My Take on Social Connections: Francois Potgieter
Connecting people is like a chain: when you add people, the chain grows and widens. It starts with one person sharing opportunities with other people. This is how it grows. Growing circles is bigger than you!Francois Potgieter
My name is Francois Potgieter; I am originally from George but I’ve been living in Cape Town on and off since 2009. I’m 19 years old and I’m in Grade 12 at Jan van Riebeeck High School. I was introduced to SAYes in 2017, during my stay at SA Children’s home. I was excited to join the programme as I loved the idea of having someone who could help me get direction in life. When you grow up in a children’s home, it’s easy to think that you can’t move forward, that you can’t write your own future. But it’s not true; I had to shift that mentality.
Weekly sessions with my first mentor gave me the space and support to come to terms with the fact that not everything happens in my close circle, and that I couldn’t stay in the Children’s Home forever. He helped me grow my confidence and plan a way to push out of my social bubble. I started exploring my interests and creating connections outside of those I
already had: I became a rugby referee for the Western Province team and started auditioning as an extra on movie sets (I am in season three of the South African series Blood and Water).
Since then, sessions with my SAYes mentors are a weekly escape where I can constructively ‘blow off steam’ and gain a different perspective on the decisions I have to make. In 2020 my dad was hospitalised and I had to be with him to translate sign language for the nurses. I went through a very difficult time, and I failed Grade 11. When that happened I had very different feelings. I was upset, but I was also ashamed, and had made up my mind not to go back to school because I didn’t want to face my school friends. But my mentor offered me a different perspective. During our sessions, I realised that a matric
certificate is a criterion to access most work opportunities, and that I could repeat the year to get back on track. After the summer holiday, I went back to school and now I am in Grade 12.
For a while now, I’ve wanted to be a lawyer. Last year, I got an opportunity through someone at the Children’s Home to spend time in a law firm. I realised that sitting at a desk is not for me. When I told my mentor about my job shadowing experience, he shared some insights about his fire-fighting career. He told me that, ‘‘When a fire starts you have to cut down the
nearest tree before you go save people.” This is when I clicked that firefighting had to do with the outdoors and strategic thinking. Next year, I’ll be attending a firefighting course. It’s hard to keep track of everything considering that I am still in school.
My mentors are my sounding board for big decisions I need to make in my life, from managing my time, to
choosing what’s next for my future. For me, my mentors are moving connections in my life. Having had over six mentors gives me confidence that I have people I can go ask for help or gain more perspective in my life.
In turn, this is shaping the way I create and grow connections with other young people around me; I am always ready to share contacts and make it easier for other young people who are going in the same direction as me. Connecting people is like a chain: when you add people, the chain grows and widens. It starts with one person sharing opportunities with other people.
This is how it grows. Growing circles is bigger than you!
Francois’s experience is an extract from Youth Capital’s study on social connections, Linked In: Rising Though Social and Economic Connections.