never severed.

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