She ran from war. Started school at 22. And built a future for her family


Maria Hlongwane was across the border. Safe. But her troubles had just begun. Having fled a war-torn Mozambique, the 16-year-old found herself in South Africa alone and without a plan. And carrying her unborn child. She feared not only for her immediate survival, but for the future of her baby. On top of this Hlongwane faced the tremendous barrier of being uneducated. Securing a job would be next to impossible.

Realising that a quick-fix, low-paying job would be no good in the long run, she made the brave call of starting the long journey to educated freedom. With the help of her mother-in-law, Hlongwane started primary school at the age of 22. She applied herself to every task as though her life depended on it, because it did. Excelling all the way to matric, Hlongwane enrolled for tertiary study through UNISA.

At the time she was still living under difficult conditions, often unable to provide meals for herself and her son, who she sent to neighbours for food. The pressure caused Hlongwane to drop out of university and take a job in retail to bring in more money. The decision was selfless, but Hlongwane hadn’t forgotten herself and continued to dream big. Later picking up a job at a cinema, her impeccable work ethic saw her rise to the position of general manager. Showing what can be accomplished when you back yourself, Hlongwane’s courage and perseverance are simply awesome.

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