We recently interviewed Bertha Tokoyo, a PVC member, and one of ReNew Trust's intern trustees to learn more about her unconventional path to finding her purpose, the importance of prayer and people, taking responsibility for your life, and becoming unstuck in your story.
A Stranger in a Foreign City
Upon arriving in Cape Town in 2008 (from Pretoria), Bertha found her feet as a domestic worker in Dunoon. She vividly remembers her first day in a strange city. “My friend and I were stuck at the Dunoon taxi rank. There, we prayed and cried, and miraculously found a lady who had vacant accommodation which had become available literally hours before we met her. That day we realised that, while we were praying at the taxi rank, God was preparing a room for two.”
Finding a Church Home
Bertha’s journey at PVC began in late 2015 when she attended church with an elderly congregate while working as her carer. “PVC became the church I chose, and it chose me. After a few months, I began volunteering at Kids Church, which strengthened my relationship with God and gave me a sense of purpose.”
Moving past challenges and obstacles that you encounter on your way to making your dreams a reality is part of the journey, and Bertha recalls some of the difficulties she had to face. Says Bertha, “I couldn’t picture myself being a domestic worker for the rest of my life. As such, I went to UNISA to enquire about options to further my education. After meeting with an academic advisor, I chose to study Community Development. Studying as a domestic worker was very difficult. I struggled to find enough time to study while working to earn money to pay for my studies and provide for my son. Nevertheless, I managed to obtain my undergraduate qualification in three years with an overall distinction and continued to complete my honours degree.
“I then went to the Cape Town Municipality to apply for an internship position but was told that they no longer consider foreign nationals for employment. At that point, my greatest challenge was having a degree and not knowing what to do with it. I decided to continue empowering myself with knowledge during this time.” Bertha went on to complete a Diploma in Strategic Management as well as certificates in facilitation, assessment, and moderation. She also obtained her Master’s degree (cum laude).
A Life-changing Prayer
She recalls a specific conversation with God where she told him she needed purpose and total transformation in her life. A few days later, she was invited to become a ReNew Trust intern trustee. Says Bertha, “Looking back, that conversation changed the trajectory of my story forever.”
Open Doors and Finding Her Calling
During a ReNew Trustee prayer meeting, Bertha recalls a conversation she had with Francois afterwards. “I opened up to Francois about my future dreams and aspirations. I told him I was looking for a job as a carer and shared my desire to work outside of South Africa. After reviewing my CV with Francois’ help, I applied for over 1500 jobs abroad. I finally got an interview and was fortunate to be one of two candidates (out of 72) to be selected for the job.”
“I currently work as a Health Care Support Worker at Treloar Trust in UK, where I provide supervision, encouragement, companionship, and guidance to students with disabilities both in class and at home. Working as a carer fills me with purpose. For me, caregiving is effortless because I enjoy looking after vulnerable people. I am a very compassionate, patient, optimistic, confident, and authentic person and it helps that I am a good listener too. I have a natural desire to look after people and to make a positive difference in their lives. The elderly (particularly those with Dementia) and disabled people fully appreciate these characteristics. As a caregiver, I have learnt that kindness always comes back to you. It is a very rewarding career.”
Grace Upon Grace
Bertha shares more about the people and organisations that have played a significant role in shaping her aspirations. “Imagine people willing to hold your hand and holding it till you get where you need to be – isn’t that the biggest grace one could ask for? That’s what ReNew Trust, its Trustees and Protea Valley Church have done for me. I would not have been able to afford to be in the UK if it weren’t for them. Andrew Austin has been great in helping me with the process of getting my son a Visa to join me in living and studying in the UK.”
Encouragement for Domestic Workers
Bertha offers specific encouragement for domestic workers. “Never give up. Keep improving yourself by learning new skills. Reach out, volunteer, and speak out! I took this route and it eventually worked for me. I equipped myself with the limited resources I had. I vowed that lack of finances will not dissuade me from obtaining my degrees. I achieved my first degree working as a domestic worker, with limited financial resources. I burnt the midnight oil and studied hard with my feet in water to prevent me from falling asleep. I woke up tired and still went to work while showing a happy face and keeping a positive mindset until I obtained my degree. It’s all about focusing on what you want to achieve.”
Bertha has many exciting plans for her future. She says, “For me, planning is transporting the future into the present so that I can do something about it now. So, looking ahead, I am excited about enjoying a relationship with my son. I am also hoping for a positive probation outcome for me at Treloar Trust so that I can fully explore all the options the organisation has to offer.
Furthering her studies is still a dream that Bertha wants to pursue. “I’m looking forward to pursuing my PhD once my son is living with me and I have completed the necessary certificates as part of my work and training at Treloar Trust. I also want to complete a Solicitor Certificate and a degree in Theology. I believe that these qualifications will give me a sense of fulfilment because I have a big story to tell, and I’d like to give back.”
“God’s mercy has brought me this far. It might sound like I am overemphasizing things but God’s love has changed my life. I also want to write a book which tells my story.”
Advice for Those Stuck in Their Story
Bertha offers valuable advice for those who want to change their story or who are struggling to move forward. “My story is about hard work, never giving up, trusting in the Lord, and understanding that everyone on earth has different talents. It either takes an individual to work hard to obtain it or it takes the privilege to find out from those who are disadvantaged what they are capable of. One might have a financial resource to help another, whilst another has a human capital resource to offer. We all have something to offer.”
“Learn to network, open up to others and those who are sent to listen will hear. It is essential to work hard, study and learn a skill. If you have managed to accomplish small things in the past, you can do more if you keep trying. Above all, know that God will work with those who collaborate with Him. Do your best and leave everything else to God.”
People Who Have Inspired Bertha
Bertha credits Jessica Cox and Archbishop Desmond Tutu as the people who have inspired her to pursue greatness in her own life. Despite being born without arms, Jessica raised her children using her feet. She was the first approved armless pilot, the first armless black-belt American Taekwondo, and she drives a car and does many things that able-bodied people can’t (or won’t). Says Bertha, “She inspired me to develop an ‘I can’ approach. Just like Jessica, I believe in a future where people passionately pursue their dreams with the resilience to overcome any challenges.”
“Desmond Tutu’s views on hope keep me going in difficult times. He said, ‘Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness’, and ‘My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together’. These quotes remind me that I could not do this on my own. His quote, “God’s dream is that you and I and all of us realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness and for compassion”, reminds me that I am relevant as a caregiver.”
Her Proudest Moments
Of all her accomplishments, Bertha says that going to the UK and finally uniting with her son are those that she is most proud of. “I’ve had a tough life and I’ve had to deal with many difficult situations, the most challenging of which was to separate from my son for 17 years. Imagine being a stranger to your own child, and for a time, being referred to as his aunt. It was very hard. Working in the UK means that I finally get to unite with him and give him the life he deserves.”
The Importance of Prayer and a Thankful Heart
Says Bertha, “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue but the parent of all other virtues. I would like to thank ReNew Trust and Protea Valley Church for the financial and moral support they gave me to be where I am today. They gave me the courage to continue applying after setbacks. They prayed for me when I wanted to give up. They prayed with me when I was scared to face new challenges. They have made me believe that brotherhood and sisterhood are not delineated by colour, but it is defined by blood - the blood of Jesus.”
She concludes, “I am also appreciative of my struggles because, without them, I would not have found my purpose.”