PROFILE: Angelica Le Roux - A fighting spirit

Angelica Le Roux is a courageous and committed young woman who has overcome many challenges to follow her dream of being a doctor… with a little help from WDBIH.

May 2022

Angeica

She might be soft-spoken, but Angelica Le Roux is a fighter. Her competitive spirit is her superpower and her love for family and community drives her to make the world a better place.

Angelica grew up in Macassar in the Western Cape. Her father, a policeman, was diagnosed with terminal liver disease when she was in Grade 6. His illness has had a lasting effect on her life choices.

Oprah Opportunity

Always a star student, Angelica was excited yet dismayed when her teachers at Oklahoma Primary School heard of an opening at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG) and put her name forward.

“I was 11 years old, and despite putting on a brave face, I was not happy. I thought everybody wanted to send me away! But I also knew that my parents were struggling financially and paying for school fees for four children was very difficult for them.”

Reluctantly, she left her siblings and family behind and swapped the life she knew in Macassar for the sprawling OWLAG campus in Henley on Klip outside Johannesburg.

She admits to feeling totally overwhelmed in the beginning but then settled in despite being endlessly homesick.

“The school is amazing. The res mothers treat you like their own children, and all the staff knew you by name. All meals, clothing, school supplies, even snacks at the tuck shop, were all taken care of so that we could focus on our studies and, as Oprah says, ‘become the best versions of ourselves.’”

Seeing Oprah Winfrey in the corridors from time to time took a while to get used to.

Angelica says, “It was such a shock, at first, to see Ma’am Oprah walking up and down past our residence or in the dining room. She was totally down to earth and treated us all like we were her daughters.”

“Whenever she (Oprah) spoke to us, she always gave us good advice. Many of us had strong feelings of inferiority. She empowered us and helped us see the potential in ourselves.”

Apart from getting a world-class education and support on all levels, Angelica says being part of a like-minded sisterhood was one of the greatest gifts of being at OWLAG.

However, embracing the opportunity to study at OWLAG came with a lot of responsibility, and at times Angelica felt a lot of pressure to not let anyone down.

“Everyone who knew we had this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity thought we would be the next future presidents, business leaders, lawyers and doctors. That’s a lot of pressure for any student! But after a while we understood that we weren’t expected to make a significant change in the world, but it was rather about making the smaller change in ourselves and then making those changes in our communities.”

The Dream To Be A Doctor

Although she wanted to be an artist when she was younger, Angelica was always driven by the need to do something to help others and provide for her family.

“When my father was so sick, I felt quite helpless. Watching my parent ‘die’ over the years and seeing him get weaker and weaker made me feel like I have no control or power over the situation, and I thought that if I were a doctor, I would at least try to do something.”

When she was in Grade 8, she decided that she would become a doctor and knew that it would take a lot of sacrifice to get into medical school.

“I worked really, really hard. If you want to get into medicine, it’s not only about your marks but also your extracurriculars. You’d also have to show that you’ve been participating in community service or helping others.”

As part of her community work while at OWLAG, Angelica participated in a project with international NGOs Round Square and Generation Earth, where she started a vegetable garden in Orange Farm. The project was a big success and, as a result, she was a gold medallist in the President’s Award (The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award) that recognises outstanding active citizenship and leadership.

In Grade 11, she was given the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to attend the ILive2lead Young Women’s Leadership Summit, where she met other young women leaders from around the world – and Michelle Obama.

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The Next Chapter

Her hard work paid off – Angelica was OWLAG’s top graduate student when she matriculated in 2014, much to the delight of her family, friends and teachers.

After matriculating, she opted to do her undergraduate degree in medicine in surgery at Stellenbosch University, so she could take advantage of their merit bursary, which was offered to her, and it was closer to home.

But varsity life came as a bit of a shock after the nurturing environment at OWLAG.

“At OWLAG, we were all equals, and we were all judged by the content of our character. But, in medical school, it’s very different. A lot of the students are quite financially advantaged. So you are put into this environment where you have to try to be sure of yourself again.”

 

At OWLAG, we were all equals, and we were all judged by the content of our character. But, in medical school, it’s very different. A lot of the students are quite financially advantaged. So you are put into this environment where you have to try to be sure of yourself again.”

 

Being back in the Cape came with many personal challenges. She had a lot more familial responsibility heaped on her, including financial pressures, making it difficult to focus on her medical studies. Having to deal with mental illness in her inner circle took an emotional toll and as a result, in her fourth year at Stellenbosch, Angelica lost her merit bursary.

It was a major blow. She was desperate to finish her medical degree and looked for other ways to find funding – eventually contacting the management team at OWLAG, seeking any solutions or advice they could give her in order to be able to complete her studies.

“And that’s when they got WDB Investment Holdings to assist me in covering my tuition. They pulled through for me, and I am able to get my degree.”

Looking To The Future

With her five years of studying complete, she is currently doing her practical and theoretical blocks towards her medical degree, rotating between tertiary and rural hospitals as she waits for doctoral placement.

The next three years will be dedicated to community service and internship, and after that, Angelica wants to specialise.

“A few years ago, I would have said I would specialise in gynaecology or surgery, but I’ve realised that mental health is a disease that needs to be highlighted. At the moment, I would love to specialise in adolescent psychiatry, and create some sort of clinic in my community in Macassar.”

She continues to be driven in everything she does but says pursuing one’s dreams shouldn’t be detrimental to your self-care. Still, she says, it’s exceptionally important to never let your current circumstances limit your future options. “I don’t want the future Angelica to be angry at the past Angelica,” she laughs.

She says another thing that anchors her is what her mother has always told her: “Môre is nog ‘n dag.” Tomorrow is another day.

Although her father died in 2012, his life and death continue to influence her choices and inform her desire to do good in the world.

“I think my Dad would be proud of where I am today, but I still believe I can do more, especially for my mother, who is our only parent now,” says Angelica. “At the moment I’m waiting for a post in either June (2022) or January (2023), but I am using the time to do part-time work and taking classes with Harvard’s Aspire Institute until I get a placement in the Western Cape. I’ve been away from home for too long; it’s time to work where I am needed the most.”