Gioula Chelten – Children’s Book Author

So what's my backstory?

Gioula Chelten

I grew up in a working-class household, in “apartheid” South Africa.

I remember watching movies and reading books about the main character being discovered and taken away from her economically difficult situation, to a new, wonderful life. Since I can’t act to save my life, and people run away when I start singing – being discovered was not an option for me. I knew that if I was going to get out of that difficult economic situation, I was going to have to work my way out.

And so I did. I finished high school and left Cape Town when I was 18. I went to  Johannesburg, where I put myself through university, then worked my way up the corporate ladder.

An inspirational man who sparked my crave for change

In 2002 I was working as a Corporate Networking Manager at one of the 4 big banks in South Africa. We had planned a Gala event where Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s first astronaut in space – Mark Shuttleworth, were the guests of honor.

The invitees were all seated as we were awaiting the arrival of Madiba. I too was waiting but something told me to get up and go check that all I was in charge of, was running smoothly. I stepped outside the entrance and noticed Madiba coming down the long corridor. At that time (age 83), he was walking with assistance.

There were a lot of security people standing around for him and since I was just one of the organizers, I took myself out of the way and stood aside where I could watch. He came walking to the door, slowly, with hundreds of people waiting for him inside the hall. He noticed me and took a few steps out of his way, still being assisted, to come shake my hand and smile.

Thinking of that moment now still gives me goosebumps. The thought that such a great man would take the time to smile to the regular people, is the reason why he was revered by so many. My goodness! He was truly a man of the people.

In one of the documentaries I watched about him, he said that we should never wait for someone to say hello to us. We should extend a hand of kindness, first. That is a lesson I teach my children and some of these lessons come through in my work, too. One example I can think of right now – where I actually share that lesson, are the lunchbox cards that I created for my children – and share with you as a free download.

My turning point

That night, when I had the honor of shaking Nelson Mandela’s hand, was 11 June 2002. I remember that date because it was a profound moment for me. And also because that was the night I decided to leave South Africa. Now I know – this makes no sense at all, right? I have the honor of shaking the hand of South Africa’s first Democratically elected President – a legend in his own time. Why would anyone come to the conclusion that they would want to leave South Africa. After all – South Africa is a wonderful and beautiful country, I was well on my way to climbing higher up the corporate ladder, and I was making a good living.

Crazy, I know. But I was going through a divorce and I needed a change. I decided that I’d go wherever the wind took me. And then in a few months, I’d return to South Africa and just pick up my life where I left it off.

Things didn’t quite work out that way though.

I went to Europe and the last leg of my trip was to the USA, where I was to stay for 5 months – on a student visa.

I took a job as a waitress. A big jump, huh? From corporate networking manager in one of the top banks in South Africa, to a waitress in rural Michigan.

So many people – particularly friends and family back in South Africa, suggested that I was not thinking straight. Why would anyone with a thriving career choose to leave her home in an upscale Johannesburg community, to live in a small, wooden cabin in rural Michigan?

I applied and received a visa as an international student. That means I had to pay out-of-state tuition, plus rent and utilities, gas for my car and food. To satisfy my status as an international student, I could not work anywhere but at college – part-time.

Needless to say, it was a very difficult few years. It was somewhat ironic because I had worked so hard to get myself out of the financial hardship in which I grew up. Then, I consciously put myself right back into it – in a foreign country where there was no family or support structure around. Whenever I was in a glitch, I couldn’t call someone for help. I had to get myself out.

My life today with my loving family

When this topic comes up, people often ask me – why didn’t you return to South Africa? My answer may seem silly but I didn’t feel like there was anything left for me back in South Africa. I had a failed marriage back there and I’d already climbed the corporate ladder, The idea of returning to that life, was no longer appealing to me. In the USA, things were difficult but I always felt like there was potential. I felt strongly that if I could just get through the tough times, I’d come out clean on the other side. And I did – eventually.

And, now?

Now, I’m a writer, blogger and entrepreneur, wife, and mother of 5 children. (We had 5 kids in 7 years).

You’ll notice that most of us are already in our pajamas. That’s because we’re the most boring family in our neighborhood – we ALL go to bed at 8pm. That’s because my husband Skip and I get up between 3-4am to start work. It’s weird – I know, but we feel that it’s necessary because we’d otherwise not have enough time to get things done.

But despite getting up that early, we’re still frustrated about NOT getting enough done. I suppose that’s the story of everyone’s life, huh?

As I said – I have 5 children – 4 boys and 1 girl – the youngest are twins. I feel an immense responsibility to put them on the right path. I feel, and I’m sure you would agree, that parenting is an awesome responsibility. I worry about whether I’m doing enough to raise them to be responsible, kind, respectful, generous, successful, ambitious, honest, loving and happy adults.

Am I laying the right foundation?

Someone said once that if you’re questioning, you’re probably on the right track. I hope they’re right.

As a parent, I’m constantly running into brick walls – trying to find answers. I do get frustrated but I try to turn that frustration into resources that I can then share with other parents. That way, when YOU have similar issues, I could be of help to you.

Therefore, I sincerely hope you enjoy this site, my books, the free downloads and the resources I provide. They may not be all-encompassing because I create everything on this site, in response to issues and obstacles I personally encounter with my family. For example – when my son Reily was scared of going to bed every night, I wrote Night Visitors for him. When I wanted to teach my children about other children around the world, I created “Hello from around the world,” etc.

If you have any questions or suggestions, drop me a note. I will try my best to answer you promptly.

Very kind regards,

Gioula Chelten