Finding the right opportunity for you

Last week we hosted a site visit to our consulting rooms at Ida’s Valley Primary, one of our partner schools.   Our guests included Jared Molko of Yenza and radio personality Sherlin Barends; our hosts for the day were Educational Psychologist Amanda van der Vyver and her colleagues Funeka Memela and Winita Philander.   Both Sherlin and Funeka went to school at Ida’s Valley Primary so the visit was filled with nostalgia.


Sherlin, you come from a very close and loving family. Unfortunately many learners don’t have that support and guidance.
True. I grew up in a home that was like one big marshmallow, with wonderful parents, just two kids and so much love and attention. I realised that wasn’t the case for many of my classmates. Not everyone had their own bedroom. In a way I felt it justified people being rude to me, which isn’t right. Because it’s never okay to be nasty. And I think it happens a lot at schools where many of the kids are struggling. By standing out, you become a target for bullies.

You may have had it easier than most in your neighbourhood, but what was your biggest challenge growing up?
Realising that fitting in didn’t matter and that by standing out, you hone your power. To accept that my values and my big mouth are okay. “Sherlin, you’re so cute. If it weren’t for that big mouth of yours,” the boys used to say to me. So I tried to make myself smaller, spoke in a softer voice, made myself less for the boys not to feel inadequate.

And today you have a fantastic career based on those values and “big mouth”! Did you dream of being on radio and TV as a child?
No, I wanted to be a doctor because I was groomed that way. I was the first generation that could study at university. So it was always a done deal: I would study and I would be a Matie, no questions asked. At some point I realised I didn’t like math that much and I wasn’t that good at it anymore. I had my ah-ha moment at the end of matric, delivering my final speech as Head Prefect to the learners, teachers and parents. I love people and felt so at peace and comfortable in my skin talking to them.

How did the dream take shape?
My life changed in my second year when I was introduced to MFM (Matie FM campus radio). Suddenly being a Matie wasn’t just about getting my degree. That changed my life. Not that I was a natural talent at broadcasting – I had to work very hard. During my first show all I could say was “absolutely fabulous” (laughs). I was terrible!

Well, there are worse things to say than “absolutely fabulous”!
I wish I had failed more growing up. And that I tried more stuff I wasn’t good at. Society tells us “you suck” and then you stop. Now I know that failing is okay and falling is okay and that getting back up is so glorious. I’m grateful for working the graveyard shift at MFM. Late at night when almost nobody’s listening, you get to have fun and learn.

How does life now compare to the future you envisaged at age 16?
I grew up in a conservative community and 16 year-old Sherlin would have wanted to be married with two children and a stable job. Right now I don’t have kids or a husband but I love my job and I have an apartment. I am the first woman in my family to own property of her own, without the help of a man. Don’t get me wrong, eventually I would love to have a husband and kids – a family – because I think it’s beautiful. But it’s important to figure out what you want for you, versus what people want for you. To me, it’s important to live a life that excites me.

“I know our kids are so talented and there are so many who don’t make it, just because they lack the support to succeed to the very end. Children that should be teachers today are working behind the till at Shoprite.”

What about learners who feel it’s pointless to dream because there are too many obstacles and too little support?
Don’t blame yourself for feeling the way you do. Life is unfair. It’s not fair that you are six people living in a one bedroom house. It’s not fair that your mom is an alcoholic. I really do believe we’re here for a purpose and once you find yours, nobody can stop you. Who am I and why am I here, those are the questions you need to answer to find your purpose. And then, how do you build your dream? Read. We’ve got books, we’ve got the internet. Read up on your mentors. Social media can be so amazing if you don’t get stuck on following empty people. You don’t have to dream of becoming a doctor or lawyer. Look at the guy doing recycling, look at the teacher. We lack role models and not enough is done to expose learners to the scope of people who live productive lives.

How do you feel about psychosocial support services at schools?
The world needs psychology and it’s unfortunate that there is still a stigma attached. It warms my heart that so many learners are referring themselves to Community Keepers. They don’t have to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. Thirteen years ago we didn’t have those facilities. We need Community Keepers with their own door where kids know someone will listen to them.

You can listen to Sherlin speaking openly about her mental health journey here

This term we start to roll out sponsored access to Yenza, the multilingual career success platform, to all our partner schools.

“We need to prepare learners for a new economy and to help them to believe that achievable opportunities exist and are within their grasp; and we need to do so without leaving anyone behind. Young people will need to be on top of their game and they are going to need a guide,” says Yenza Co-Founder and CEO Jared Molko.