As the first grandchild born into the Mbele family living Meadowlands, Soweto, she was the apple of everyone’s eye. At the time, her mother had moved to a new marital home and she was raised by her grandmother and three aunts, all of whom took turns caring for her.
Pastor Fikile Poka says her mom had a good job working at Woolworths and she was constantly spoiled with beautiful clothes and delicious food from the high-end retailer.
"As a child I thought I never lacked anything but in hindsight I realised that our family was struggling to an extent,” she says. “My grandmother was sickly and my mom was the sole breadwinner.”
When Fikile was eight, and Soweto was at the centre of civil unrest in opposition to the apartheid government, her family sent her to stay in rural Limpopo with family friends. "I grew up around children who did not have a pair of shoes to wear to school."
“I enjoyed living in Limpopo and it was the first time I lived in a home with a father figure. They were strict and I had to quickly learn basic responsibilities,” she says. “I was taught to join the girls in the village when they went to fetch water and fire wood, I learnt how to cook and do laundry. I was no longer spoiled, instead I was taught to be a self-sufficient young woman.”
Primary school was a pleasant experience and for high school she went to a boarding school, where she made the decision to serve God. But boarding schools were shut down by the state and she had to return to Soweto to complete her matric.
Financial constraints at home meant that she had to drop out of university where she was studying IT. She tried to complete her IT degree through distance learning with UNISA, but without access to a computer, it was impossible.
“I only knew one person who had a computer and it was at their workplace, it was not feasible in the long term for me to continue going there to do my assignments,” she says. “I found a job and enrolled in Bible School for evening classes then I graduated with a higher diploma in ministerial training.”
Passionate youth leader
She was also a passionate youth leader who attracted the attention of leaders in her community because of her outgoing personality. She met the prominent Dr David Molapo and his wife Dr Mamiki at a youth conference. Her task was to welcome the prestigious family and after a chat with the couple, she was offered a job on the spot.
“What I thought was regular conversation turned out to be a job interview and a few months later I was called into the I Can Foundation owned by the family. I thought it would be a formal interview but it turned out I was there to negotiate my salary. I became a project coordinator for their church and community mobilisation programmes.”
Eventually she was promoted to the position of events coordinator and then project manager.
“Dr Molapo was grooming us to start our own businesses so I started Poka Consulting and became a consultant for the foundation,” she adds.
Once again her outstanding work and personality caught the interest of the highly influential doctor and motivational speaker, Dr John Tibane, who believed she needed to sharpen her skills and paid for her tuition to obtain a BA in Business Administration. In pursuit for further development, she obtained a diploma in project management from Damelin College.
Her ongoing work in youth leadership connected her to the team at Young and Able and they worked together on various training programmes to uplift youth in her community.
Her qualification in project management gave her an opportunity to work with people like Dr Patience Mlengana. She continued to flourish and landed a job at the Technology Innovation Agency, an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology.
While she enjoyed this work, she knew that her true calling was community work and people development and in 2020 she joined Heartlines’ church mobilisation team.
“My career highlights at Heartlines continue to be the opportunity to assist churches to gain access to great content – free!” She says. “Churches are desperate for well-researched resources centred around Christian values and the support they receive from Heartlines is incredible. It is a breath of fresh air for many church leaders because today, everyone charges for information."
Along with her work at Heartlines, Fikile runs other programmes including the Chosen Generation Children’s Academy and the Reach for Life school’s programme, and she is the provincial coordinator at the Pastor’s Wives College and Women Ministry organisation. In addition to that, she has been a radio anchor on the Christian radio station Rainbow FM.
“I often speak about the work we do at Heartlines because I believe it has the power to impact many people. I have seen how the What’s Your Story? campaign touches lives. Many people want to share their story but they don’t have a safe space where they can experience healing,” she says.
"I am excited about the What’s Your Story? schools campaign and I have a vision to see Heartlines resources becoming easily accessible through an app and social media for young people. We have a wealth of content that I believe should reach the rest of the world.”