When Itumeleng Ralebitso ’17 joined the Future of Africa (FOA) initiative at Ashesi, it was not out of the need to merely volunteer or to clock out her community service hours. Tumi, as she is more popularly called on campus, understood what it meant to be needy, and the initiative’s mission, to address the challenge of street children in Ghana, strongly resonated with her.
In 2004, Itumelemg’s single mother passed away after a long drawn-out ailment, leaving her and her 5 siblings to take care of themselves. Growing up in the highlands of Lesotho, Tumi, the first of her siblings to go to school, had to walk two hours to school every day. When her mother passed, it became her responsibility to take care of her four younger siblings.
“I know how it feels like to have no parental care and to have to beg for help from strangers,” she says. “I know how it feels like to have no food, no dreams and no sense of love, even for oneself. I know because I experienced all this growing up.”
Help came eventually, through the SOS Children’s Village, a global network of care-giving facilities for children who for one reason or another, lack parental care.
This marked the beginning of a new life for her. Through the SOS Village, Tumi gained admission to SOS-Hermann Gmeiner International college, in Ghana, an educational institution created to provide quality standard education for children in the SOS Village.
“Everything changed for me when SOS Children Village in Lesotho took us in,” she said. “Not only did we have access to quality education, but also we met people who cared. And it was here that I first learned about Ashesi. I was immediately struck by the university's pan-African commitment, and its honour code. I’ve always loved learning about different countries and people from different backgrounds. On the other hand, I’ve never really fancied the idea of invigilators in exam rooms – they intimidated me - so hearing of a school where this was not needed was the best for me.”
Drawn by her attraction to Ashesi, Tumi applied, and gained admission to Ashesi as a MasterCard Foundation scholar. Through her stay at Ashesi, she built close bonds with some of the staff and faculty, and this helped Tumi perceive life and herself in a new light. “I learned a great deal from the people in the Student Affairs office,” she said. “They believed in me and gave me the support I needed, especially non-academic. For a long time, I had very low self-esteem and self-worth. Through their mentorship and guidance, they helped me deal with some of my insecurities and fears, and helped me know that I am worthy of love. These are the things I cherish about Ashesi; the care in and out of the classroom.”
Eager to give back, Tumi joined Future of Africa in her second year, and took charge of planning programs for the street kids. “I feel like FOA has given me the opportunity to practise all I have learned in Ashesi: the ethics, critical thinking, courage, speaking up and more.”
Now that Itumeleng has graduated from with Ashesi, and settling back home in Lesotho, she’s eager to continue the work of helping street kids, and pursuing her dream of becoming a clinical psychologist. Down the road, she looks to expand the Future of Africa initiative to Lesotho.
“I used to never dream beyond high school but now I’m even considering pursuing a pHD,” she says. “So there has been huge transformation in my life. SOS started and Ashesi sealed it, and now it's time for me to give back in the same way. I may not become wealthy from all these, but I am very excited about the experience and the lives I'll be able to impact.”