Melvis Mirazi, 17, is a senior at Zwelibanzi High School in Durban, South Africa. She traveled to Amsterdam in April along with other members of the Young Girls Network, a group that promotes financial literacy among young people in South Africa, to participate in the Child & Youth Finance International (CYFI) Summit. The CYFI event was the first of its kind to bring together youth and senior-level representatives from across various sectors to discuss financial inclusion and education for children and youth around the world. Mirazi and her 70 fellow youth summit participants, which represented 40 countries, engaged directly with policy-makers to share their views on youth financial literacy. During the summit, Knowledge@Wharton High School sat down with Mirazi to find out her thoughts on saving, spending and sharing her money.
Knowledge@Wharton High School: Thank you for joining us.
Melvis Mirazi: Thank you.
KWHS: What brings you to the Child & Youth Finance International Summit?
Mirazi: I’m here to represent my country, to gain knowledge and to know more about finance and savings so that I can go back home and let other children know. If it were possible, we would have asked all the youth to come, but I am here to represent all the youth in South Africa and to represent the network that I am a part of.
KWHS: And what is that network?
Mirazi: It’s called the Young Girls Network. When we started, they had a program that they ran in all the schools. It was called Teach a Child to Save. So, they ran the program and got learners to give their ideas on how children could be taught to save. We were also part of an initiative by a local bank. They went into schools, recruiting grade elevens to come up with business ideas and start their own businesses and they would get financial help. I was chosen [to come to Amsterdam] because I participated in all of those programs.
KWHS: Have you done a lot of saving back home and have you done a lot of thinking about why you want to save money?
Answer: Yes, I started saving money when I was in grade 10. But I didn’t have access to a bank account because I didn’t have an ID and I was still under the age of 16. You need to be 16 years old in order to open an account. So I started, and I save the little I get for basics like things I might need at school.
KWHS: You use your money in that way?
Mirazi: Yes, I do.
KWHS: Can you give me an example?
Mirazi: I have this friend I go to school with. I met her last year and she wasn’t doing well in school; she was performing poorly. I asked to be her study mate and that’s how we became friends. I basically look after her. She’s my friend, but I feel more like a mother. Whenever I go to town, I buy stuff for her, [like a pencil bag for her pencils]. I buy lunch for her because she doesn’t really get enough food at her home. So I use my money to help other people, because I feel I can do more to change another person’s life.
KWHS: Tell me what you learned most here at the youth summit that you would like other teenagers to know around the world.
Mirazi: I learned that it’s important that we save. The government should also acknowledge the fact that we as youth need financial inclusion. I learned that saving helps you to be financially stable in the future. And if we start now, we’ll grow into healthy habits. When we grow up, we will be financially stable and we’ll be able to teach our next generation.
KWHS: What is next for you? Have you given any thought to your future and what you might like to do with your savings?
Mirazi: I don’t think I’ve made enough savings to take me anywhere, basically, because I do not have access to an account and the allowance I’m given at home is not that much. But my grandmother saves for me. I’m in the last grade of high school, so I’m looking for scholarships to go study at a university, because the money that my grand saves for me is not enough. It’s barely enough for registration fees. I’m planning to work as hard at school as I’m doing to get good marks in all of my subjects and hopefully get a scholarship and go to university next year. I want to do forensic engineering or forensic sciences because it has not been widely introduced in South Africa as of yet. It’s so in demand, and I want to start my own laboratory.
KWHS: When you go back home, what are some of the messages that you’ll tell your classmates, your friends, your family about youth finance and saving?
Mirazi: Before we came here, we [went] to radio stations and newspapers because we felt we couldn’t reach everyone. We went to the media and told them about our trip here. When we go back home, we’ll be holding seminars. We’ll go around to schools and talk to our finance minister so that we’ll be able to get sponsorship to go around the province preaching the [message] of saving and teaching children how to save. Hopefully, we’ll go to banks and tell them to go around to schools recruiting learners to have bank accounts.
KWHS: You feel you now have a voice?
Mirazi: Yes. There are some schools we won’t be able to reach, but then we will reach them through media such as newspapers and radio. My friends will start what we call a stokvel, where we all contribute some amount of money. Sometimes people don’t want to save when they’re all alone because [they’re] tempted to [spend the money]. When you do something as a group and as a unit, you have this one understanding. If I feel I’m tempted, my friend might say, “Oh no, look at this. You know we plan to do this with our money.” They get you back on track.
KWHS: What exactly is a stokvel?
Mirazi: A stokvel is when people come together every month or every day as a group of 10 maybe or as a whole class and put our money in one place. Adults also do it. They come together every month, they put in their money and at the end of the year, they get the money back, so it’s 12 times as much as they put in every month. They take it from their income. It’s really popular, and it has been our culture [in South Africa] to do it that way. I think that’s how we’ve learned to save because we say, “Oh, let’s join the stokvel.” We put in money, we write our names and how much money we save every day, and then every month or every year-end, we get our money back and are free to use it as we like.
KWHS: You’ll do some fun things with your money too, right?
Mirazi: Yes, most probably.
Mirazi: I want to buy a laptop for my studies. I’m not a spending person because I believe I already [have] what I need right now.