Mpumi Nobiva was born into extreme poverty in Johannesburg, an orphan raised by her grandmother after losing her mother to HIV Aids when she was just nine years old.
Now at 22 years old, she is a motivational and empowerment speaker and has told her story across the United States, where she lives, and more recently in South Africa having returned to complete part of her studies in Cape Town.
Mpumi speaks about life, about how she grew up, about the importance of social work and how education has saved her life. And it’s led her to incredible opportunities, like speaking alongside “giants and powerhouses” – Oprah Winfrey and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee.
Despite being disadvantaged at the start of her life, her grandmother a domestic worker struggling to make ends meet, Mpumi never felt at a disadvantage. She always wanted to take her story and turn it into something positive in order to try and impact on the lives of others.
“I know what it means when there’s a generation lost in the family, but my grandmother kept my family alive. Her care meant I was always on time for school, and I was always upbeat. She has been my anchor and pillar of strength. She never afforded me any time to doubt my future.”
At 13 years old, Mpumi was offered an opportunity to study at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Johannesburg, an opportunity which propelled her to the positive course her life is on today.
Any given day, she says, involves an “unusual load of schoolwork and a ton of inspiration to others”.
As South Africans, Mpumi believes we are all inter-connected by the causes around us.
“There is no sharp divide. We are ALL affected.”
Ahead of coming to South Africa, Mpumi heard about local non-profit social enterprise Relate Bracelets, and was inspired to become an ambassador for the work they do. She felt so passionate about their message that she worked in their office for three months during her local study experience.
Relate Bracelets is about using a simple concept to create change, and make a big impact. Through the sale of small beaded bracelets, proceeds raised go towards youth and enterprise development initiatives, to creating employment for more than 300 people, and to 65 South African causes.
Despite being disadvantaged at the start of her life, her grandmother a domestic worker struggling to make ends meet, Mpumi never felt at a disadvantage.
The bracelets are threaded by seniors in Cape Town’s informal settlements, who are looking after their grandchildren and other children orphaned by HIV Aids and other circumstances. The seniors earn an income from threading long strands of beads, in a local seniors club where they sit together and sing, and where each day they are provided with a hot meal.
“The Gogos speak so much to how I feel about my gran,” Mpumi says.
While in South Africa, Mpumi has visited the seniors, sitting with them to thread beads, sharing stories, speaking about the causes the beads support, and sharing meals with them which remind her of her childhood.
“When you find out what Relate is truly about, you want to support it. Being an ambassador means I have an opportunity that connects meaningfully.”
When the threaded beads leave the seniors clubs, they are cut, finished and packed by Relate’s younger staff. Not only do they earn an income, but they are all required to take part in a course to further develop themselves.
Offered a choice of course to help them achieve their life goals, the youngsters will one day be actors, soccer coaches, hoteliers, paramedics and engineers.
Mpumi says she loves what Relate stands for, and the reach of impact the simple purchase of a beaded bracelet can have.
“I love that when I speak about Relate, it might influence someone to make a difference.”