This is a story of a young South African woman who had nothing but a pen and paper as a voice. My name is Mandisa Mavundla, a seventeen year-old girl. My story started when I was born. I believe that I was born for a reason, even though I had my ups and downs in life, that doesn’t define who I am. My past is my past, don’t judge me because of what I have been through or due to the fact that I couldn’t control the situations I have found myself in.

To begin with, I used to have the perfect family, with my mother and father both present and my three siblings. Most of the kids I grew up with were my friends and they did not have what I had. I used to tell myself that I was lucky, and indeed I was, but not for long. I never really had any close friends, simply because I used to adore my elder sister. I would follow her everywhere.

The good Lord gave me the brains; I was really clever at school. I got good grades, especially in primary school, where I was bullied by a gang of three girls who didn’t take my money or lunch, but copied all my school work. They would tell me that if I didn’t do their homework they will beat me up. I got through that because my mother used to tell me that I was strong and I could do anything that I put my mind to. Being young, I didn’t understand that.

I grew up and started secondary school, where I discovered that I had many talents.

I joined the debating team at school and I really enjoyed it. I believe that is when I discovered my passion for debating and being involved in politics. But being clever in school advertised me to bullies. At the school I attended you were bullied for being good at something. Being the kid that I was, I didn’t care. I had more than just mere bullying to deal with. The situation at home was not good. My mom used to sew clothes for the elderly and sell them and my dad was a security guard.

Nevertheless, we never went to bed with an empty stomach, even though it came to that sometimes, my parents would make a plan. I never really talked to anyone about my family problems or how I felt. I wrote poems that I never recited for anyone. They were good, but they were too personal. Whenever I felt sad or happy, I would take a pen and book and write something. Writing helped me to relieve myself of any pain or whatever emotion it may have been feeling at that particular moment.

At that time, the most difficult thing I was dealing with was watching my mom and dad fight. Dad would come home drunk just after getting paid from work, only to find that he had not even bought groceries. It was tough and sad.

The more I grew-up, the more my mom and dad were fighting.

The stress was just too much. Consequently I stopped debating and writing poems. I got tired of it and bottled up all the anger inside me. That is when things started to look normal for me. I started high school and I already had friends that were not the type of influence I was looking for. I became friends with them simply because I had known them from primary school, even though we were not very close back then – but considering that they were the only people I knew, we joined forces. We just clicked. I enjoyed hanging out with them because they would talk about all kinds of things that I did not know about. They had already started dating guys much older than them. They always had money at school and they used to give me some if I didn’t have any.

I also started dating and they taught me every trick in the book. I was not good at such things, all I knew was studying. I continued studying and dating at the same time and I felt like I knew it all. I entered a competition because my teacher told me to, he knew I was smart. Surprisingly, I won, and received a lot of amazing prizes.

The competition was called the Local History Museum Competition, which was about Durban’s local museums. The prizes included a trip to Germany, Bremen. Something that I never dreamed of happened to me. Just when I was enjoying the spotlight, I made the most terrible mistake, which was falling pregnant in matric. I thought of suicide, because of the shame and embarrassment I had caused my family and everyone that believed in me.

My being pregnant did a lot of damage to my life, but since I was in matric, I wanted to do something special for my mom. I wanted to prove to everyone that being pregnant at the age of 16 did not determine your whole life; it only serves to teach young girls like me to straighten their mindset and focus on the important things that would make them prosper. And I did. I passed my matric with 5 distinctions and 2 B symbols. Now I’m a student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal doing my first year in BA Philosophy, Politics and Law. Don’t judge me because of my failures, but by my rising above all odds.