Women making a difference - an interview with Helen Day

by Josephine Cilliers

Helen Day with one of her scholars on the Scholar Support Unit at MAD Leadership Foundation

Helen Day with one of her scholars on the Scholar Support Unit at MAD Leadership Foundation

"We need to create the pathways to give hope to our youth so that they can have the opportunity, through education and hard work, to escape the trap of poverty." - Chris Hani


These are the powerful words that inspire a woman with a passion for education and an undeniable drive to make a difference. Helen Day started her journey to the Make A Difference Leadership Foundation (MAD Leadership Foundation) office years before she first stepped into her position as a coordinator in the Scholar Support Unit (SSU). 

The difference at MAD Leadership Foundation


Since the inception of MAD Leadership Foundation in 2003, Founder and Chairman, Francois Pienaar has had an inspiring vision to provide educational access to deserving scholars with leadership potential (but who face economic and other barriers) through an individualised and personal approach. Therefore, MAD Leadership Foundation focuses on the whole individual, ensuring that the scholarship recipients not only succeed academically but manifest personal success and positive social engagement traits.


Helen started working at MAD Leadership Foundation in 2017 in the SSU, and is currently in the senior coordinator responsible for overseeing scholar support implementation and scholarship partner relationships. MAD Leadership Foundation aligned with Helen's passion for the power of education. "I believe that education is one of the ways we can achieve equity and promote Social Justice in South Africa. Through education, we can inspire agency and change how people think about themselves as well as the world that surrounds them. Education can cultivate the civic skills and virtues of citizens for Democratic South Africa." 

What is the Scholar Support Unit?


The Scholar Support Unit maintains the relationship between the scholars on the MAD Leadership Foundation programme and the organisation itself. They ensure that all the necessary interventions take place to make sure that each individual on the MAD Leadership Foundation Programme reaches their full potential. The multi-disciplinary department includes a group of professionals ranging from qualified teachers, registered psychometrists, registered counsellors, a social worker and a Honours in Psychology graduate. The team also contracts in a Clinical Psychologist and an Educational Psychologist on a consultation basis. Together, they can design, implement and monitor personally crafted support to each scholar on the programme. Each member in the department is allocated a group of scholars of which, they take full responsibility. Each scholar has a closely-knit relationship with their coordinator. This allows MAD Leadership Foundation the opportunity to cater specifically to each scholar's needs without applying single broad stroke solution to every scholar on their programme. 

Women making a difference at MAD Leadership Foundation

Women making a difference at MAD Leadership Foundation

 In Helen’s words:

"The reason MAD Leadership Foundation is unique is that we believe that comprehensive financial support is simply the start of what our scholars need. We have developed a support package that directly taps into the different facets of who the young leaders on our programme are. This includes monitoring each scholars academic, emotional, psycho-social, self and leadership development. It is about recognising and seeing the people in their unique context and the spaces that they find themselves in. Every intervention that takes place is customised to the specific individual. We value the voices of our scholars; that's why we listen to them and craft solutions specific to their challenges. It is about adapting and changing our support package to speak to the situation without assumptions," says Helen 


What do the scholars say about the program?


"Helen is a very supportive coordinator. She is easy to talk to, and she is very understanding and open-minded. She displays a very profound understanding of teenagers, and that makes her an easy person to get along with because there are none of the barriers one would typically experience with the average adult.

 She is very efficient; she gets to whatever you ask of her as soon as you do. She checks up on you regularly (you can't go two weeks without her checking up on you.) She encourages growth in other aspects of life besides school. And she is very supportive of what you do as an individual.

 The best thing about her though is that she is loving, she loves you as you are. And you never feel like you are just a job to her."



"Helen has been extremely accommodating of me. She has been supportive academically and otherwise. If ever I need anything, she delivers on time. Frankly, she has suggested outlets to me that even I didn't know I needed that have helped me tremendously."



“Last year was the worst year of my life, and just by talking me through it and supporting me, Helen has changed not only my year but also the way I look at life.”


What keeps Helen inspired?


"We have a lot of special moments with the scholars that carry us through as the SSU. It's the daily things that they choose to include us in. The small moments where they make the decision to include us in their lives. They make such an impact on our lives in so many ways. Whether it's Nipho messaging me to discuss the books she's reading or Bennie inviting us to watch a play that he's written, and it speaks directly to the school visits and Leadership Summits which we have provided, that's what matters the most to us. It might even be the moments when they call us in need of help. Bongi's laptop was stolen, and she called me at 11:00 pm to tell me or a first year student calling the entire SSU to tell them that he's having a panic attack at 3:00 am. It's these small moments that are our absolute pleasure and privilege to be a part of." 


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