K’Litsha lecturer aims to inspire

2017-08-17 06:05
Dr Funelwa Ngece-Ajayi in front of the new Chemical Sciences Building at the University of the Western Cape, where she works as a lecturer and research leaderPHOTO: harriet box

Dr Funelwa Ngece-Ajayi in front of the new Chemical Sciences Building at the University of the Western Cape, where she works as a lecturer and research leaderPHOTO: harriet box

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It is admirable when someone attains success and yet remains humble.

However, it’s even more admirable when one’s circumstances were humbling during their formative years, but yet one remains proud of one’s background and makes a commitment towards a positive change in the community.

Dr Fanelwa Ngece-Ajayi is a senior lecturer in Physical Chemistry at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), and also a research leader in the field of drug metabolism nanobiosensors for antiretrovirals and Tuberculosis treatment drugs.

She understands that applying to a university to further your education is not a given for people living in Khayelitsha, where she comes from.

Ngece-Ajayi leads a non-profit organisation called AmaQawe ngeMfundo, which she founded in February, along with five other academics.

Together, they want to change the negative stereotypes about townships, and have decided to start work in schools, instilling confidence among pupils to study maths and science.

She is enthusiastic about her work when she explains what she and her collaborators aim to achieve.

“I’m happy to be leading this group of academics. We all have a heart for the communities we come from and we want to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) among pupils in townships and rural schools, and to encourage these pupils to pursue careers in these areas.

“At the moment, we are limited to Khayelitsha because of inadequate resources and funding, but we would like to see this project expanding nationally”.

Ngece-Ajayi appeals to both the private and public sector to support this cause through any form of donations and sponsorships.

“We visit schools with our makeshift mobile laboratory and give learners access to interactive demonstrations and experiments to help make learning more practical.

Then there are times we take them to the Science Centre, for instance. One of the learners said they would like to become a forensic biologist,” she says.

“I’m excited to see these youngsters interested in solving the current water crisis, as well as finding solutions to the health issues in South Africa.

“Lecturing at UWC showed me that students from the townships and rural schools struggle financially, and sometimes quit their studies due to a lack of proper foundation in science and a lack of exposure in the field ... I’d like to change that,” she said.

“So far we’re proud of what we’ve achieved.

Through our efforts we’ve empowered more than 60 pupils from different schools in Khayelitsha through the motivational seminars, workshops and talks we offer.

These events are also tailored to provide these pupils with information pertaining to bursary and scholarship applications, apart from assisting them with placement at institutions of higher learning.

“It is rewarding to see the positive effect the seminars have on them and how they influence pupils to eventually choose science as a future career.

I’d like to see more scientists, engineers and doctors – these are exactly the kinds of skills that this country needs,” she adds.

She is clearly passionate about education.

“I like the whole idea of breaking the cycle of poverty by means of education. It’s what motivated me. My mother, a former domestic worker, pushed education and hard work, simply because she never had the opportunity.”

They had no support from her father, but her mom managed to pay for her schooling and that of her other three siblings - a brother now aged 30, a sister currently in matric, and another sister who completed matric a few years ago.

They all relied and survived on only her mother’s salary as they were growing up.

“I would contribute financially by braiding hair over weekends as well as helping my mom work as a domestic worker - also over weekends - until I eventually obtained a government bursary during my honours year.

That’s when I was able to stop working and concentrate on my studies.

“To me the most disheartening thing is to see bright kids from my area pass matric and sit at home aimlessly.

It makes a difference, going out to communities which don’t have wifi access, and teaching them how to go about doing an online application.

When you’re right there in the community, it makes it easier for learners to run back home quickly to get the necessary documents, instead of travelling back and forth. I’m basically doing what I would’ve liked done for me when I used to be in the same situation,” she says.

“With enough will-power any child can succeed, no matter their living conditions and background.

These factors never define you, or are deciding factors when it comes to a child’s potential. My advice is to build hope and to have a plan.”

Dr Ngece-Ajayi, a mother of three kids aged nine, five and three, says she hopes to inspire learners to achieve greater things.


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