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Wannamaker speaker Mpumi Nobiva receives standing ovation from Dana

International motivational and empowerment speaker Mpumi Nobiva visited Dana Hall to speak to its student body and faculty at the Wannamaker lecture on December 3. Known for her mission to raise awareness about the dangers of HIV/AIDS and to inspire hope with her story of being an AIDS orphan, Nobiva claims the title of youngest Wannamaker speaker to date at age 22.

Growing up in a poor section of Johannesburg, South Africa, Nobiva dreamed of receiving higher education, a goal encouraged by her her mother and her grandmother. However, Nobiva’s life changed drastically when her mother was diagnosed with HIV and died from AIDS when Nobiva was nine years old. “A silent killer took my mother, and I was afraid of it, but I needed to know more,” said Nobiva.

Mpumi #2Nobiva’s teachers recognized her intelligence and love of learning and recommended that she apply for the new Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG), a school dedicated to nurturing “academically gifted girls who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.” The selective school was only a short drive from her township, but this was the first time that Nobiva had ever lived without her grandmother, a prospect that both “scared and excited” her. Nobiva applied for and was accepted into OWLAG’s inaugural class.

“I was found!” Nobiva laughed when asked about her acceptance to OWLAG. Only 152 students out of 3500 were admitted to Winfrey’s brand new institution in 2007. She credits her grandmother’s and her teachers’ unflagging support for her ultimate admission.

At OWLAG, Nobiva was committed to learning more about the disease that had killed her mother, and the resources at the school gave Nobiva the knowledge she needed. “I was determined to not end up like my mother…. I couldn’t be just another statistic of the millions of infected South Africans. I certainly wouldn’t have made it this far if I had stayed in my township,” Nobiva asserts.

Nobiva thrived at OWLAG, discovering her passion for public speaking, graduating at the top of her class, and receiving a full merit Duke Endowment Scholarship to Johnson C. University in North Carolina in 2011. She is currently majoring in interdisciplinary studies with concentrations in global outreach, public rhetoric, and global communications and plans to graduate this May.

“Her commitment to pursuing her education was so inspiring,” says Hilary Present ’17. “It was very cool to see someone so young be so driven and goal-oriented.”

In addition to pursuing her degree, Nobiva has remained committed to using her love of public speaking to inspire, connect, and educate people on a global scale with her campaign, Share Your Story. Nobiva hopes that her story of growing up as an AIDS orphan will motivate other disadvantaged people to share their own stories and perpetuate a lasting sense of security and unity across the world. “I have been able to use my personal story as an AIDS orphan as a part of my education and curriculum,” Nobiva says. “I share my story with hope to inspire people across the world, to know that they are more than their circumstances. My story is that HIV took my mother, but not my spirit.”

Nobiva has given motivational speeches across the US as well as South Africa for her college thesis, which reflects on the correlation between poverty and education. South Africa has an HIV rate of nearly 20% as a result of severe social stigma surrounding the disease and the costliness of antiretrovirals, the drugs for HIV treatment. Nobiva hopes to break the silence surrounding AIDS and reduce the stigma of the disease. She recalls giving a speech at OWLAG in 2013: “People were shocked, but I knew that I wasn’t the only orphan, and I wasn’t the only person who had been affected by HIV/AIDS.” She adds: “I want to use my story as an example of how things can work out when you open up to the world and engage a new sense of self.”

Librarian Maggie Davidov invited Nobiva to speak at the school after learning about her from Ms. Zanele Mnguni, an OWLAG librarian, whom she connected with while visiting South Africa herself in 2012. “I saw the video of [Nobiva’s] talk with the OWLAG girls and immediately knew her message would inspire Dana girls,” says Ms. Davidov. “She inspires me to be an activist.”

Mpumi #1Dana Hall’s students were impressed by both Nobiva and her story. “I was blown away by Mpumi’s confidence and strength on the stage,” says Grace Dunne ’17. “She inspired me to be more selfless and look at everything as an opportunity.”

Nobiva credits much of her success to her grandmother, to Oprah Winfrey, and to her American host mother, former congressional candidate Lavern Chatman. “I strongly believe that this mindset has become a part of me because of the women in my life,” Nobiva says. “Everything my grandmother did was for my education. I am privileged to be speaking here today surrounded by women who go above and beyond to support the key to women empowerment — their knowledge.”

Photos: Mpumi Nobiva presenting at Dana Hall’s Wannamaker lecture on December 3 and meeting with Dana Hall students before the lecture. Photos credit: Ms. Julie Gray.