Have you ever known someone who believed in you – someone who spoke words of encouragement? The kind of person who made you feel you could do it, whatever ‘it’ was? For former tourism students Jackey, George, and Mpho, that person was, and still is, Chris Godenir, the General Manager of The Peninsula All-Suite Hotel.
Although fervently insisting that he merely pointed them in the right direction, their journey into the tourism industry reminds us that no act of kindness is ever wasted. But more so, how finding hope and inner courage can lead us all to achieve great things.
With their third year of Tourism Management studies at the University of Johannesburg interrupted by Covid, Jackey, George, Mpho, and their peers were thrust into the online learning space.
“For most students during that time, the idea of working remotely was not only daunting but near impossible for those who did not have access to basic tools like computers or enough data even to use it,” Jackey explains.
“We were also encouraged to sign up on Otolo to connect with a hospitality mentor – someone inside the industry to further guide us, which is where and how we met Chris. Out of 150 students in our class, we were the only three to successfully sign up on the platform, which offers some perspective on the situation.”
“It was a very stressful time for us,” George adds. “On top of worrying about money and putting food on the table, we then had to adjust to doing everything online.”
Originally from Soweto, George is one of four siblings raised by a single mother who cannot speak or hear. “Leading up to that, I had also been diagnosed with epilepsy, which had caused me great distress for most of my life. I would have sudden seizures, and I didn’t know what or why it was happening.”
During that first week of mentorship, Chris describes how he asked Jackey, George, and Mpho what they wanted to achieve from our time together, but the response was quite vague: six months of practical work to complete their course.
“There was a general lack of direction, not due to disinterest, but rather a feeling of hopelessness from constantly living in survival mode. George and Mpho were particularly withdrawn during those first few meets, but upon talking to them, I realised that these promising young individuals were dealing with highly challenging circumstances at home. That understanding prompted me to go much deeper than simply helping them to tick a few boxes for their studies. I made it my mission to ensure that they gained real value and insight from our time together.”
Until that point of meeting Chris, Mpho adds that she was highly self-conscious due to a gold overlay on her front tooth: “Along with stressing about my appearance, I had many worries about obtaining a grant to complete my studies and finding a job with no experience. I was also suffering from what I now know was anxiety and severe depression.”
Along with highlighting career possibilities, together, they focused on unpacking themes such as vulnerability, empathy, and resilience – vital skills to have within the tourism sector.
“Tourism is so vast, and there are many paths to take, but I wanted them to have the courage to navigate their own path to success,” Chris explains.
“My hope was for them to think beyond the right now and envision a life for themselves, using tourism as a means to get them there. Along with setting practical assignments, I further introduced them to unshakable optimists such as Simon Sinek, whose teachings centre around creating a brighter future and our ability to build it together.”
Describing those initial meetings as “very intimidating”, George highlights how his self-confidence slowly began to improve each week. “I also started dreaming about what I wanted for my future,” he adds.
Jackey further notes how a lack of a strong support system makes it almost impossible for today’s youth to be optimistic. “I faced a lot of negativity in my community when I made it known that I wanted to study tourism. When you’re constantly met with adversity, you can begin to feel like, what’s the point? The biggest hindrance for many of us is not believing in our self-worth, but Chris took the time to ignite that within all of us, and we are so grateful.”
Mpho and Dr Cahi after her smile transformation.
Over six months, Chris witnessed an incredible change in Jackey, George, and Mpho: “Their work ethic and rising confidence was incredibly admirable. They were also eager to learn, and since I knew I had some influence at Dream Hotels & Resorts, I managed to set up interviews with the Group’s People department at 360 Hub in Bryanston.”
With Mpho’s permission, he also reached out to a long-time friend and guest of The Peninsula, Dr Norman Cahi, a renowned South African dentist, who agreed to give her a ‘smile makeover’.
“If you met her today, you would never guess that this bright young woman could once barely look you in the eye, let alone smile,” he says. “But helping Mpho regain her smile was, in reality, a small part of her greater transformation. Everything they have achieved thus far comes down to their own determination. I merely gave them wings so that they could fly.”
Little Switzerland Resort
Having successfully completed their studies along with the interview process, Jackey was offered a role in HR, while George was allocated to the development team before being placed at Little Switzerland Resort and later transferred to Olifants River Lodge, where he currently assists in running the kitchen. Upon successfully accepting an internship, Mpho now works in the Dream Vacation Club Reservations Department.
“Although Jackey, George and Mpho each received new mentors within the company to help guide them, they have certainly stepped up to each new challenge and very much holding their own. I knew they could do it, but what mattered most was that they knew it too,” Chris explains.
Upon reflecting on his tourism journey, George recalls how the head chef recently tasked him to arrange all the catering requirements for a corporate event, which he managed independently. “I was nervous, but if you had told me I would do something like that a year ago, I would never have believed it. I am now pursuing my passion for food and am excited to see where it takes me.”
Jackey, who has assisted in launching multiple wellness projects within the company, has big plans to own a guest lodge in the North West Province. “I know for sure that I am destined for greatness, so I am learning as much as possible! I enjoy the hospitality side of things, so that’s why I’m completing a Group sponsored Hospitality Management course through the International Hotel School”.
As for Mpho, she is happy to report that she finally feels at peace within her career: “I work in a supportive environment where I have made many friends. Although I do feel overwhelmed at times, I don’t shy away from challenges or go into a state of panic as I used to.”
Olifants River Lodge
Looking ahead, the Dream Hotels & Resorts team is committed to challenging ourselves to lead and grow with purpose, exploring new ways of supporting exceptional individuals such as George, Jackey, and Mpho.
“We are extremely passionate about bringing our shared vision to life in building a brighter future for all,” Chris explains. “Our goal is to continue our ‘Dream Big’ mentorship drive while inspiring our industry peers of the importance of breaking out of the bubble of ‘I’ and asking how our lives can be of value to others.
“Despite our hyper-connectivity, the times in which we live can feel so separating. This further reinforces how the role of tourism as a ‘force for good ‘is so desperately needed. It’s one of the few sectors that purposefully unites people of different places, cultures, faiths, and ways of living because of a genuine desire to connect, learn, and understand.
“I look forward to seeing what Jackey, George, and Mpho achieve in the future. I hope they know that I will always be here to support them,” he concludes.
The Peninsula All-Suite Hotel
In more positive news, Chris and his team at The Peninsula All-Suite Hotel are proud to announce that Kauthar Davids (Dream Diaries: Chapter 4) has achieved results above 80% in all modules for her Stellenbosch Graduate Institute Leadership Course. As a former trainee, Kauther was welcomed to join the ‘tribe’ as a permanent member and has since been responsible for all levy debtors, a role that cannot easily be replaced. Well done, Kauthar!
Kauthar Davids – The Peninsula All-Suite Hotel
Chris Godenir – General Manager of The Peninsula All-Suite Hotel