It was a rainy day in KwaZulu-Natal on Monday 10 February. The dreary weather was quite the contrast to the reason behind my visit.
I was loaded into a taxi along with seven students at the King Shaka airport as we made our way to Zimbali Resort. The rain didn't faze them – they carried sunshine in their hearts. Today was a joyous occasion for them.
These students, all of different ages, from different backgrounds, with different fields of study, were on their way to meet South African actress Nomzamo Mbatha.
But this was not the average meet-and-greet. The students were recipients of bursaries from Nomzamo's Lighthouse Foundation.
I made conversation with some of them as we took the drive through the winding KZN road.
"Are you a first-year student?" I asked a young woman to my right.
"No," she responded. Her eyes dropped to her lap, and I could almost see her heart become heavier. I was afraid to question any further.
She continued: "I completed my first year in 2015, but I could not afford to pay my fees, so they would not let me move on."
That's where the money would go for her. It would allow her to pay off the remainder of her fees and then, as she put it, give her the freedom to go anywhere she likes.
To my left was a gentleman. I said: "What about you?"
He told me that he is a third-year accounting student. Quite by accident, actually – he wanted to study economics but did not get into that programme. It's not a loss though, he smiles widely as he assures me that he loves accounting. The money he receives will make sure that he takes another step closer to his qualification.
Somewhere, in-between those pure connections, I realised that something special was taking place here.
These people – young and old, from all walks of life – were here to receive funding that would go toward their futures. There were no stringent criteria; you just had to be an individual in need with the desire to push forward.
Later, at the venue, I track down Nomzamo for a quick chat, and she explains that the point of this bursary is to provide funding for the "missing middle" – those overlooked by bigger schemes because they do not fit a particular criterion.
"For me, it was important to stand in the gap and say, 'how do we best assist those who have had dreams deferred based on the fact that they don't qualify in certain institutions?' They don't qualify in certain systems."For the bursary, Nomzamo's Lighthouse Foundation teamed up with Hollywood Bets who provided R500 000 for potential beneficiaries.
"I was fortunate enough to have Hollywood Bets who believed in the same vision I had, and today we have birthed something that is new," she says.
Nomzamo started her foundation as a means of "empowering and helping child-headed homes". It then evolved and sought to make a difference in the lives of those who suffer from post-traumatic disorders and depression. "Now we are empowering students to go to university, go to any college, go and seek education in whichever sphere that you see."
All of these causes are close to her heart. "I've been there; I am a product of funding. My mother can say, she definitely did not fund any of my tuition fees down to the very end. Which says a lot about this foundation and this partnership."
During the reception, I watch as students tear up as they receive certificates to confirm that they have indeed been accepted into this programme. A programme which saw over 4000 applications.
That afternoon, I made casual conversation with one of the parents as we waited for the recipients to sign documents.
"I told my daughter to register at university. We didn't know where the money would come from. But I said we are going to register."
Chills ran down my spine when I heard these words.
I recalled something Nomzamo told me earlier: "I called my foundation 'The Lighthouse Foundation' because in the midst of a storm, a fisherman will look for the lighthouse, and that's their form of refuge. That's what I want my foundation to stand for. We are your sanctuary, when you look out there, you see a light, that's the lighthouse. So, you can come to us, and we will be able to assist you."
In the middle of the unknown, Nomzamo, along with Hollywood Bets, provided a way out for this mother, her daughter, and over 60 other recipients. Her foundation achieved exactly what she set out for it to do.