It had been a rough year, and to top it all off, it was looking a lot like Grade 11 learner Bernadetta Kabou-Block would have to leave her beloved school after seven memorable years.
Bernadetta (17), an accomplished singer, earned herself a scholarship to Wynberg Girls’ Junior School in Grade 4 then moved onto Wynberg Girls’ High School.
The teen, who lives with her grandmother in Capricorn in Muizenberg, Cape Town, was facing an awful dilemma: her grandmother, the breadwinner, lost her job due to the pandemic this year and she is moving to Kimberley.
Unless Bernadetta could come up with R63 000 to pay for hostel fees, she would also have to move to the Northern Cape to complete her education at an unfamiliar, Afrikaans-medium school.
“You can’t get what you don’t give,” is one of Bernadetta’s mantras, and on 30 October, with a little help from the school, she launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds she needed.
A few days later she had hit, and exceeded, her target of R63 000, which inspired her to launch similar campaigns for other girls at the school, who also find themselves in financial tight spots.
“Allison [Eakin, the school’s social worker] suggested a crowdfunding initiative, and just in case that did not work, we also came up with the idea of a concert to raise funds – but, thankfully, the crowdfunding worked. We’ve raised over R63 000 in a week,” she tells us excitedly.
She felt overwhelmed when she saw how many people were reaching out to help her, but Bernadetta was also encouraged by it and decided she needed to pay it forward and help her schoolmates in need.
“When we saw how quickly the money was raised, I spoke to one of my teachers because I know there are lot of other girls who also need financial help, and they don’t really have the support I have. We decided to change the concept of the concert, so that we can help other girls financially with whatever they need,” she says.
They decided on a concert because Bernadetta is passionate about the arts. She is a member of the school’s jazz band, and has performed at the Baxter Theatre and at the V&A Waterfront’s Band Slam competition, where high-school bands compete.
“I’ve always sang because I come from a church background. But I only started doing it more seriously in Grade 6 or 7 when I joined the school’s vocal ensemble choir.”
Bernadetta, who is also a dancer and actress, says she has always had to persevere to succeed, but it’s paid off.
“The arts really teach you to persevere because nothing is guaranteed. If you want something you really have to go after it,” she says.
“I always had to work for everything that I have. Nothing really got handed to me. It was always a thing of even if I don’t get in the first time [for an audition], I had to try again if I really wanted to.”
Having a strong support system is also vital, she adds.
“You want to be surrounded by people who are going to try and lift you up and who are going to be happy for you. But it also goes two ways, you can’t get what you don’t give.”
Her grandmother, Mieta Block, heard her sing for the first time at the Band Slam earlier this year.
“My gran hadn’t heard me sing before. I sing in church, but I had never really sung just for her, even though she would ask me. This year she was able to see me live, when I sang Never Enough [from the movie The Greatest Showman] and it was very emotional for us. She was crying afterwards. I feel very vulnerable when I perform people in front of people who are important to me, so it was very emotional,” she tells us, with tears rolling down her face.
“Bernadetta has worked hard, and what she is seeing today is just the start of the fruition of her work,” Allison says.
Pat Orpen, the head of culture at the school, says the school has benefitted tremendously from Bernadetta because she is so talented.
“She has such a feisty, fighting spirit – in the very best inspirational way. She is extraordinary,” Pat says.
Dayna Pearce, the conductor of the school’s jazz band, says Bernadetta was a shy young woman when she joined, and now she has become a vibrant singer.
“Bernadetta has shown strength and perseverance as one of our lead vocalists. I am so proud of her! She is just such a talented singer,” Dayna says.
Bernadetta, who has been elected student leader of the school’s Cultural Pillar for 2021, says she hopes to enrol at the Luitingh Alexander Musical Theatre Academy in Cape Town after completing matric.
This inspirational teen finds inspiration in musicians, her classmates and music teachers, all of whom who inspire her.
“The people who are around me all the time inspire me because I see their struggles every day.
“Whatever it is you want to do, don’t give up. If you don’t keep trying, again and again, you are not going to get very far. Trying again shows you want what you are going after. Don’t give up, it never works.”
• The school’s online concert Pay It Forward – Journey with Bernie will stream live from 8-10 December.