New perspectives on being a leader

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To Aza, a leader has always been “a person in the spotlight” – someone who leads from the front. Joining UNITE has given Aza a new perspective on what it means to be a leader. She now believes that a leader is someone who pushes others forward and offers them the support to believe in themselves. This has been Aza’s experience of UNITE. Although 2021 has had an uncertain start, Aza is looking forward to being able to begin her first year of university.  

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Aza was in her final year of high school when South Africa announced its first Covid-19 cases. Schools closed down and students were left uncertain. “It was hard to believe at first!” explains Aza. “This was my matric year – how could this happen?” Aza felt like her life had come to a standstill and she was filled with feelings of frustration.  

Although times were difficult, Aza learnt to value the things that she has. She was surrounded by support structures; her family, UNITE and other school clubs. Aza knew that when times were difficult, she could contact any of the UNITE facilitators. For example, when Aza and her family were running low on food supplies, UNITE quickly stepped in to assist. “I felt very supported by UNITE during the lockdown.”  

Aza has been provisionally accepted to study Business Management, but she is waiting for her matric results to be released before she can get started. “It seems like it’s still 2020. I feel like my year hasn’t really started because I haven’t started university.” 

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Aza joined UNITE as a way to combat low confidence. “In primary school, I’d always seen myself as inferior. When I got to high school, I wanted to change that – I wanted people to recognise that I can make a difference.” 

“I grew up and saw other learners with determination and drive, but I didn’t have that. I wanted people to recognise me and I wanted to recognise myself.”  

Through activities and sessions, UNITE “encouraged [us] to be a person who looks at things differently.” This shift in perspective has encouraged Aza to pursue her life goals. “From that moment, it made me realise that I can do anything that I put my mind to. All of these teachings have made me realise that it’s all about being you. You can add value to the world just by being yourself.” Because of this, Aza began to see herself as someone who can make a positive impact: a leader.  

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Aza has always viewed a leader as a person who leads from the front. But in Grade 11, Aza’s perspective on this changed. In that year, it came to the surface that Aza had been struggling with substance abuse. The day that she was caught smoking at school, she was heading to Scalabrini for a UNITE meeting. “I told myself to accept the fact that they were going to kick me out [of UNITE], I am supposed to be a leader yet I am doing these things.”  

 Instead of being kicked out of UNITE, she was shown love, support and encouragement. In what was a collaboration between UNITE, her school (Heideveld) and her parents, Aza was given support and the strength to stop smoking. “You know when you have a line – something that prevents people from getting close to you – that day the line was completely broken. I knew that I was loved.”  

“We all make mistakes but being given the opportunity to understand the causes of those mistakes – or difficulties – and be able to overcome them with support is what matters most” says Jade, the manager of UNITE. UNITE has been able to use this as a learning tool – not only for Aza, but UNITE as a whole.  

It was after this that Aza’s idea of what a leader should be, changed. “UNITE has taught me that leadership is not about leading from the front, it is about pushing others to go forward. It is not about you or the spotlight. It’s about being there for others like UNITE has been for me. It’s made remarkable changes in my life. It’s been a long journey and I’ve experienced some real family.”