Zeenith embodies zenith of self-belief

2011-10-24 09:48

Zeenith Chooney was born sickly, diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome and disowned by her family. But the 12-year-old Eldorado Park schoolgirl recently returned home with a Stanford University scholarship after she wowed delegates at the People to People Leadership Programme in the US.

An ebullient Zeenith said: “I was placed with kids from Alaska, Asia, Japan, Canada and Hawaii, and I saw and learned about the world. Before we got to Stanford University in California we travelled through America.

‘‘In San Francisco and Los Angeles there were so many people on the streets, smoking weed, begging for food or money. There were young and old, homeless, sleeping on the street. And our group had to make up 10?000 food parcels of beans, pasta and veggies for the old and indigent.

“We also visited museums in every city. I was shocked by what I saw in the slave museum. There is even an apartheid museum,” she said.

Former headmaster of EW Hobbs Primary School, Charles Fonseca, said he recognised a quality in Zeenith and he dedicated himself to coaching her for the programme.

“Initially Zeenith did not function in the school mainstream, but with support, love from her adopted family and intensive leadership training, she has not only overcome disabilities but has become a top performer.

“The scholarship experience could be daunting considering the high level of education the students from other countries are exposed to, but I can proudly say Zeenith copes exceedingly well. Her acquired academic prowess, community involvement and leadership qualities prove how the human spirit can triumph.”

People to People was initiated by former US president Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 as a means of exposing potential future leaders from 75 countries across the world to diverse cultures, religions, nationalities, and influential international movers and shakers.

The programme guides selected youngsters through leadership projects, where they learn academic and life skills such as tolerance of others.

A month before she was due to depart for the US, Percy Shabangu – the wife of property mogul Roux Shabangu – read that her adopted family, the Dickinsons, simply could not afford to finance their daughter’s trip. So the Roux Shabangu Foundation donated a R50?000 sponsorship.

Zeenith said: “At Stanford we attended lectures by Sean Covey, the author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens, as well as by Maya Angelou, who wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

The American tour and stay at Stanford was only the first step of Zeenith’s scholarship.

She is to embark on ongoing long-distance study, and complete and submit assignments to Stanford University until she matriculates, as well as spend five hours twice a month volunteering for needy organisations.

Zeenith has also volunteered to mentor and inspire the orphaned and abandoned children of the Roux Shabangu Foundation in Mamelodi.

“I want to tell them one can achieve almost anything in life if they persevere and have self-belief,” she said.

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