*Hi, I’m Cathy. I’m a U-turn Phase 3 Work-readiness graduate. My passion is communication and I’m part of the U-turn communication team. Every week I will be writing a blog post sharing my personal experience on this programme, to give you a window into the experience of being a graduate.

As Champions we look forward to our graduation. Graduating the Phase 3 Work-readiness programme for myself was a public declaration that I have conquered homelessness. The days leading up to graduation were very emotional, yet exciting.  

There was excitement in the air the morning of my graduation, I woke up very early. All the Champions that stayed at Conradie Park travelled together with the taxi to the Bootcamp venue. One of the passengers shared that she was encouraged when she listened to one of the Champions share his story with the taxi driver. There was a jovial atmosphere amongst the Champions. 

The first part of the Bootcamp was fun and interactive. We had an egg and spoon race, a sack race and much more. We were divided into groups, some were more competitive than others. Laughter was the star of the day with every team having to recreate a Bible scene. As with all other Bootcamps it was an opportunity for the Champions to catch up.

After lunch the more serious formality took place. We had a ceremony for those that have been sober from six months till 10 years. Then the moment I have been waiting for arrived. Four of us with the help of one of the U-turn caseworkers put on our graduation gowns and caps. As we entered the stage, our Exit Stage life coach spoke about the graduation journey. 

While on stage I prayed that I should not cry. As our life coach gave a brief introduction of my U-turn journey, I reflected on the past two years of my life and how difficult it was. It felt like my mind was replaying a movie filled with drama and heartache but with a happy ending.  It felt like the sluice that contained my emotions opened and I could not stop crying. It was as if my tears were washing away the dirt from my weary feet that had endured the storms of homelessness. Behind the veil of tears, I was having a conversation with God. I told Him that this is not going to be my last graduation, the next time it will be at an educational institution.

I told my fellow Champions that I was crying because the journey out of homelessness was very hard. I encouraged them to trust the process of the U-turn programme and that they too will come out of homelessness. I then shared my poem.

When I was back at my apartment, I thanked God for graduating the U-turn programme. I told Him that my graduation photo has become my vision board.

I have tried many tertiary education endeavours  but did not complete it.  This time I made a commitment that when I am ready,  I will try again. No matter how long it takes I will complete the journey. I have my late grandmother and mother as role models who did not let age stop them. My granny at the age of 55 years old graduated with a Bachelor of Arts. My mother before her passing at the age of 64 was busy obtaining a Bachelor of Theology. 

I will use my Work-readiness graduation as a motivation, when burning the midnight oil. 

For most Champions graduation is a restorer of dreams. It is the fuel to dream again. For some the dream is having permanent accommodation, for others it might be reuniting with their children. Whatever the dream might be, graduation is the stepping stone for dreams to be restored.

Join me next week as I share my journey as a U-turn graduate.