…my true freedom came from simply being honest with myself…

Bontlebame: Hello Puno Selesho!! I always refer to you as Puno Selesho, never Puno…it sounds incomplete without your surname. You are one inspirational woman under 30…how old are you?

Puno: Thank you Kea, I am 21.

Bontlebame: Are you a Pretoria Girl or?

Puno: Yes, I have lived in Pretoria all my life, I was born in Sunnyside.

Bontlebame: What was your upbringing like?

Puno: Awesome! My parents are still married so I have been extremely fortunate to always have both parents in the home. I have 2 older siblings, however, we were always at least 5 children in the house as we lived with cousins and aunts.

Bontlebame: You are now a successful poet/spoken word artist….What did you dream about during those days?

Puno: I had so many dreams! At times I wanted to be a dancer, other times a preacher.  There came a season I was going to be the next Oprah and then I longed to be the next President. Eventually, I settled on being a brilliant lawyer.

Bontlebame: oh!! Yeah!! I can relate to the Oprah season…LOL…Why a lawyer?

Puno: Most of the things I do are driven by the desire to defend the underdog and Law has always appealed to me. I love public speaking, debating and I was told that I am good orator. I definitely want to use law to help those who need it most, who can’t afford it and who need to be heard. I also love law because it governs every single area of our lives.

Bontlebame: What do you think you missed the most in your childhood?

Puno: Having sibling interaction on an equal playing field. I was always either too small to understand certain things, or they were too big to truly engage in my imagination. Also – and many people scold me for saying this – but I do at times wish that a part of my upbringing had been in the township. In my mind’s eye, there is something magical about the complexities of a kasi lifestyle.

Bontlebame: Yes, I can see why many might give you the side eye for saying that. But truth is that this is your reality, so you have never lived in a township?

Puno: I grew up in the suburbs of Pretoria East. The only change of scenery is when I visit my Grandmother in a village in Limpopo.

Bontlebame: So what did you enjoy the most in your childhood?

Puno: Reading! I really enjoyed trying to balance the desire to race through a book so that I could get to the next one, and savouring each word in every line and watching a story come to life.

Bontlebame: I see where the poet in you comes from.  What work do you do?

Puno: I am a full time 3rd year LLB student at the University of Pretoria, I work part-time as a tutor in the Private Law Department, am a TV-presenter at IntelliLab and I’m also a Spoken Word Artist.

Bontlebame: Wow!! There are many people who dream of doing at least one of your jobs …congratulations!!!

Tell us a bit about your Cherry Blossom project.

Puno: I started this initiative in 2014 – a for women by-women project that is about  ‘Unearthing her worth’. We lend matric dance dresses to those who cannot afford but we don’t stop at just a dress, so we use this as a means to interact with the girls, plant seeds in their lives and give them the encouragement and inspiration they need to become beautiful, strong, young women. We have a few events each year to unearth her worth and 

puno5                                                       42 Girls were dressed in 2016

Bontlebame: I love that: “unearthing her worth.” And you also have the Park Exchange?

Puno: This is another initiative I started around 2014/2015. It is probably my favourite thing at the moment. Once a month we gather different people from different walks of life to discuss any and all issues that are pertinent to South Africans.

Bontlebame: I have been lucky enough to attend one of the sessions and was deeply impressed, especially by all the nationalities and races attending. On the day there were South Africans, Americans, Germans, White, Black and Asian…what is your aim with this platform?

Puno: The aim is to create a safe space for discourse, for individual and community growth as well as social development. Every second meeting we invite a speaker to address the group on an area of their expertise. This aids the growing and learning process and definitely helps to bring fresh perspectives onto the table. It is amazing to see strangers challenge each other, and talk freely. Some of my best conversations have happened at The Park Exchange!

Bontlebame: What are the learnings from this platform?

Puno: The best thing that I and many others benefit from this platform is learning how to engage in difficult conversation without letting emotions clout ones judgment. It forces one to do some introspection and realise the areas you have been ignorant of or where you actually perpetuated a negative stereotype. Only by acknowledging these areas can one begin to grow and then help others to grow as well.

Bontlebame: All your projects are truly amazing and necessary, please keep going and grow from strength to strength. All this says you are one fearless black girl…what is your biggest fear:

Puno: Missing out on my true purpose in life and wasting time on things that aren’t important. I honestly just want to live a fulfilled life, one that others can reap good fruit from. Along with this, I fear not enjoying each moment to the absolute fullest. Ever been to the ocean, or heard an incredible speech and wished you could bottle the experience and its emotions so that you could relive it later? I go through this on a daily basis. Someone once described it as experiencing nostalgia before the moment is even over. Ironically, living in this state of fear can hinder one from fully enjoying the moment.

Bontlebame: That is so true…Wow!! I like that, because with good feelings comes good actions and then good results.

Up to now, what has been the most difficult experience that you’ve had to personally overcome?

Puno: Letting go of a toxic relationship. It was the first time that I could confidently say that I was in love but for 1 year and 9months my soul was being eroded by this beautiful yet painful union. It took years to completely detach and at times the residue still remains, for example – struggling to fully trust people.

To date this has been my biggest challenge but it has taught me how to cope with other challenges in life. It also taught me that tough times do come but they’ll certainly go and you will be better having experiencing it. I know that I will experience worse things in my future but I think I have learnt that pain is part and parcel with life and we just get better at handling it.

Bontlebame: It must have been hard to overcome…

Puno:  It was a painful process but an absolutely necessary one. I prayed a lot, a lot a lot, by myself and with those closest to me. But my true freedom came from simply being honest with myself and allowing myself to admit that he was not mine. After allowing myself to humbly submit to the truth, I began to see that there really was a whole new world and a whole new life to be lived without him…

Bontlebame: Wow, I know right!?

Puno: I also had to get my girlfriends to keep me accountable because if your best friend/lover is your weakness, falling into old habits is easy. But I am ever so grateful to the kind, strong women who were patient with me and walked the journey with me.

Bontlebame: Talking about women, what do you feel is the main challenge for women in your space, at your age?

Puno: The issue of identity has been and always will be our biggest challenge. We are trying to find out who we are in a world that tells us that we are allowed to do and be whoever we want to be, but at the same time it continuously dictates to us what is acceptable and ‘çool’. It is very difficult to love yourself as a young female in a very loud world. That’s why you need a good secure group of girls around you that continuously speak truth into your life.

Bontlebame: Puno Selesho…profound words from a 21year old…I know women twice your age that have not come to this reality.

What has been the lesson from your challenges:

Puno: My whole life I always said that I envied people who didn’t grow up in Christian homes because they had “a moment” or tough situation in which they consciously chose the Love of God. Well, my entire life has been characterized by Christianity, but in this situation, for the first time I truly clung onto God for dear life. This situation taught me that God is my Father and his love for me is absolutely endless.  It taught me to have grace for myself and others and it taught me about pain.

Bontlebame: It’s great that you have always known and loved God. Some of us know him from a young age but only get close to him much later in our lives…sometimes as the result of hardship. What is your favourite bible verse and why?

Puno: I have a few favourite verses but at the moment Isaiah 44:5: “Some will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’; others will call themselves by the name of Jacob; still others will write on their hand ‘The Lord’s’ and will take the name of Israel. “

There are probably so many different interpretations for this verse, but for me, it shows how God acknowledges that we will express our love for him in differing ways – after all every relationship is different. I am incredibly uncertain and insecure about many things but the only thing that I am sure of in life and that brings me peace is that God is my daddy, he loves me and I belong to him. This doesn’t make sense to many people, and that’s okay. But I believe in this so much that I had “The Lord’s’’ tattooed on my arm.

Bontlebame: Goosebumps… WOW!! How lucky you are to know GOD like that.

Are you living your dream right now?

puno2Puno: Absolutely! I get to speak on various platforms, be creative, read, enrich myself intellectually, contribute to academia, help build up society and be the unapologetic version of me.

Bontlebame: Tell us more about being creative, you can comfortably call yourself a poet isn’t it?

Puno: It took me years to admit to myself and the world that I was a poet, or even worse, a spoken word artist. I had seen the pros perform and take my mind on incredible journeys and I could never picture my name being put in the same category as theirs. But the more I wrote and performed the more I fell in love with the art form and realised that I did not need any validation in order to fully immerse myself in my work. So now I can officially and proudly call myself a spoken word artist and a creative.

I am no authority on the definition of a creative but I would say it is someone who is actively contributing to a creative industry in one form or another. The world of creatives is incredible and is actually not as exclusive as people think…

How incredible would it be if our children say, “Mom, when I grow up I want to be a creative.” The way the industry is growing, I think this will definitely happen.

puno3.jpgBontlebame: I agree with you Puno. I wonder why we doubt ourselves the way we do…I mean I question myself every time I am asked to address an audience, or contribute to an article etc…I still struggle with words to use to profile myself…so I can relate on that level.

I too look forward to days when children will be able to say they want to become creatives…because in reality…we are all creatives, we just have to be cognisant of it and feed it.

When did you start with your poetry and what inspires it?

Puno: I wrote my first poem dedicated to my mother in Grade 2 or 3 and came 2nd in a competition. But I completely forgot about poetry until Grade 10 when I wrote and performed a poem for a talent show and haven’t looked back since. Poetry started as the language in which I wrote my journals and later turned into a means to share my opinions and eventually my story. I am in complete awe of the power which words have and I’m still learning about the art of words. Every experience I have whether big or small inspires my work.

Bontlebame: I so so love your poems and the passion with which you deliver them…can you provide a link to Puno’s favourite poem at the moment:

Puno: I don’t have a favourite spoken word poem at the moment, but recently I have been completely captivated by the written work of Nayyirah Waheed, her work is on Google, Pinterest and Instagram.

Bontlebame: Okay Puno, that is really kind and modest of you. I love that, uplift the next person when the opportunity arises…wow!! I am in awe of the spirit that you are.

However, I will share your link so that the Bontlebame family can have a taste: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=puno+selesho

Bontlebame: What would you say is your biggest achievement to date?

Puno: Wow! This is a big question that I never really know how to answer. I am so grateful for each experience and each achievement. But, I think being able to share stages with my Mother is one of my favourite. I used to sit in the audience and watch my Mother inspire women with her words and I was completely captivated. Now I’ve reached a point where she asks me to perform a poem which relates to her talk. It’s great!

Bontlebame: Thank you Puno Selesho. I am grateful and inspired. I am convinced you are going to be named amongst the most iconic women of your generation.

Bontlebame friends, thanks for reading!

I hope you are Inspired.

Social media: @poooono (twitter) Puno Selesho (Facebook) @punopolis (Instagram)

‘HIV took my mother, not my spirit, we are not our circumstances’

From living in a shack in a township in SA to calling Oprah Mom, to sharing the podium with Michelle Obama…

Despite the events, I say again, I love him because I love me

I live in a state of becoming. I will never reach a destination, I keep seeing further and constantly reaching for as far as I can see. I am content because I am where I’m meant to be right now – and in this context – yes I am living my dream.