Youth writing contest – Runner up

Where There Is A Will There Is A Way

Photo of Nyasha MichelNyasha Michel
Age 14
Kwambonambi, South Africa

Sipho woke up with a start. It was pitch black in the little two-roomed shack. She felt for her younger siblings and held them tightly. She had had a terrible nightmare and was now bathed in sweat. Feeling for some matches and a gas lamp, she sat on the edge of her straw mat staring into the flames that danced around the interior of the lamp. A tear slid slowly down her cheek. It had been a year now since her parents had passed away. They had both died on that terrible evening of that cruel illness that killed so many people in Africa.

She had been left to look after her siblings. The stress and responsibilities were so much; after all she was only 13 years old. Everyone always expected her just to deal with the fate that had befallen her and she tried. But at night, when nobody was watching, she couldn’t help the tears she shed for her two kind parents and because she did not know what lay ahead. Her parents had left hardly any money for them and she knew that if she did not do something soon, they would not survive. Sipho lay down again onto the mat and slipped under the sheets.

The following morning she woke up early. She made a breakfast of putu and sugarcane sap. Putu is the South African name for mealie-meal boiled in water. She squeezed out the sugarcane she had taken from the sugarcane plantation nearby and added it to the putu making it sweet and delicious. After her and her siblings (one aged five and the other aged three) and her had had their breakfast, Sipho made her way to the public school, for which attendance was fortunately free. The school day passed as usual and fatigue swept over Sipho because of the lack of sleep, but her last lesson made her pull herself together and sit up. Her last lesson was Economics and Management Science or EMS as they called it. At the moment they were learning about Farming and Agriculture.

“The key,” the teacher was saying, “to producing better food leading to better health is making sure that the water used to water plants is not contaminated with chemicals, poisons, and wastes. Can anyone give me another one?”

Sipho, who was vigorously taking notes, eagerly shot her hand up into the air. The teacher’s face broke into a smile. “Yes, Sipho,” she said, “please give us another point.” Sipho beamed, “Well, Mrs. Young, I thought that perhaps if the air were cleaner and without pollution then maybe the plants would be healthier and stronger. I also have reflected that using bio-pesticides will keep away any pests that infest the plants. This will enable them to grow to greater sizes and to be healthier. Bio-pesticides can make important contributions to Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Foods are better in quality if they are grown in clean and good environments.”

Mrs. Young’s smile turned serious, “What you said was very mature and grown-up. If you carry on like this you will have to take over class.” Sipho looked at her earnestly, “My mother,” she said, “my mother had a book about farming and agriculture. I could not stop reading it. I have always taken an interest in these things.” Mrs. Young looked at her gravely, “Please stay back after this lesson, Sipho. I would like to talk to you.”

The other students who had remained silent during the conversation began to talk again and the class erupted in noise. The lesson went by and the bell rung at three o’clock as always. Sipho stayed behind to talk to Mrs. Young. “You are a very clever girl, Sipho. You have a true understanding of agriculture and farming.” Mrs. Young spoke slowly and quietly, “I know how you and your siblings are doing, I know that there are times when there is not enough food. I am about to offer you a job, Sipho. It is a minor job and you will probably only earn a thousand rand per month, but it is better than nothing and I am sure that you are right for this job.”

“Thank you,” Sipho said with tears in her eyes, “this means a lot to me.”

From then on Sipho had a job in farm management where she told people more about healthy farming and made them aware of the positive and negative factors of things concerning agriculture. Sipho was good at her new job and worked in the afternoons after school. When she was eighteen, she held a speech in the big conference hall in town. This was her speech:

“To produce better food resulting in better health you should ensure that you have access to clean, fresh water and that the environment you are growing your plants in is not polluted. Your plants will then grow better and will be healthier. People should also make use of advanced technology and science to help them grow their crops healthily and naturally. If possible, the plants should be kept away from genetically modified products.”

Sipho paused to take breath, this was brilliant and every single pair of eyes was glued to her.

“To conclude, I would like to urge you to use natural resources responsibly as these are scarce and should be used sparingly. Small-scale farming is also one way we can use our resources sparingly. If we are not careful we will over-use our resources and soil erosion and desertification will take place. Then nothing will grow. I hope that I have inspired you today and that you will follow my advice. Thank you.”

As Sipho bowed and left the room, the hall erupted in thunderous clapping. There were her two little sisters standing up to clap and there was her teacher, that good woman who was more of a motherly figure now than a teacher. Sipho was very, very happy and is now studying agriculture at University since she received a full scholarship.

Video from all conference sessions now available from the program pages