From refugee and car guard to a student at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business and team leader at Direct Axis, Allan Kalau’s story is one of how strength and perseverance can beat all odds…
Allan Kalau might look like a typical University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (GSB) student — young, ambitious and filled with vitality and good ideas about how to improve the world of business — but his journey in getting there has been radically different from most of his fellow students.
Ten years ago he was a promising young medical student with a scholarship and bright future ahead of him: then the Second Congo War broke out, and set him on an entirely new course.
"Everything that happened after war was declared felt like I was watching a movie," he recalls. Chaos erupted and rebels entered the hospital, shots were fired and Kalau and 12 of his fellow students were forced into prison and faced with a tough choice: to join the rebels or die.
Fortunately he did not have to make this choice. After two months of imprisonment, Kalau was able to obtain a fake Zambian passport with the help of a former lecturer, and flee the country eventually ending up in South Africa.
"I knew no-one, and had no friends, no plan and could barely speak English. The hopes I had to finish my studies had crumbled — I had no certificates, no proof that I had reached second year medical studies, let alone my matriculation certificate," says Kalau.
He took a job as a car guard and then a waiter, and was eventually able to save enough money to bring his girlfriend over, all the while working to improve his English and create new opportunities for himself and his growing family.
This strategy paid off. His good English eventually helped him to make the transition from car guard to an office job. With the help of good Samaritans Derek and Sue de Hutton, he got a job at a call centre Derek de Hutton was head of.
"This incredible couple have become like parents to me. They supported me when no-one else could, and I don’t know where I would be without them," he says.
The De Huttons have since helped him secure his current position at Direct Axis where he has risen through the ranks to team leader.
Hardly surprisingly, Kalau has named his son Derek in their honour.
But despite his new-found success in business, Kalau was always thinking about continuing his studies.
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