Noluvuyo Mpande believes she is proof that one’s future is not necessarily determined by one’s past.
After having grown up in a poor family in Khayelitsha, and being unemployed for a year after finishing school, Ms Mpanda became a firefighter and was eventually promoted to health and safety administrator.
And now she wants to encourage other young women to start training and exercising, and tackling physical jobs they may have thought were not suited for them.
The 28-year-old mother of one joined the Working on Fire (WOF) programme in 2011.
She took on a job which is often dangerous and physically demanding and believes her confidence and brave demeanour opened many doors for her.
Describing herself as a strong woman who has overcome many challenges, Ms Mpande said despite having grown up in Khayelitsha where crime levels are high, she is proud to have learnt one or two things from the experience.
Ms Mpande said her parents had taught her and her two bothers and sister to be disciplined and appreciative.
“Growing up in Khayelitsha has never been easy.
“We all know the challenges of the area like unemployment, crime and many other things that can discourage one. I had to sit at home because I could not get university entry. There were also other challenges, but I had to forge ahead,” she said.
She is grateful for her family, whom she said, had made sacrifices for her and her siblings. In difficult times, she said, her family would always ensure that they had something to eat.
“Even when I started working, there were times when I felt I was underpaid and wanted to quit, (but) my parents always encouraged me. If it was not for them, we would not have been this strong,” she told Vukani.
Ms Mpande is hoping to inspire other students.
“I am proud to have saved many lives and animals out there. I wish I could be an inspiration to others, especially those who are sitting at home saying there is no money to go to school or there is no work. All they need to do is to have hope and be positive,” she said.
Now based in Pinelands, she gave credit to her company for having given her and others opportunities to improve their lives.
“Through the leadership and training within WOF, it has helped me to live out my passion to promote health and safety among our teams within the Western Cape. It has also given the youth and the women of the country a chance to say that we are given the platform to learn and develop ourselves, to be strong women and accomplish anything we put our minds to,” she said.
However, she admitted, that fighting fires is not child’s play and that one had to be prepared to work in difficult conditions, sometimes being without water and food for long periods.
“Fire-fighters live by a song in most times.
“When we deal with fire we sing, when we have no food we sing. That is just one challenge in many,” she said.