Nonkululeko Mtshali is a young woman with a calling. She wanted to be a lawyer, but has instead dedicated her life to her non-profit organisation, which she founded at just 21 years old.
Vintage Girls Organisation provides opportunities to young girls, from ages five to 22, in disadvantaged communities around Tembisa in Gauteng. The organisation was established in 2013 and Mtshali has been its champion ever since.
Mtshali believes in her ancestors. She was raised by her grandmother, who taught her from an early age that she was special. Her grandmother told her: “This you must know — whoever is going to help you in your life, they are not helping you, they are training you to be strong in order for you to get to where you are supposed to be. That will be when you understand.”
She adds: “I am doing my ancestors’ work. In this organisation, I feel my spirit is calm.” The word vintage alludes to “something from the past of high quality” and the name is a reminder to Mtshali of her roots.
While in grade 12, Mtshali suffered an episode which she credits to her ancestors calling her. A shock encounter with a pregnant 13-year-old motivated her to ask herself how she could help — how she could use her skills as a traditional dancer and netball player to enrich the lives of her peers — and the Vintage Girls Organisation was born.
The organisation provides after-school programmes to young girls, teaching them how to apply themselves to their education. It boasts a traditional dance group, drum majorettes, a netball club and art lessons. Her vision is to establish an environment where young girls can go to express their creativity in order to make changes to themselves and their community. “I smile when I see young girls smiling, because I know their pain. If I can help, it makes me excited.”
The organisation is sustained by donations and sponsorships within the community. Through the assistance of the Gauteng legislature, Mtshali is working on a plan that will ensure its continued existence, as without funding, the organisation will fail. Her wish is to see young girls grow into successful women and build their own futures. “As women, we continue to fight; we never stop, because that is who we are.”
In 2017 Mtshali received a runner-up award for the Best Young Philanthropist. She says that being nominated for Mail & Guardian Power of Women is important to her, as it means that her work is being seen and appreciated by others, for which she is grateful. “I want to know who I am and where I am going.”
Mtshali deserves her recognition. The name Tembisa is an Nguni word, meaning “promise” and “hope”. Mtshali brings both to her community and to the young girls whom she cares for so deeply.
Vintage Girls is not just an organisation, it is a calling that will grow with me until I die. I live for Vintage Girls; it is my life.