Against all odds
"For me, it's the life that I just had to live" - Tragedies fail to stop Madlala's love for school
This was said by Nolwazi Madlala, a 26-year-old clinical psychology intern at 1Military Hospital in Pretoria and a masters student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).
Madlala, of Howick, KwaZulu-Natal, might appear to be just a woman in a wheelchair but she has overcome extraordinary circumstances and is pursuing her dream of becoming a psychologist and one day owning a practice.
Orphaned at the age of 12, Madlala and her two siblings were placed under the guardianship of her uncle.
Her father died in 1994, and her mother three years later.
Madlala, her older sister Nonhlanhla and younger brother Dumisani, had to face life on their own.
A year after her mother's death, tragedy struck again.
Madlala, her brother, cousin and uncle were driving home from a family function when they were involved in a car accident in 1998.
"We had lost the canopy of the bakkie the previous week so the back of the bakkie was open.
"Because I was sitting at the back, I was thrown out of the vehicle.
"We were by a bridge and I flew over the bridge and landed on the concrete," she said.
She injured her spine and was airlifted to a hospital in Durban where she was in the intensive care unit for several weeks before spending several months in rehab.
Her brother suffered severe head injuries and did not survive the accident.
She was unable to attend the funeral because she was still in hospital.
During this time she attended counselling with her sister to come to terms with the loss of their brother.
Madlala had to be home-schooled for about two years.
She then went to Open Air School, a school for children with disabilities, until she matriculated in 2004.
Madlala received a bursary to study psychology at UKZN.
She said she was a diligent student and the family tragedies and her disability did not take away her love of school.
After graduating with honours in psychology, she began her masters in clinical psychology.
This year Madlala began working as a clinical psychologist intern at 1Military Hospital.
She said she developed a good friendship with fellow UKZN graduate Carmen Alledahn, entered her in a competition for South African youth hosted by the National Youth Development Agency.
She entered her in the "extraordinary champions" category, which recognises people with disabilities who have overcome difficulties.
She could not believe it when she won the award at a ceremony which took place in July.
Madlala also earned the top honour of the evening, the Presidential Award, and a R100,000 bursary, a cellphone and cash.
She wants to finish her thesis, which is about African parents understanding and raising children with autism.