“When I started working at Londolozi in 2000 as a babysitter, I was just a young girl from rural Justicia village. My journey – together with the unwavering belief that others had in me – has taken me to a place where I am able to help others find the courage in themselves to be the best they can be.” – Linky Nkuna
Linky Nkuna – Londolozi veteran and Centre Coordinator at Good Work Foundation’s Madlala Digital Learning Centre – has been chosen to participate in the 2014 Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. Not only will Linky spend six weeks studying entrepreneurship, business and civic leadership at a prominent American college, but she will also participate in a three-day Washington Fellows Summit hosted by President Barack Obama.
I have had the privilege of working with Linky for the past year and half, where I have seen firsthand how she inspires a sense of creativity and leadership amongst the young people of the village where she was born. We are immensely proud of Linky, and – in the following interview – I hope that I can share a sense of Linky’s journey, and few very precious pearls of wisdom.
Ryan: Linky, when did you join Londolozi?
Linky: I was determined to work at Londolozi. I didn’t want to sit at home, I knew that on my doorstep was this incredible place where I could expand my horizons and meet interesting people from South Africa and the rest of the world. I walked to the public phone every week and phoned Londolozi until eventually they called me in for an interview. I was employed 15 years ago – on a part-time basis – as a babysitter and then went on to become a switch-board operator, a receptionist, front-office manager and then a camp manager.
Ryan: Tell me about those early days.
Linky: You have to imagine me as a ‘village girl’. I had only seen a handful of white people in my lifetime, and now, I was working at a place where I was meeting individuals from all over the world. I loved hearing stories about how other people lived, and I can chat around a fire until the sun comes up. In 2006 I became a camp manager, and the world came to me. What a privilege.
What stands out for me was that everyone at Londolozi wanted me to succeed, even though I was so young and naïve. I remember a conversation with one of Londolozi’s previous operations managers, Jane Baker. She said to me: “Linky, you need to save money, you shouldn’t spend your entire paycheck.” I had no idea about money matters and I replied: “Why do I need to save?” Jane replied: “Well what if you need some extra money or you lose your job?” I was horrified. I think I actually went white. I said to Jane in a panic: “You can’t fire me, I’ve only just arrived. What will I say to my mother?” Needless to say, I have become a bit of a hoarder.
[Note: Linky featured in one of Londolozi’s earliest YouTube videos. Click on the video below to see Linky in action in 2007]
Ryan: How did the opportunity to go to Washington come about?
Linky: I have managed Founders Camp and Tree Camp, and I was the first ever camp manager at Granite Camp, but it was in 2009, when I was managing Pioneer Camp that I met guests Melanie Thompson and Amy Morris from Atlanta in Georgia. We connected immediately and Melanie and Amy have been my friends ever since. Last year, Melanie sent me a web link to the Young African Leaders Initiative website. I applied, and in June I will be going to Washington, and I cannot wait! I have always put myself out there with no expectations, and how amazing that a friend in Atlanta thought about me and sent me a chance email. I am eternally grateful for where life’s little connections can take you.
Ryan: You now work at Good Work Foundation in your home village of Justicia. Was it easy to go back?
Linky: One day – out of the blue – Dave Varty stopped me and said: “Linky, where do you see yourself in five years?”
Dave was the first person to ever ask me that question, and it was something that I had never thought about. I went home and created my first ever vision board. I knew that I wanted to help other young people from my community to have access to a world beyond the village. With the full support of Londolozi – and after three years as a camp manager – I joined the Good Work Foundation team, and helped to start the Madlala Digital Learning Centre in Justicia village. Today we are involved in everything from digital literacy to life-coaching, career days, sexual health awareness and creativity workshops. For the first time, more than a handful of our young students are attending universities around South Africa. There is a new norm here, one that says: “You are allowed to dream big, and there are people who will encourage it.” So yes, because I had a mission, it was easy to come home.
Ryan: What message would you like to share with the world?
Linky: I say with a full-heart that Londolozi is what it is because it’s not a business, it’s a home. It speaks to my soul and my being, and it always has. Thank you Dave for always believing in me and pushing me, and thank you for encouraging me to create a vision board.
I believe in paying it forward, and that original vision board is in my classroom every day. My most powerful lesson to each one of our students at Good Work Foundation is a simple question: “Where do you see yourself in five years from now?”
Can you imagine if five years ago someone had told me that I would be meeting President Obama in 2014? The opportunity would not have presented itself without my vision board, and the wonderful people I have been lucky enough to meet over the years?
So my message is: Challenge the people you care about. Ask them about their vision board and then let them know that you believe that they can do it.
To see Linky doing what she does best in her hometown, have a look at the Good Work Foundation video below. Londolozi guests can arrange in advance to visit Madlala Digital Learning Centre and get involved with digital lessons, helping the kids out on the tablets, OR, spending some time with the adult students. It’s well worth the trip, and – as a bonus – you’ll get to meet Linky.