“We are not the first to experience events like these. Wars, depression, famine, apartheid – history shows that we have survived these. And we will get through Covid-19.” These words capture Heaven Nen in a nutshell: a realistic survivor with a positive can-do attitude, and the warmest possible smile.
Heaven is a Grade 12 Ruthie who makes the best of things. Highlights of her five years at Jeppe Girls include her friends (who have remained consistent since Grade 8), the Flower Shows (her bloom arrangements and the honour of doing the house table for Protea in 2019), Sports Academy (the first time she was exposed to sport of any kind), and being on the winning team for the Class Dances last year. In reflecting on these, there is no self-pity or resentment of how her Grade 12 year has been turned upside down with distanced and online learning, no Matric Dance this weekend, and cycle tests, prelims and finals all happening in quick succession (hopefully), in amongst the anxiety and craziness of the peak of the Corona wave in Gauteng. Rather, she exemplifies acceptance – an example to us all.
The only child of Cameroonian parents, Heaven was born here but is not entitled to a South African Identity document. She lost her mother in a bus accident in Cameroon in 2018 and lives with her aunt. She has been provisionally accepted to study Law at University of Pretoria in 2021, but funding is a problem. She is pragmatic, however – as she focuses on one thing at a time: for now, it is getting the best possible Matric results. The greatest gift Jeppe has given her is discipline with her schoolwork – “it has pushed me to another level.”
The Ruth First programme has provided her with extra support, not only for school but also for coping in life. She enjoys a close relationship with her mentor, Robyn Hill and her group (they have been together for five years). Her favourite Ruthie memory is meeting Graça Machel who was the guest speaker at the 2015 function when Heaven was introduced to the community. “Mrs Machel had a strong presence, she was elegant, to the point and her address was relevant. What a privilege it was to share the stage with her.”
Touching on xenophobia, BlackLivesMatter, and Gender Based Violence, our interview could have taken us down a dark hole. But no, the words Heaven left me with were, “We all need to love ourselves. We are all looking for approval, and the best way to find that is inside. If we appreciate our individuality, that is the best possible starting point.” True to her name to the end.