Graduate defies the odds with engineering degree

2010-04-13 00:00

A 56-YEAR-OLD paraplegic woman, Presheila Ismail, will this week be graduating with a B. Tech. in Civil Engineering from the Durban University of Technology (DUT) on her birthday.

Formerly from Pietermaritzburg, Ismail’s family was one of the last group of Indians to move out of Edendale. She is also a former proud employee of The Witness, where she spent 10 years.

Ismail, a soon-to-be-granny, is thrilled to be graduating with a 71% aggregate. She also admits that being the “most mature” student in her class came with certain perks. She got to learn cellphone “lingo” and was the first person to hear about weddings, births and her colleagues’ successes.

After listening to her life story, one may be tempted to call her “super granny”.

She is a dab hand with many crafts involving fabric, beading, card-making, crotchet and knitting. Since her motto in life is “if you believe you can, then you will”, she is not afraid to face challenges head on.

It comes as no surprise then that, with this zest for life, she could achieve a complete career turnaround at the age of 50.

Left a paraplegic at the age of eight after a train accident, Ismail had every excuse to give up. But her fighting spirit enabled her, at the age of 40 with two growing children and no husband, to start studying accountancy as a means to make ends meet.

Today, 17 years later, she has not stopped studying. In fact, she claims she will remain a student a “long time into the future”.

She blames this on the “study genes” which she believes run in her family. Her one sister is health director and the other is a teacher. Her nephews include a doctor, an engineer and a chartered accountant.

Other family members are entrepreneurs, including her son.

Ismail claims that a need for financial stability and the hunger for a new challenge is what has pushed her to engineering. “I would like to commend my employer KV3 Engineering for affording me this opportunity to study. I feel valued as their employee.”

Ismail believes her success would not have been possible without a mind shift on her part. She has accepted that, while she has limitations, she can work around them.

Her response to a society that may create limitations for her is: “Take risks if only to prove to yourself that anything is achievable”.

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