Virata

I am Virata Jugoo, I am 27 years old. I was born in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.

My parents divorced before I was born, so I grew up with my mother, my stepdad (who I refer to as my ‘dad’) and my sister, who is five years older than me. We lived in an area of Durban called Kharwastan, a predominately Indian neighbourhood. My mom and dad were both high-school teachers. My biological father also lived in Durban. We knew him and saw him often, but it was never a very close relationship. He was a very subdued, introverted person. He passed away in 2009. My dad passed away in 2010, so at the moment it is just me and my mom – I live with her. Our larger family of cousins and aunts are spread across Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban.

Virata

I had a happy childhood. I had a lot of friends and I did ballet from the age of four. I started primary school in 1994, at a former model C school with many Indian and white learners. It was quite a mixed environment. For high school, I attended Durban Girls High – a fantastic school. I did not matriculate there because we moved to Cape Town when I was in Grade 11. My mom got a job at the University of Cape Town as a lecturer. I matriculated in 2005 at a small school in Newlands called Sans Souci.

Moving to Cape Town in Grade 11 was a difficult adjustment. At that stage you are very well established with many friends and you are almost done with school. It was hard to start over. I hated the first couple of months in Cape Town, but it helped that the school was very small. It created plenty of opportunity for interaction; it wasn’t too intimidating and this helped me to make new friends. At that stage I really started to enjoy Cape Town.

For a time, I was a moody teenager.

My parents were always supportive, even though, quite typical of Indian parents, they demanded a lot academically. I have always had a good relationship. They have encouraged me to do creative things when no one in my family was really that way inclined. They loved the ballet and things like that.

My main memory of school is the friendships I made. Quite a few of my friends from Durban Girls High went to primary school with me so there was a long history of friendship. I am still friends with many of them now, whereas the friends I made at the Cape Town school did not really stick.

At school I was always kind of average.

It felt like everyone in my family knew exactly what they wanted to do. My sister knew she wanted to do accounting in Grade 8 or 9 already. And that is exactly what she studied when she finished. Then she became a Chartered Accountant (CA) and eventually a Chartered Financial Accountant (CFA). She always knew her path very well; I was never very sure about mine. I did not do badly at school, but I was not top of the class either, and I was not really sure about what I wanted to do after school.

My sister has always been very understanding and supportive; she kind of got that I did not know exactly what I wanted to do. I think it was a difficult thing for my family because I just had no clue. But my sister has always been a lot more understanding than everyone else. And she is quite a bit older than me; she is five and a half years older than me. So I think she felt a bit responsible for me growing up.

I did not have a gap year. That created some conflict at the time, because I really thought that maybe a gap year would be helpful, but my family was of the opinion that gap years are for lazy people.

In terms of considering what to study, there were a few things that I was interested in. I have always been very interested in movies, film and music. I went to City Varsity for an open day and their sound programme really appealed to me. Straight after Matric I did a diploma in location and post-production sound.

Virata

Virata

I felt like I did it because I had to make a choice at the time.

City Varsity is not a big extracurricular-type college. They do not really have things to get involved in. They are very much focused on multimedia and you just get on with that. It consumes a lot of your life, not in the first year, but in the second and third year too. You are there on weekends, you are there in evenings in the studio doing things, but it was also really fun because we got to work on projects outside of varsity. We also got to interact with other departments, like the film guys, when they were making something and they needed the sound guys to help them make their things. It was a cool way of building networks of people who I am still in touch with. I met my boyfriend there. He was in the film department and I worked on his projects.

After I got my diploma, I worked as a sound engineer for a while, mostly on radio ads, some television ads and documentaries. I really enjoyed it, but I did not feel like it was the long-term career for me.

After a year of thinking about what I wanted to do, I enrolled at UCT to do a Bachelor of Social Work. I did my majors in psychology and social work. That was a four-year programme, which was made possible financially because my mom worked there. I got a really big discount being her daughter.

It was only at UCT when I was actually studying something that I really cared about, rather than random subjects, that I started doing well.

I think my family was a bit surprised that I did so well there. Growing up, my sister was always very strong academically, so as the youngest sibling I felt some pressure to perform as well.

UCT has a lot of fantastic extracurricular activities, dancing, sports and things like that. I was a member of the Golden Key Society and I got involved in community work through them. I also au paired while I was studying to pay for the bit of fees that I had to cover. Most afternoons I was working right after classes, so there was not a lot of time to really do much at UCT other than study, Golden Key and then go to work.

Time management is tricky.

Luckily it seems to be something that I’m naturally good at, so I think that helps. I graduated in December 2014 and this year I am doing my Honours in Social Policy and Management – part time, also at UCT. UCT structures their Honours programmes in a way that helps people who are working to still participate. They do not have ongoing lectures the whole year – instead the lectures happen in a two-block period in January and then again in June, and then you have your assignments and your research and things to work on in-between. So many of my weekends are spent working on assignments. I think at the end of this year I will look back on a very taxing year. To study full time again was always going to be very tricky, so I decided to suck it up for a year and get it done.

I am currently the placement coordinator at the Common Ground Foundation’s NETwork programme. [1]Since the interview, Virata has resigned from this position and is now doing her Masters in Human Resource Management at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

The main services of the NETwork programme (now called the Zanokhanyo Network) are a job readiness programme, career counselling and placement. I heard about them through my church, the Common Ground Church – the Common Good Foundation is their NGO. I started working here in January 2015. I don’t think I fully understood what I was getting myself into. It has been a huge learning curve, but I’ve really enjoyed it.

Because it is in the NGO space, it is largely work that is rooted in social work. The placement coordinator is a mix of these two majors – HR and social work. I had initially approached Common Good Foundation about a different job, which I was told I wasn’t right for, but then the Common Good HR officer said: “but we actually need someone at NETwork to do this placement coordinator role. Do you want to have a look at that?” So I did and thought it would be a really cool step out of varsity and a chance to get involved with Common Good. They called to offer me the job just before I walked into my last undergrad exam.

I love what the NETwork does. We often work with refugees – many African nationals largely from the Congo, but also from Malawi and Zimbabwe and a few other places. In many ways, I feel like I had a sheltered childhood. Working here has given me the opportunity to connect with people who I haven’t connected with before. It cuts down all those stereotypes you have of people and you build relationships with people with backgrounds that are completely different from your own.

Working at NETwork has made me appreciate individuality more than ever. It is something that I have always prized, but it is quite easy to generalise about people. It is especially easy for people to generalise about unemployed people and why they are unemployed and why they are in the situations they are in. Studying social work and working here has made me understand that you cannot assume anything about people, and that everybody has a story for why they are who they are. Whether they are a teacher or a prisoner or whoever they are.

I think we live in a time in history where it is becoming less common that you go to university and you study one thing and you work in that thing for the rest of your life.

It’s just not the way the working world functions anymore. I think the most important thing as a young person is to be adaptable and to know what transferable skills you have. I like watching Ted talks and those types of enriching things to grow my learning. It has helped me to get a broader understanding of millennials (as they are labelled). They are not a lost, flailing around generation. They are just living in a world that is different to what their parents lived in.

I have informally counselled people around their careers. To help them feel okay that they haven’t figured it out while they are in high school and that there is still time for them to study and learn and have fruitful careers – even when they don’t know exactly what they want to do at a young age.

I am still a big advocate of taking a gap year. I think it helps grow your independence, especially if you are not really sure of what you want to do. But I do not regret studying sound. I am glad I went down that path. I am glad I met the people that I met along that path and got exposed to the world of film and music and things like that. I feel like if I had done a Bachelor of Social Work when I left school I would not have done it well, because I was not in a place in life where I could do it justice. So I think I studied it at the right time.

I was always very determined to not be just one thing.

I think there are many parts to my identity. The cultural background that I come from – an Indian family – has definitely formed part of my sense of who I am. Another big part of my identity is my faith. I come from a Hindu family, but I became a Christian in 2006. My faith is the core of my identity. It is what I want to be the number one priority in my life. It is not always what I succeed in doing, but it influences my value system strongly.

Even though I came from a Hindu family, I was sort of an atheist at school, and had no particular beliefs, faith wise. Towards the end of Matric, a friend of mine was getting baptised at the church that is now called the Common Ground Church. He invited a bunch of friends with. So I went and I found the sermon really interesting. I did not go back for a while and then the next year I went again. I found the topics that they talked about really intriguing and very interesting and it was a perspective on faith that I had not heard before because Hinduism works very differently to Christianity.

I felt like I had never really had anyone explain to me why we did the things we did. They were just traditions that we followed and I had no idea why.

Virata

Virata

The group of people I met at the church, at this particular church anyway, were very open to me questioning things. I think I gave them a hard time for a while, trying to figure out why they believed what they believed. But I found the church very inviting and welcoming and it started to really make sense to me why these people believed what they believed. A few months later, I got baptised.

It was a bit of a difficult experience with my family during the first year. With Indian families, culture and religion are very intertwined. My father, for example, was never very spiritual, but he was still offended that I became a Christian. He interpreted my not wanting to be involved in Hindu religious things as me not wanting to be involved on a family or a cultural level, or denying my ‘Indianism’. My mom was a bit more accepting of it, even though she is the more spiritual one. I think their main concern was that I was getting involved in something I did not understand. When they saw it was actually a life-changing and consistent thing for me, I think they started being a little more open minded. And so eventually they came around to the idea.

I have tried to do it as respectfully as possible. One example is the Hindu festival of Diwali. It happens around October every year. There are lots of fireworks and lights, but at the core is a religious story or a religious purpose. There is the cultural aspect, like eating sweet meats, dressing up, lighting fireworks and getting together with the family. But there is also a prayer, a religious aspect. So when I became a Christian it was quite difficult at first. I did not know how to say that I didn’t want to be involved in the prayer. I just had to be honest and say I will be involved in this day but I cannot be involved in the prayer. That was hard the first time for my parents to digest, but funnily enough the external family never really asked me many questions. They just went with it.

Some of my most meaningful relationships have been with my sister, the friendships that I made through my church community, and with my boyfriend.

Many people outside the church community have stereotypes about what Christians are like. I found a community of friendships at church that I will keep for the rest of my life. I think it’s the first time I’ve had friendships where I felt accepted, warts and all. My relationship with my boyfriend is also one of the significant ones. We have been together for six years and we have been friends for eight or nine years. That relationship has been a huge learning curve for me. There is nothing like a long-term relationship to make you realise how selfish you are. So that relationship has been and still is one of the most significant, because of how it has shaped both of our lives.

I do not think I would have started studying again if I hadn’t known him. He has been so sure about what his passion is and he loves his job so much, that I was encouraged to find a career that I was going to love and not just be okay with. He is probably the catalyst for why I started considering what I really want to do. I feel like many people did not have faith in me and he was very reassuring. He made me feel like it was fine to still be figuring things out. That was really important for me, to find the confidence to go and study something again.

My decision to adopt a new faith was the most challenging in my life, but it is also one of the happiest, and is still the thing that gives me the most joy and peace – despite circumstances and struggles.

I think moving to Cape Town was definitely also a very difficult time in my life. And then my dad passing away in 2010 was very hard, especially for my mom because she is on her own now. I still live with her but she knows that I am not going to be living with her forever.

I think millennials, in general, have gotten a really bad rap over the last few years as this very self-involved generation of narcissistic people who feel entitled to things.

I was watching this really interesting talk by a young woman who pulled out quotes from older generations during different times in history, and they all say the same thing about young people. You could not differentiate a 1950’s quote from a 1990’s quote from a 2010 quote. Sure, millennials now have a different platform for being self-involved, or for figuring out their life worth, but I think the core of it is just young people being young and figuring out life as they go. I think that the bad rap is undeserved in many ways. In South Africa, this bad rap that young people get is quite narrow minded – from people who make assumptions.

Virata

There is a stereotype of young South African people being entitled and angry. But I think young people in South Africa are frustrated. Twenty years on from apartheid, parents thought that their kids’ lives would be different by now, and they are not. And people are expecting them to wait for their great grandkids lives to be different and, you know, I think people have had enough. They want to see change in their own lifetimes. I think I understand the anger of young people at the moment. People tell them to get a job and get their life together in an economic climate that is just spiralling downwards. Where must you get a job from? I think older generations are putting expectations on young people that are no longer appropriate.

I am most grateful for the opportunities that I have gotten along the way. I think I only fully realised this when I started studying at UCT. It was the first time I fully appreciated the family I came from and the schooling opportunities I was given – to go to a good school and get grades that could get me into a university like UCT.

I would like to be remembered by my kids or my family as having been a good mom. Having a good relationship with my children – that is something that I care a lot about. I think I am a family-orientated person, so being a good mom and being a good partner are important to me. I also want to have some influence on how people who work in social development are seen and treated, and are given opportunities in life – even if it is just in a few organisations and that starts to spread. I really would like to be involved in making it look different.

In some ways it is far more exciting that we do not know where we are going to be. My life is definitely different from what I thought it was going to be when I was in high school.

I really do believe that all the experiences in your life put you where you are, and I would not be good at what I do if I had not done all those different things.

References   [ + ]

1. Since the interview, Virata has resigned from this position and is now doing her Masters in Human Resource Management at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.