Life Choices Academy | Speciose Kamanzi

Speciose Kamanzi: Success Story

Speciose Kamanzi (23) is originally from Burundi. She arrived in South Africa when she was three, chased by the genocide in her country. She grew up in shelters until finally, her family was able to settle down. She shares with us about the time when she first encountered Life Choices.

“Towards the end of high school, I’d considered studying either nursing or business admin, but I couldn’t get into university or college because my maths results weren’t good enough, and I couldn’t get financial aid because I am a foreigner. After I matriculated I found it difficult to get work, it was a dark time for me. I couldn’t provide for myself and I couldn’t see a way forward.

Eventually, I got a job as a waitress at the Spur. I had been working there for about 18 months when one day my Grade 6 school teacher came into the Spur. She gave me a Life Choices Coding Academy pamphlet. When I got home I reflected about whether this was something I might want to do. Because I read in the pamphlet that coding is a 21st-century skill, which encourages innovation, I decided that this was a valuable opportunity, so I applied for the coding course. I did the online test at an internet café before going to my waitressing job. The test was a bit hectic and I was nervous but I tried my best.

I saw the coding course as a way out of my situation and a way for me to start building a career path. When I got the email advising that I had been accepted to do a two-week Life Skills course, I was super relieved, excited and so emotional. But I remember also feeling anxious because I was told that doing the two-week course didn’t automatically qualify me to be accepted onto the coding course but it was still part of the selection process.

During the two-week course, I got to view ‘my’ life differently. When we worked with ‘tackling our inner giants’ I got to see the things that held me back in my life. I got to realise that my internal thoughts caused self-doubt which often had me give up and brought me down. Through the life skills course, I realised that I am capable of more and I’ve learnt to look at what I’ve achieved rather than what I haven’t achieved. Now, when I am facing a negative thought I remember how far I’ve come and I reset my thinking. At the end of the two-weeks, an announcement was made advising who was going to enter the coding course – I made it! Once again I felt relieved and excited.

During the six-month coding course, besides coding, we were exposed to various personal & professional development training sessions. Aspects that stood out for me were learning about presentation skills and how to show up at an interview – we had to practise mock interviews in front of a panel which gave valuable insight and opportunity to show up differently. We had training on how to dress and how to be confident enough to ask questions of the interviewer. We were assessed on how we used the skills and were given additional support to improve ourselves.

One of the sessions focused on Emotional Intelligence where we learnt about the different personality types and how people respond differently. I learnt to accept others as they are, trying to see their lives from their perspective. This has been invaluable in the workplace because working in a diverse team, I am able to accept and embrace the differences.

During the Mindfulness training, we learnt how to be mindful and live in the present moment. This has helped me to manage my stress in hectic situations (for example at an interview) and when life feels overwhelming. It’s a life skill I have continued to use and which I’ve integrated in my way of being.

Towards the end of the six-months, we were trained in public speaking. When I went for the interview for my internship I felt confident and prepared. I learned that it is ok to ask questions about the company, the internship and I realised that an interview is a two-way conversation.

I felt my interview went well and I was ‘over-the-moon’ when I heard that I had been given an offer. A few of us were accepted from the Coding Academy to begin at this company. We got put into different teams – this was the start of my career! This was my chance to continue learning and growing.

I was well inducted into the company and patiently showed the systems which made it an easy adjustment into my first job, even though my days were long. I had to get up at 04h00 to get to work on time and only got home at 19h00. Everything was new and the workload initially was overwhelming but having my teammates support made it easier and using mindfulness helped me keep perspective. Another skill I have used is time management, which definitely helped to get me through the early days of the internship. Having learnt in the academy, that I have a right to be heard, has enabled me to reach out when I am struggling with something. And having someone hold a place of listening to me helps me to process my thoughts and often find solutions.

At the end of my six-month internship, we were told that they wouldn’t be placing any of the interns in full-time positions due to financial constraints. In the meantime, my boss had written a motivation to keep me at the company. I wasn’t aware of this at the time, so I started looking for other work. Fortunately, there was a junior position opening, which my boss encouraged me to apply for. I was successful and was appointed as a junior CRM developer at the same company at which I had interned.

My new role is giving me real responsibility for managing my own tasks and assignments whilst adding value as much as I can whilst I am being trained into Customer Relations Management Development. Looking ahead, I plan to become more skilled in technology as I focus on becoming a senior developer. I feel like I have found a career which a couple of years ago I knew nothing about. Being a 21st-century skill there are so many opportunities for me and my future is exciting.

I am really grateful to Life Choices and the Coding Academy for the opportunity I’ve had and for the constant encouragement and life skills I was exposed to. My aim is to encourage youth from similar backgrounds to mine, to help them believe in themselves and to dream into their futures.”