Growing up in a wendy house in the backyard of her grandmother’s Depsiton Crescent house in Lavender Hill, Tatum Flandorf always knew she was destined for great things and set her goals on becoming a doctor.
Event though the journey wasn’t easy with her completing her degree in 10 years instead of the seven years required, the 28-year-old completed her studies this year and graduated from the University of Stellenbosch earlier this month.
Her message to young children on the Cape Flats is clear: your background and circumstances do not dictate your future and even though there are obstacles, it’s important to get back up and chase your goals.
Tatum attended Sid G Rule Primary School in Grassy Park and always received top achiever awards for getting straight A’s in academics so with the help of her parents and teachers she received a scholarship and attended Reddam House.
Her mother, a factory worker, and her father who was unemployed, struggled to raise her and her sister and the scholarship, which paid for her school fees, stationery and uniform, gave her an opportunity to pave the way to her medical dream.
Attending a private school wasn’t always pleasant for Tatum though.
“It was tough, there weren’t many children of colour and I never really felt like that was where I belonged because I was this girl from Lavender Hill with all these rich children so I felt out of place.”
She persevered and then received another scholarship from the Make a Difference Leadership Foundation and was able to transfer to the Cape Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology where she lived at the boarding school.
It was a good opportunity because living circumstances at home weren’t easy because her parents were raising her sister’s children and the wendy house was cramped, she said.
“The pressure of high school, homework and two small children in the house made it difficult for me to study so I grabbed the opportunity,” said Tatum.
She excelled again at her new school and then applied and got accepted to study medicine but the pressure, time management and depression had an impact on her academic performance.
“All my life I was an A student, top achiever and it came easy and here I was struggling with this very demanding degree. It was something I’ve always wanted but it was so difficult because at times I felt that I wasn’t good enough.
“Where I come from played a big role as well because sometimes we see more privileged students doing well and at times I felt like I’m not good enough to be there and don’t belong.”
This then affected her grades even more. “I was stressed because I had to pass to maintain my scholarship because I knew my parents would not be able to pay for my tuition.”
Fast forward a few years, with counselling, support from her husband and family, taking a hiatus and after redoing a few modules, Tatum finally finished her degree this year and will be placed at a hospital next year for an internship where she hopes to give back to her community.
Her message for young people is to not limit themselves based on the situation they find themselves in.
“There are opportunities out there. Work hard towards your dream because regardless of where you come from, what you look like, what you have and don’t have, people will see your hard work and determination and that will set you up for success. It will open doors for you so don’t stop dreaming and do not limit yourself.”