Spirit Foundation Co-Founder, Trustee and Scholar Facilitator, Tessa de Beer Smit, shares some of her highlights, challenges, insights as well as what has been the driving force behind her passion, dedication and commitment to the foundation through its 22 years of existence…
How did you come to be a part of the Spirit Foundation?
From a very early age I knew that education was my passion and that I wanted to be a teacher one day. The science of how we learn and the belief that education can determine our future is what ignites me and fires my passion to help children realize their dreams for quality education. When I retired at the end of 1993 after 19 years of teaching and running a school, I was presented with a great opportunity by Ian Kilbride to become a founder member of what is now the Spirit Foundation.
What has stood out for you the most in your time with the Spirit Foundation?
It has been 22 years of highlights! Every year presents us with many exciting opportunities to enrich the lives of our scholars and the greatest reward is to see them embark on their tertiary studies after school and to start building their careers, ultimately helping to build South Africa into a prosperous and healthy nation. A huge highlight too is the generosity of our donors and the belief they have in our mission and vision.
What has been most challenging for you?
My greatest challenge has been to help our scholars overcome socio-economic difficulties in order to achieve academically. Many of our scholars live in tough neighbourhoods and have to overcome difficult circumstances to achieve what they do. But they manage it and I am often humbled by their determination and their will to succeed against the odds.
How would you describe the values of the Spirit Foundation and what is it that you most appreciate about these values?
The Spirit Foundation has always been run with honesty and integrity – very important values on which to build solid relationships with donors and with our scholars and their families. We have close relationships with our scholars and their families and we place importance on all aspects of their development – not just on their academic ability. Open communication and constant reassessment of our goals and dreams have also contributed to the successful management of the Foundation and to the sustainability for the future.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future of the foundation?
My dream is that the Spirit Foundation will continue to grow and develop the way it has over the last twenty-two years and that it will continue to be a force for change in the lives of South African children. The need for quality education is so great and my hope is that more people will realize this and help us to continue to build our nation through education, one scholar at a time.
How do you see the role of the Alumni within the foundation?
We develop close relationships with our scholars in their five years with us but once they graduate from high school it is easy for them to move on into the next exciting chapter of their lives and perhaps forget us. However, at the end of Grade 12 all our graduates join the Spirit Foundation Alumni Society and sign a pledge to assist the Spirit Foundation in some way in the future when they are successful. Some start giving back by mentoring our current scholars or assisting with extra lessons, even while still studying. My hope is that all Spirit Foundation alumni become involved in some way one day by helping to run and to fund the Foundation.
A message for the Spirit Foundation Alumni
I am so proud of all of our alumni who have worked hard to succeed in their tertiary education and their careers and I say to all of them – remember the opportunity you were given by the Spirit Foundation and pay it forward! On our Spirit Alumni Society certificates we have the wise words of Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.” Don’t wait for things to happen – make them happen!
What do you look for in terms of selection of new scholars?
Financial need and the will and ability to succeed are the two most important factors for Spirit Foundation scholars. All prospective candidates undergo rigorous tests to ensure that they will cope in one of our partner schools and it is also important that they have a parent or guardian who is ambitious for their education and who will be able to contribute in some way to their child’s education.
What message do you have for the current Spirit Foundation Scholars?
Uphold the Spirit Foundation Code of Conduct at all times and seize the opportunity to maximize your scholarship in every way possible – use it as your step up to a bright future!
What are your hopes for the Spirit Foundation scholars and other young people in our country?
Being so passionate about education and the fire within me to see ALL South African children well-educated, my hope is that our Spirit scholars will help to build a prosperous, stable and well-governed nation as a legacy for their own children one day.
Why should people support education in South Africa?
I know everyone uses this famous quote from our beloved Nelson Mandela but it says it all – “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”. I wholeheartedly endorse that!
A message to our donors
As said earlier, one of my highlights as a trustee and scholar facilitator of the Spirit Foundation has been the generosity and loyalty of our wonderful donors who make it possible to change the lives of young South Africans. There are no words to thank them enough for their belief in our mission and vision.
Anything else you want to say?
I have loved every minute of my almost 23 years with the Spirit Foundation and I am blessed every day to have the opportunity to work with bright, motivated, determined high school scholars and their families. Our country’s future is in the hands of this generation we are helping to educate now and that gives me great hope for our beloved land in the years to come.