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YALI Voices Podcast: Nombuso Simelane Wants Girls to Glow in Eswatini
May 6, 2019

Nombuso Simelane Wants Girls to Glow in Eswatini
Courtesy Tim Mossholder

A great deal of our future lies in the hands of top leading women. Contributing to this pool of tomorrow’s professionals, Nombuso Simelane starts at the beginning by helping them grow and glow from the ground up. A graduate student in education and 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow, Nombuso utilizes her passion for teaching to enhance the lives of female youth in her Eswatini community. Her joint focus on teaching and mentorship is a valuable tool for her partnership with the Peace Corps GLOW program, directed at instilling professional qualities in underprivileged women and girls.

“Helping must not be about money, but it must be about knowing that you can give an opportunity of a lifetime,” she says.

Listen to this YALI Voices podcast to learn more about how Nombuso invests her teaching and mentoring skills in the future of young women!




NOMBUSO: My name is Nombuso Mabuza. I come from the Kingdom of Eswatini, it was previously known as Swaziland. I am a teacher there. I teach English language, literature, and I also teach our local language, which is siSwati.


♪ Yes we can ♪ ♪ Sure we can ♪ ♪ Change the world ♪

VOICEOVER: Welcome to the YALI Voices podcast, your home for sharing the best stories from the Young African Leaders Initiative Network. Be sure to subscribe to the YALI Voices podcast and visit yali.lab.dev.getusinfo.com to stay up to date on all things YALI.

Nombuso Mabuza-Simelane is a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow from Eswatini. A teacher, she also runs a girls empowerment club that aims to provide members with mentorship and skills training, as well as providing information to improve their physical and emotional health and well-being. Nombuso hopes that the club will give the girls in her rural district a chance at more opportunities and the knowledge they’ll need to make better choices for their futures.

Education as a path out of hardships and poverty was something Nombuso learned from her parents, and that is where we begin our conversation.


NOMBUSO: Education was really important for me, and also for my father, even though he was a little bit terrible.[Laughs] But before he died, he really talked to my mom and mentioned that he would really love to see me finish school and go to university. So I did that, I finished school and then went to the University of Swaziland. And I believed that, and I still believe that education is very important for a young woman. It opens her mind and also it makes her know what options she has available inside Swaziland or maybe even outside the country.

At the University of Swaziland I studied bachelor of, I did bachelor of arts in humanities. At that time I didn’t know that I was actually going to be a teacher. I just saw a course and I chose it. But then along the way I then realized that I’m actually going to be a teacher. So now I had to decide do I really want to do this or not?

And then I kind of liked the idea of changing someone’s life along the way, being a mentor to young women and young men. So I then loved it and put all my effort into it. And I passed. And then also through the scholarship still, I then went on to do my, my PGC, which is a post-graduate certificate in Swaziland. I was still very young when I started teaching, I was in my 25th year, I was 25. It was scary seeing all these young men and young women in front of you. And the responsibility is just so massive to know that you have the ability to change or to destroy someone’s life with your words. And that, for me, was not something that I took literally, it was serious for me. And also since I was in a rural school, I found some young men and young women were actually older than me and some were actually my age, because some were like wanted to start afresh. At school they didn’t do well, so they were like, OK, let me go back and start afresh. So those were very, were also scary to me. I had to learn how to navigate that, treating them with respect, but also not forgetting that they are my students.


NOMBUSO: When I came to the school in 2013, I discovered that the results for the school were really terrible. And one of the reasons that — when you were just having a conversation with the students, you would hear them saying that they don’t see the reason for them to be at school. And that really touched me to know that some people don’t believe in education. And then I was asking them why, why they don’t believe in education. And they would tell me that we see our brothers and our sisters who have finished school, and they’re just roaming around the streets, not doing anything, it’s like there’s no hope, so we ask ourselves: What are we doing? Why are we doing this?

So, for me, that actually clicked that maybe there’s something that I can do to the youth in my school, not just to teach them in the class and be their mentor just in class, but also to be their friend, to be somebody that they can talk to, even academically and even careerwise, just giving them the knowledge of what is available out there. And also knowing that when I looked at them, I knew that some of them, of course, cannot be academics. Some can pass years and go to university, but for some it’s a struggle. So I was like, maybe there is something that we, we can do about that. So at first after talking to the administration at the school and them giving me the go-ahead, I then talked to a Peace Corps volunteer that was around the area.

So after having that conversation, we then thought, he said, “You know, there’s an organization in the Peace Corps called GLOW,” which is Girls Leading Our World. So maybe you can partner with them and maybe they can help you set up a club here in the school or in the community. So, because I wasn’t and I’m still not a member of the community, I had to start it in the school. So I started with five girls at first, because I think some of the girls were afraid, because they thought that we’re going to be saying, “Don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t do that,” or there are rules. So they were kind of like afraid of joining the club. So I had fewer girls at first. But then our club grew, and then they realized that we are actually giving them options, giving them information, it’s up to them to choose what they want to do. If they want to continue with school, yes, that’s what we want. And if they want to start businesses after school, after finishing high school, yes, that can also, that can also be done. So that’s what we’re doing in our club.

The club is, mainly, we, we talk about issues relating to young women. Firstly, we talk about academic excellence, why that is important, why it’s important for them to be at school, to be educated. And then also we talk about entrepreneurship, opportunities, things that they can do, business ideas. Sometimes they write them down, this is what I want to do, this is the kind of business that I would, that I would start. Some of them are thinking of beauty, getting into the beauty industry. But those are the things that they want to do. And then also we, we also discovered that some of the girls lack pads. When it’s that time of the month, they struggle with what they are going to do. And so Peace Corps then through GLOW introduced pad-making, so we sometimes make pads.

And then also in our club, we also have fun, we have games. And then yearly we also have camps where we meet with different clubs from around Swaziland, those communities that have the clubs, we then meet.

Also we continue with our conversations at a broader level, and then they meet and interact with other young women like themselves. And then also in these camps, we also facilitate as counselors of the girls. And that has been so helpful to me, because I’m a little bit shy by nature, but then by being able to, to facilitate in the sessions I’ve been able to learn one or two things about facilitating sessions. And what I like about GLOW is that it is not only helping the girls, but it is also helping the counselors. Because they do these things voluntarily, they are not paid. But what they learn from this is amazing, because sometimes GLOW organizes events for them and educational opportunities where they also learn about psychosocial support, and then they get certificates from that. And then also about counseling, and then we get certificates from that.


NOMBUSO: What has been challenging is actually the topics that we, that we are talking about. I remember that one time Peace Corps organized sessions on LGBTI. And on what we can do to reach out to those girls in our clubs who are part of this community. And it was such a huge thing even with the counselors themselves. And I do understand that it’s, we, these are not our kids, these are our girls, but they have parents who may not necessarily like us teaching those things. And then also on the part of, also some of the topics that have also been very controversial, is teaching the girls how to access, how to access health, especially sexual reproductive health. Them knowing that, OK, if I want to be on the pill, then I can go to the clinic and do that. So that has also been kind of like a problem, because you have to find a way to help the girl but still be considerate of the fact that this is not your child, some families may not like that. It’s like you’re teaching the girl to actually have sex, which is not our intention, but someone may perceive it like that. So we actually, as a counselor you have to look at your community and then also be careful about some of the things that you do, especially us being in rural areas, it’s a little bit tricky.

And then another thing, it is some challenges have been some of the girls falling pregnant but they’re still in the club. Some people are like, then what are you teaching the girls if they fall pregnant? Unfortunately, we are giving them options, we are not, we can’t be there 24/7. So what we are doing is giving them information. What they do with that is actually an individual thing.

Yes, and another thing is also the issue of, for our STEM program; for example, we have only one laptop that they use for coding, so the girls have to share that laptop. Because our sessions are actually after school, where maybe the laboratory, sorry, the computer lab, yes, is then closed by that time and locked.

So we have to make use of this one laptop. Basically, I think those are the challenges. And it’s also a challenge also to be doing this voluntarily, because you also have to make sure that your club has so much fun so that the girls will come back. So you have to think of things that you can do, maybe also have some snacks around so that they can be engaged and then also invite their friends. It’s a way of actually inviting more new members. And then also choosing them for camp is also another tough thing, because most of them all want to go, they all want to go to camp, but then we are limited to a certain number.


NOMBUSO: For me, I would say that what inspires me is seeing some of the girls succeeding and actually doing the things that we are talking about in our clubs. That makes me so emotional to actually see that. So I always keep on going, knowing that at least I’m touching someone’s life. It may not be the whole group, but at least someone is getting the information. And even if those that are in the group maybe fall pregnant, I do have the belief that the knowledge that I give them, it will be useful to them in the future for them to know that, OK, if I am in an abusive relationship, these are the options that I have if I want to go out of this relation, to leave this man, what are the things that I can do to actually be independent financially. So that is why we are teaching them these entrepreneurship skills to say that even if maybe you don’t get good grades, but you can be a businesswoman, start your own business, do something to actually take care of your family.


NOMBUSO: The head teacher at the school has been so helpful, and I’ve learned a lot of things from him. When I had this idea I went to him and we talked about it, and he, he wasn’t like, “No, you cannot.” But he was just like, “You can do it, I believe that you can do it.” And then also when we have these projects that I have in mind, he has no problem in helping us actually make that happen. For example, recently we had an idea of a fishery program in the school. And with the funding that we got from the embassy we were able to implement that in the school. And I believe that the girls will be learning how to, how to start a business through this and learn how to do it. And also as a leader, not being, not stifling the people that are, that are under you, I think is something that I’ve learned from him. For example, I’m here in the U.S. Some head teachers wouldn’t have allowed me to do that. But he, he knew that as much as the lives of the students, the education of the students is important, my life also as a woman, as somebody who is still young who wants to grow, is also very important.


NOMBUSO: My advice to people who want to start their own clubs or help young women or empower young women in their communities would be that you, you should be able to know that at first you will do this voluntarily, you won’t get paid for it, and money must not be the focus of what are you doing. Because once you say, “I’m doing this because I want to have this,” then it’s going to be a problem. It should be about the next person, not about you. You should be thinking about the girl or think about that boy that doesn’t have some of the things that you have. And then I think that’s a good starting point.

And then also you need to have people that can support you. You cannot do everything on your own. For example, in our club with GLOW, we are able to, to have a collaboration with different organizations in Swaziland. Some organizations are dealing with abuse. So we invite them to talk to the girls. Some organizations are on mental health, so we invite them to talk to the girls. But then with the collaboration from these different organizations we are able to have a good club; the students are learning, and we are learning as well. And then also I want to say that this thing is not easy. That person must know that it’s not easy to empower the youth. There are so many challenges that you are going to face. But you should, like I said, have the support from people around you, from your family, and also from people in the streets, some people can give you advice that can actually be helpful.

What I have envisioned for the future are two things. First of all is that if a girl finishes school, I want her to know what options she has. If she has good grades, where can she access scholarships? And then which courses will be good for her? Not just to choose any course, but to choose something that will be helpful to her or something that she loves.

And then also another thing would be even if she’s not good academically, I would really love to see young women in my community starting their own businesses, being independent, not relying on men, and knowing that they can do it as well. That would really be inspiring to me. And we’ve been able to do that.

Helping must not be about money, but it must be about knowing that you are changing someone’s life. The voluntary work that you’re doing is amazing and can actually give you an opportunity of a lifetime.


NOMBUSO: I have taken the YALI4Her pledge, and I believe that this will be helpful to a lot of young women, and I would hope that this pledge would give more opportunities, expose young women to more opportunities academically. And then also give them the knowledge that what can they do if maybe they encounter a health problem in their lives, what are the resources that are available for them? Knowledge on HIV and AIDS, knowledge on, maybe, cancer. So I think that can help them to even live longer and also understand that their lives are important, they need to take care of themselves at a very young age so that they cannot suffer later on.

VOICEOVER: As we wrap up our YALI Voices podcast with Nombuso, she offers some advice to the YALI Network on using the online courses in their communities.

NOMBUSO: My advice to YALI Network members is that they should do all the courses that are online, and I think I’m going to do that as well, I’m going to just take my time and do all those courses. I think they are very helpful. But then maybe when you get that time and you go to the, maybe go to town, you can be able to do those courses online. And then also I think it’s important for everybody out there to read, to listen to what other leaders are doing out there, so that they can also be able to emulate that in their own countries.


VOICEOVER: Thank you, Nombuso, for your dedication and spirit in guiding young girls in Eswatini.

Be sure to come back for more inspiring stories from young African leaders on the YALI Voices podcast.

Join the YALI Network at yali.lab.dev.getusinfo.com and be a part of something bigger!

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The YALI Voices podcast is brought to you by the U.S. Department of State and is part of the Young African Leaders Initiative, which is funded by the U.S. government.