The dynamic principal of La Rochelle Girls’ High School believes that everything happens for a reason. “When I look back [on my life], I realise how I have been in the right place at the right time and that, throughout this time, I, unknowingly, was being equipped to deal with whatever would come my way. I believe in divine intervention.”

Amanda cultivated a strong sense of responsibility early on. After her father’s untimely passing, she had to shoulder many responsibilities to help her hardworking mother with raising her five younger siblings in Wellington.  She grew up making the best of every situation and the opportunities that flowed from them.

“Life just happened” as she kept her head above water. Wanting to spread her wings, she completed her degree at NWU, after which she returned to the Western Cape, where she taught at Calitzdorp, Wolseley and JG Meiring.

Life worked in mysterious ways as Amanda settled in Paarl – a stone’s throw from her childhood town, Wellington – first as Deputy Principal and then as Principal.

During her 18 years as principal, Amanda has seen that student emotional well-being is deteriorating at an alarming rate.

“The different social platforms have contributed to the constant competition amongst the youth.

I engage with numerous psychologists and psychiatrists throughout the year, because, inevitably, these issues surface at school. The professionals admit that problems created by social media have escalated at a frightening rate.

The emotional deterioration of students is alarming. Every year a bigger wave of depression engulfs students. They are becoming increasingly unhappy. They exhibit different forms of destructive behaviour, like cutting themselves. I do not think they have the time to internalise issues. They are constantly bombarded by what is on social media –  their minds are never quiet.

On the other hand, parents may also contribute to student behavioural patterns. They often have exaggerated expectations. Yes, life is challenging. Your child will not necessarily be accepted at a university, or the high school of your choice. The attitude has changed from “I’m so happy! My child is in the Choir, or the First Netball Team”, to “Why has my child not been chosen for the Choir, or the First Netball Team?” What drives this change is the relentless question: What will become of my child in South Africa if he/she does not excel?

But these expectations are hurting children. They feel inferior and, as a result, are under constant pressure to perform to live up to their parents’ expectations.”

The challenges we face surpass the emotional sphere.

“People are suffering financially more than ever before. Society demands a particular lifestyle, and when people realise they are not able to fit into a specific social ‘category’, they fall apart. But, there is a  solution to this predicament. You do not need to maintain such a lifestyle. You can live simply, somewhere where you belong, somewhere where you feel at peace.

If everybody in South Africa had a roof over their heads, if the problems of unemployment and poverty were addressed, South Africans would be far more positive about the future of the country. We have to make it easier for people to employ others, even if it is for a low salary. People need to feel worthy, that they have a purpose. In this regard, politicians play a significant role. We need ethical leadership. We need to attract foreign investors to our shores again. We need to re-evaluate our Labour Laws and the Bill of Rights. Children abscond, and miss out on the opportunities that they sorely need, and so develops the vicious cycle of unaccountability.”

Talking to one another is the first step.

“We have magic people in our country. Despite our history and the many divides, some things are still working in South Africa.

However, if we do not discuss issues, we will never find common ground. We need to work on improving the future prospects of all peoples in this country, but it will not be achieved by continually pointing fingers at one another, or by re-hashing the past. We need to count our blessings and make a conscious decision in the spirit of Ubuntu to build a better future for all South Africans.

Healing and restoring must occur from the inside out, starting on a small scale.

Change can happen in our cities, towns and neighbourhoods. With the devolution of power from national, to provincial, to local levels, we are in a position and have the responsibility to make a difference.  Despite the authority of the Education Department, we can still, within the school walls, effect change, build success and give children hope. Our people have the will to effect these changes.”

We can make a difference by simply talking less negatively and hearing what others have to say.

“Everyday life may be tough, but being negative makes it more difficult. Children are the products of their homes. If parents are hopeful about change, their children will emulate these thoughts. However, if parents talk negatively about the country, their children will internalise their ideas and take them with them wherever they may go and so negativity spreads like a wildfire.

Communication – the opportunity to talk freely – is vital. I have witnessed many hearts soften when people have spoken about what is truly bothering them. Some pain may be deeply embedded in people’s souls. For us to move on, we need to acknowledge the pain of others, look one another in the eye and say that ‘I don’t fear you, I embrace you. I am because you are.’ If we can do that, we will show our children that we can work together.”

A platform of open communication is essential to building confidence and understanding.

“In South Africa, we need to establish platforms where we can talk to and with one another. At school, teachers need to create a safe environment in which students are given the opportunity to voice their opinions freely. This will inculcate mutual respect for others’ views. By harnessing the incredible energy of the youth, they will inject positive energy amongst their peers.

At La Rochelle, we aim to empower value-driven young ladies to own their futures. As strong, young women, their contributions will be to enter the workforce one day, to raise families and be the positive role-models for future generations.”

Mindfulness will enable us to live in harmony.

“I think we have to be more mindful to find purpose in life. It is crucial to have quiet moments of reflection. You have to make time for it. You cannot continue like a roller-coaster every day. But, without guidance, it is incredibly difficult to find and optimally utilise those ‘time-out’ moments.

I honestly believe that you need to trust in something bigger and higher than yourself, otherwise you will not know where you are heading.

Faith offers exactly that: to believe when there is no evidence. You know you believe if you can be calm in adversity; when you have peace, even if life throws a curveball your way. Then you know that there is something bigger than you. Trust and Believe!”

Amanda gives practical advice on evaluating life and finding the silver lining, even when all feels dark.

“It is essential to list the positive and negative things in your life. If you tend to be pessimistic, you might think that your list of negatives will be long, but when it comes actually optimally listing them, you will find the negative list is much shorter than you expected. The list of positive things will be much longer than you anticipated!

I have hope for South Africa. We are a people who have resilience and tenacity and a wonderful inherent instinct which is invincible, if, or when, we stand united and work together.”