When Clifton College opened in 2002, a decision was taken to provide a scholarship to a learner from Addington Primary School. Awarded annually, the Gail Teunissen Scholarship, has since become a remarkable success story, positively affecting not only the lives of its recipients, but the lives of their families and communities.
As the Principal of Addington at that time, Mrs Teunissen had requested Clifton to provide an all-expenses paid place for the leading all-round learner at her school. Fabrice Muhizi, a refugee, who had lost his mother in the Rwandan Civil War and endured a two-year trek to reach South Africa, became the first recipient of the scholarship.
For Fabrice, who knew only one English word, “toilet”, when he was accepted at Addington, an education at Clifton opened up possibilities he hadn’t known existed: “On a daily basis, I could see a big difference where I was and where I could be,” he said. “This difference was both challenging and inspiring.” He, too, proved inspiring, becoming the college’s first ever Head Boy.
“When I look back today, I am grateful that I got exposure to two vastly different worlds and for how those experiences have shaped my view on life,” he said. “Clifton gave me the opportunity to develop holistically as a person. I was able to form strong relationships with my peers, and the high quality education I was given allowed me to hold my own at university.”
Fabrice has since continued on to a successful career as a Wealth Manager with Investec and remains a popular figure in the Clifton community.
A stringent and exhaustive process is navigated by those who apply for the Gail Teunissen Scholarship. With many of them coming from backgrounds of poverty, a lot of research goes into determining whether or not they would be able to adjust to a very different environment. Scholarship winners are then mentored by past recipients when they get to Clifton. Who else could better understand the challenges that the newcomers face?
In 2018, when Clifton was unable to separate two quality candidates, best of friends Enock Ngoie and Luyiso Dlamini, Barry Mezher, Clifton’s Deputy Principal, Marketing, recalled both boys pushing the candidacy of the other. “They showed real humility, which touched a nerve with us and touched our hearts,” he said. It was decided that both would be awarded the scholarship, a decision which led to the Addington school hall erupting into cheering and ululating when the announcement was made. “Both boys are thriving at Clifton,” Mezher added.
Siya Khanyile, who received the Gail Teunissen Scholarship in 2007, describing his experiences at Clifton, said: “I got to understand what it means to be a young man in a broken society and what it is that I need to do in order to help the process of restoring this nation and the world.
“Clifton also taught me a lot about reaching out because they reached out to me and it was only right for me to reach out to those who needed it.” Siya has since become very actively involved in a number of community projects which help to uplift the youth. In 2018, the Rotary Club of Umhlanga recognised his contributions in the Quarry Heights area.
Winning the scholarship to Clifton transformed his family’s and community’s goals, Siya said. “My life changed and my family followed behind. My cousins also received scholarships to the school. My sister became Head Girl of Addington and, thereafter, Durban Girls College. I like to think that the opportunity that Clifton gave me allowed me to be a light to my family and community.
“The education and opportunity I received at Clifton were never just for me. It was bigger than just me. It was also for my family and community because that inspired them to be the best that they could be.”
Siya’s command of the English language improved remarkably and when his refugee friends and cousins saw that it didn’t come at the cost of his culture they, too, dedicated themselves to do better at school.
“I didn’t lose myself,” he said, “but I found my purpose”.
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