The advent of social media has resulted in us living in what is quite frankly, a heavily curated life in public. Few people will truly open up to the hardships that was attaining their success, leading to a world where it almost appears as though victory can be attained overnight. We recently received this inspiring submission from a loyal reader named Millien Hendricks, and felt that it was necessary to publish it as TCC is, after all, a platform built on inspiring young professionals to create a life of determination and accomplishment.
Written By: Millien Hendricks
I was 15 years old with only the clothes on my back and a supportive best friend whose single mom was unemployed with two kids of her own to raise. Having exhausted all options, I found myself homeless at some point, without anyone to turn to in my family as they too didn’t see eye to eye so our interaction was very limited…
I grew up with my grandparents in Maputo, Mozambique. In fact, I thought they were my parents! My mother would “come home” once a year over the festive season to visit. She was 15 when she fell pregnant with me, I don’t even think she herself knew what was happening. My mom, along with her siblings came to South Africa in search of opportunities and a better life because Mozambique – at the time, was still recovering from the effects of its civil war. They were young and naïve and I guess my mom fell for the charms and niceties that a married man (with his own family) had to offer. Then boom! When the word “pregnant” came out of my mother’s mouth – he packed up and returned to Portugal with his wife and kids. I never have met my father. I think this affected my young mother in a tremendous way. The truth is, everyone – including myself, thought my mother wasn’t all together because of the pain she suffered at the expense of well, me. In hindsight, I do believe she suffers from bipolar disorder or some other mental illness – but being traditional and Mozambican means no one understands mental illness or even tries to acknowledge it (but we’ll come back to this).
I came here at the age of 7 to start schooling (best thing my grandmother ever did for me). I didn’t know a word of English so the only school that was willing to take on my “special” self was a humble school in a Coloured Township called Coronationville. School was tough, I was bullied for not speaking like everybody else, and not knowing the things they did – a lot was foreign to me – food, places, English, tv, etc. Fast forward a few years of living what felt like hell with my mother – at this point, she now had 4 kids to support on a factory workers’ salary, didn’t want me finishing school so I would get a job and help her out with the kids. But you see, I discovered I was not only street smart because of walking the streets of town to get to school every day, but I learnt English in my first 6 months of school – I was book smart, in fact, I loved school. My mother at the time would give me little room to exercise this love for school, you see, we were quite poor, we struggled to make rent, many a times there wasn’t anything to eat, electricity would be out and my life was filled with constant chores around the house and taking care of my siblings – feeding them, cleaning up after them, washing them, their clothes, our clothes, cooking, etc as we could not afford a helper and my mother had to work. I felt like I was an adult for most of my life. I somehow still got through my schoolwork after long days and still managed to obtain all the academic awards at school. My grandmother encouraged me to keep at it. She always said that an education was the only way I would get out of the poverty we were stuck in.
It was at the age of about 12 when my relationship with my mom started taking a turn for the worst. She was always verbally and physically abusive. I grew up hating the fact that I was alive because she always said and did things to remind me of how “worthless I was” to the point where I became suicidal. Later on, I began pushing boundaries as a teenager because I got tired of the abuse, and angry, I was such an angry child! I got over having to be silent about everything. There is discipline and there is abuse, I know the difference. Fast forward to me being a curious 15 year old, I start seeing a guy, my mother finds out, loses her mind and kicks me out into the streets in an episode where I almost lost my life in the process, to this day – she still hates me and chooses not to speak to me even after every apology I made. This experience, was by far the most excruciatingly painful but yet defining thing I ever went through. I went back and tried to apologise but it only led to more violence. Little did I know at the time that my God was actually taking me out of a pretty awful and dead-end situation because my life actually was destined for more.
So I stayed over at every friend’s house that I could, until eventually I overstayed my welcomed and moved onto the next. I eventually found my way to a shelter – an interim residence where you could stay until you were placed into the foster care system. I wish there was enough space for me to go into detail of how awful this place was. My bestie called it “the haunted house”. It was haunted with hookers, drug addicts, an owner who was very touchy, the owner’s brother who bred pit bulls, the worst smelling mattresses on floors and very little food and support for sustenance. Needless to say this experience didn’t last very long (thank God!) I often couldn’t make it to school and my grades started dropping (I was a constant A-student), eventually my guidance counsellor picked this up. She was living in the high school’s hostel at the time – it was closed to the public but there were a few teachers left that were weening their way out of there. This woman (bless her soul) opened up her home, and her family to me. She introduced me to her sister, their kids and her mom and we became one unit on condition that I worked for myself – my school fees, my expenses, etc. For about 2 years while living with this family, I used to have nightmares about my own mother killing me. I used to mourn deeply, even in my sleep because of the pain I had experienced from what I perceived at the time as rejection from my own mother. I experimented with cigarettes, alcohol, some ecstasy, but thankfully – I have never had an addictive personality. I eventually drowned myself in Christianity, and herein I found my support and my internal compass. I decided I wanted to be happy and successful in life.
I worked extremely hard – I worked part time every weekend and school holiday in order to pay my way for many things that other kids my age got from their parents. I quickly learnt independence, but more so – it gave me ambition – ambition to get out of the current situation I was in and build a better and more comfortable life for myself. It took me many years to get over this, and well – life happens, I got into the wrong kind of relationships that only caused me more emotional damage. But one thing remained certain: I never lost focus on my goals, no matter how much personal pain and financial challenges I found myself in. I got through high school, I signed up for every job I could do to make cash, I was selected for a prestigious bursary because of my grades, I worked hard to keep that bursary, I hustled like crazy – selling other people’s textbooks and jewellery, marking scripts, doing promotions, ushering at the arts centre, working in retail and then facilitating in a skills development project I was so passionate about. I obtained the CA (SA) designation I so badly wanted after 6 years of studying and a hectic 3 year articles experience, there were many hiccups along the way, but I am proud to say that I passed my qualifying exams first time. Nothing gave me greater joy. No one can ever take that away from me (well – unless I do something stupid or illegal!). I felt like I finally made it. It was a long and tough journey to even get into varsity and let alone pay for every year and finish the course. But in my mind – becoming a CA would give me the background I needed to succeed in business someday – so I persevered.
What I am trying to share with you today is, no matter how impossible your dream seems – be hungry for it. Be so damn hungry, you are willing to put in extreme hours, fight, cry, bleed and sweat for it. You hold the power to change anything in your life that you are not happy with, no matter what your circumstances are. And it all starts with a decision to change – it starts in the mind.
Now I am plotting my next move, I am so glad to say though, that while I am doing so, I am happy and so grateful for everything I have achieved. It may not be much to many, but for a little barefoot girl from (a ghetto) Chamancoulo in Maputo – it is a dream come true: to be happy and successful in my own terms – as we all have different definitions of what success is in life, as long as you are living yours. I have since been passionate about the upliftment of under-privileged young women and got involved in bursary programmes, mentorship programmes and recruitment in order for me to give back in some way. My advice to you: find what fires up your soul – and pursue it relentlessly, being poor is not an excuse to not change your life. And once you have – continue growing and evolving and take people on that path with you. Stay resilient and pursue the goals that will help you reach your dream daily. Success is a series of events that sometimes takes years to reach that one day where you “succeed”.