FunDza interviewed 10 Fantastic FunDza Fanz! Meet Izabell…
Izabell Chabeni, 18, is from a township in the North West – an area heavily affected by crime and unemployment. Influenced by her mother’s lessons of independence and dedication, she has her vision firmly set on studying virology at the University in Cape Town. Her dream is to return to her birthplace one day to show other young people that studying at university is possible.

Independence and education

“I was born in the North West. I grew up in the North West. I still am in the North West – but I’m planning on leaving the North West,” Izabell explains.

Growing up in her township has not been easy. Crime dominates the landscape in which Izabell lives. “Most people fear coming to this township because they say it’s very dangerous,” she explains. “For me it’s not so dangerous because I grew up here [but] when I was younger, the crime wasn’t that harsh. We would play outside until it got dark. Now you can’t even go outside late at night – they will rob you.”

Izabell quickly recognised that she must carve her own path in life if she was to overcome the challenges around her. “I learnt independence from an early age because my mother didn’t like me being dependent on anybody else,” she explains. “If you get dependent on somebody else they might disappoint – so me being independent gives me authority over my life.”

Concerned by the crime, unemployment and drinking that took place around her, Izabell decided at a young age to study hard so that she could find a better job for herself. “In my community we believe that in order for you to succeed you have to do great in your academics, for the bursaries – because most of us here are from poor backgrounds and there is no guarantee that your parents will pay for your tertiary fees. If you don’t do well in your books then you’ll just be a drunkard like everybody else in the community.”

As Izabell speaks, a cockerel calls. Her bedroom is beside the chicken coop, and she is in charge of taking care of the hens and the family’s spinach garden. Indeed, nature is important to Izabell and offers her a calm escape.

Raised by strong women

This determination to succeed in life was set in motion as a young girl. Her mother left the house when she was ten years old to seek work in Cape Town. Living with her grandmother and her baby sister, Izabell threw herself into school work. “I remember when I was doing Grade Three the teacher offered me to stay with her because of the distance I had to travel to and from school.”

Izabell explains that she has few friends and prefers to focus on her school work, keeping her goals of tertiary education focused in her mind. “At school we have two-chair desks,” she explains, “but I sit alone because I think sitting alone just helps me to be able to focus in class.”

Poetry as an escape

In Grade Seven, Izabell discovered poetry. “I wanted to express myself because I didn’t have many friends … I started writing and I just fell in love with writing. I continuously wrote poems,  all sorts of poems, just to express myself.” Her poems – such as I am a Woman and Proudly Black – reflect on the gender and racial issues that play out in Izabell’s world. 

Reading has also expanded Izabell’s mind. “Reading really has an impact on a person’s life, [especially] if you read about something which is educating.” She makes the example of stories she read on FunDza about LGBTQIA+ issues. Although Izabell is aware of the discrimination against gay people in her community, reading a story about it helped her to better understand these issues and encourage openness.

Cape Town calling

Although life in the North West might be challenging  for Izabell, her vision of studying further in Cape Town motivates her to focus on her education. “Cape Town is where I have to go in order for me to achieve and get opportunities to improve my life. I want to show it’s possible to go to varsity and pursue a career of your dreams.”

The dream is to become a virologist with a focus on studying HIV. One day, she’d like to return to her home to show other children in the area there that it is possible to go to university and pursue a career in virology.

That is the big dream – but for now, today, Izabell focuses on her studies. She might not be able to get to Cape Town yet, but reading is helping her to imagine other worlds and possibilities in her future. “Because when you read,” she says, “it’s like the author takes you somewhere else and just puts you there”. 

We asked Izabell:

Why do you like reading on FunDza?
It’s educational, entertaining and fun to read.

When is your favorite time to read on FunDza?
After  school.

What is your favourite thing/book on FunDza?
I read last week The Kiss in Egypt … I love it. It was very descriptive. It gave me all the details about all the juices.

What do you like to do aside from FunDza?
I just listen to music and … go outside just to watch the nature features that we have.

To read about the nine other Fanastic FunDza Fanz, click here.