When Sipho first started at Mpumelelo High School in Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal Province, it only had eight classrooms for its 560 pupils. There was no clean water source, so many of the children had to walk miles every morning carrying heavy water cans to school.
Despite Sipho’s academic talent, the lack of resources at the school meant his chances of going on to higher education were doubtful.
"I started off in life with very few advantages," he says. "I lost both parents when I was five years old. I was raised by my grandparents who also passed away when I was 13 or 14. My future didn’t look particularly promising."
A born winner
Sipho was born in Tugela Ferry, about 90 kilometres east of Estcourt. The area was known for violence between rival local tribes. When Sipho was 14 years old, he was the victim of a shooting. He was lucky to survive, the bullet missing his heart by just one centimetre.
After spending three weeks in hospital, his aunt took over his care. He moved with her and her husband to Estcourt, and later enrolled at the local Mpumelelo High School.
In 2011, Nestlé South Africa joined with some of the country’s biggest businesses in a programme to 'adopt' a school. The company already had a factory in Estcourt, so it was fitting to choose the local Mpumelelo High School to adopt.
The 'Adopt a School' initiative is really changing people’s lives. I’m a living testimony of that.Sipho Shezi, Microbiologist at Nestlé
'Adopt a School' offers disadvantaged schools financial support to improve their facilities, equipment and teaching practices. Sipho was one of the first students at Mpumelelo to benefit from the programme.
The added interest in the school by Nestlé encouraged the Kwazulu-Natal provincial government to invest in it as well. Today Mpumelelo boasts a borehole for fresh water, technological teaching equipment, extra 24 new classrooms, computer lab, new library and sports field. Students get support with maths and English while teachers have more textbooks and improved teaching materials. There are also training opportunities so the staff can develop their teamwork and leadership, and learners get life skills training.
Sipho was a top performer in his year. With the support of Nestlé, as well as his aunt and teachers, he went on to earn a degree in microbiology and genetics at University of KwaZulu-Natal. He is now part of the 'Adopt a School' graduate programme, building a promising career as a microbiologist in Nestlé's East London factory. "The 'Adopt a School' initiative is really changing people’s lives," Sipho says. "I'm a living testimony of that."
The programme is also having a knock-on effect for the children's families and their local community. There is now an access point for water, increased employment as a result of the school renovations, and a community that is learning new skills.
Playing an active role in the local communities where its factories and offices are located is just one way Nestlé works to fulfill its purpose of enhancing quality of life and contributing to a healthier future.
For Nestlé South Africa's Public Affairs manager Monako Dibetle, it is the children's passion for learning that makes this programme so special. "Despite their uncertain futures, with difficult family backgrounds and an under-resourced school, they still manage to give their best performance in class," he says.
Since 'Adopt a School' began, Nestlé has funded 63 students. Many have gone on to higher education studying engineering, technology or science. The scheme is creating a valuable pool of skilled, creative, and innovative thinkers, who are desirable future employees for businesses across South Africa.
For Nestlé, these students are its future engineers, artisans and factory managers. The initiative is Nestlé South Africa’s response to the company’s global youth initiative, Nestlé needs Youth, which aims to help 10 million young people around the world have access to employment opportunities.
No country can really develop unless their citizens are educated.Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa
In addition to Mpumelelo, Nestlé has adopted two further schools close to its factories - Lerato-Uthando Comprehensive High School in the Free State province and Indwe High School in Mossel Bay.
The company's 2030 ambition is to improve 30 million livelihoods in communities directly connected to its business, and that starts with education. It hopes to increase the number of university students it funds, with a focus on getting more young women into technology and engineering.
Nelson Mandela said, "No country can really develop unless their citizens are educated." Education is the key to unlocking South Africa's potential. Through funding education, especially in rural areas, Nestlé is helping develop thriving, resilient communities and improving livelihoods. Child by child, school by school, community by community.
Find out more about Nestlé’s 'Adopt a School' programme.