She Helps Cash-Strapped Graduates With Corporate Clothes To Prepare For The Working World

The financial obstacles faced by many students follow them into the workplace.

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By Boineelo Kgope

“Volunteers do not necessarily have time; they just have the heart” – Elizabeth  Andrew.

Despite the political instability and economic turmoil that the South African society is faced with, there are people who still rise above the challenges to make a change in the lives of others.

24-year-old Nhlawulo Shikwambane studies Honours in Strategic Corporate Communication at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). As a young girl, Shikwambane enjoyed helping underprivileged people with the little that she had.

“I’ve always wanted to do something to give back, especially to a marginalized group in society because we all know that when [it comes] to anything, black women are always at the bottom of the barrel,” Shikwambane says.

Earlier this year, Shikwambane launched Foundation Phoenix, an organisation that donates corporate clothing to women who cannot afford it.

“I make means to collect clothing from the other people who are in the corporate and I donate them to different individuals, so they look presentable just like their peers,” Shikwambane explains.

The name of the organization was carefully selected for its inspiring metaphor.

“I named my foundation after the Greek bird (phoenix), which does not die no matter the situation it is forced [into]; no matter the pressures that it’s faced, it never allows itself to give in and die,” Shikwambane says.

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Nhlawulo Shikwambane. Photo by: Boineelo Kgope.

Similarly, these women, who the foundation intend to help, went through a lot in order to complete their studies.

Despite their situation and background, “they managed to get to school and sometimes with lack of financial assistance they conquered and graduated,” she describes. “Now, about to work [just like the] phoenix, they conquered situations that were supposed to deter or hold them back; they rose from the ashes.”

At the moment, the foundation can only assist people in the Gauteng province. “I help people in Gauteng because I have just started and have resources that are limited to the province,” Shikwambane explains.

The idea of distributing clothes and give back to the society came after Shikwambane noticed that students struggle financially long after they have obtained their academic qualifications.

“For those students who are under financial assistance after graduation, it’s not like their financial difficulties disappear even when they go into the workplace they face similar challenges,” she explains.

Foundation Phoenix has only been around since April, but it has met lot of positivity from people who are keen to make contributions to the foundation.

The first set of donated clothes were distributed in the middle of the year.  But, Shikwambane wants to do more than just donate clothes.

“My passion in future, no matter what I venture out into, is to have a network of non-profit organizations that deal with having to give black women so that they can feel empowered,” Shikwambane says.

Beneficiaries of the organisation need to meet certain criteria. They need to be recent graduates, have less than five years’ experience in the workplace and be in a financial crisis.

People who are skilled and have got experience of the working world industry are invited to give motivational speeches to inform graduates.

They get an overview of what is expected of them in interviews as well as getting the job done. “I make sure that at each one of the sessions, when I give out clothing, I have a speaker from the industry who comes and gives advice,” Shikwambane says.

The next session will take place sometime in October in Shikwambane’s hometown of Atteridgeville and in some places in Mamelodi. TOJ

Reporting by Boinelo Kgope; Editing by Xiletelo Mabasa and Kupakwashe Kambasha

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