Imagining against the odds

Imagining against the odds

Allan Gray Orbis Foundation National Jamboree, Spier, Western Cape.At the tender age of four Karidas Tshintsholo knew that he would have to forego luxuries such as new Christmas clothes and visits to the ice cream truck because he was now the man of the house. Karidas’ Mom – he calls her his golden lady – was left on her own to fend for the family when Karidas was only two. Sleeping in shelters and attending church so they could receive hand outs of clothes and food was their norm until they received a three-room RDP house from the government.

This little house situated in the Ekangala Township, east of Pretoria, is what Karidas and his mom still call home. Though little has changed in terms of their geographical location, a world of change has occurred in the sixteen years since Karidas took up his role as man of the house.

Neither poverty nor a congenital disorder – ectodermal displasia, which affects the carrier’s sweat glands, hair growth and teeth – could keep this young man from imagining and achieving the near impossible. Every time he’d come before a challenge, be it a horde of teasing school kids or an invitation to compete with the country’s smartest, Karidas would simply remember his mother’s words. She always encouraged him to forget whatever everyone else said and only believe what she said: that he was handsome and smart.

Recognising his potential, his mom worked hard cleaning, ironing and working on construction sites so she could afford the extra R400 per month to send him to the better of the two township high schools. He did her proud. He joined the debating team as its youngest member and that year the team went through to the national competition for the first time. He was also captain of the soccer team and excelled in athletics. His utter determination to do his best became especially evident when he came second in a race despite running with a broken arm.

It was only in Grade 10, however, that he started applying this determination to his academics. He was failing maths and realised that it was time to scale down on extramural activities and put in the hours. He told himself, “if I can put my mind to this and actually sit down and spend time with mathematics … I’m going to be able to do it.”

This mantra of putting in the hours soon paid off in other areas as well. He entered the Young Communicators awards competition  during 2011 and so impressed the then minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, with his team’s idea of self-propelling trucks that she promised Ekangala Comprehensive High School a laboratory. Unfortunately this promise is yet to be fulfilled.

Karidas’ belief in teams and working with people who are willing to work hard prevailed again when he entered the Reserve Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee Schools Challenge in 2012. The teachers at their school advised them against entering for fear of embarrassing themselves, but Karidas only needed them to sit down and get as much economics into their heads as possible. Though they were up against teams from affluent schools where teachers came along to support the learners, their team was still the only one able to answer questions without the help of teachers. Again Karidas made such an impression that to this day he is on the reserve bank’s mailing list and is invited to all their noteworthy events.

This young man made similar impressions on his community. He was appointed youth leader at the age of 14 and soon after launched a myriad entrepreneurial initiatives because “with this money [he was] going to change [people’s] mindsets by exposing them to different things.” Today the initiatives he started when he was just 14 are still running, now only by young men and women whom he trained in advance to take over his role.

His long list of achievements, while very impressive, was not the only thing that stood out for the Fellowship Selection team.  It was his sheer determination. It was his sheer determination; his embodiment of a Foundation Pillar called Intellectual Imagination. This Pillar is “demonstrated by an established record of intellectual achievement; an ability to see the unseen, challenge the status quo and suggest that things could be done differently.”

Karidas succeeded in obtaining the Allan Gray Fellowship and gained access to the University of Cape Town where he is now studying Actuarial Science; what he calls the perfect combination of his two favourite subjects – maths and economics. Thanks to his dogged determination and sleeping only four hours a night, Karidas has also managed to become a co-founder of an entrepreneurial venture called Student Investor. This company, which is completely student run, aims to encourage a culture of saving and financial freedom among the youth through specifically crafted financial products and services.

At the age of 20, Karidas Tshintsholo’s life story is already brimming with tales of overcoming and beating the odds. It doesn’t require too much imagination to guess what kinds of tales his next 20 years hold.

Written by Alexa Anthonie.

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