From the dusty roads of Tabase Village in Mthatha to the corridors of one of the country’s top academic institutions, Amanda Mtya (30) has achieved what many consider impossible and her star just keeps on rising. Like the majority of children growing up in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape, Mtya was confronted with many challenges. But, against all odds, she made it to the top. Today, the mother of two is a beacon of hope for many young people and she is determined to help them where possible. The University of Cape Town (UCT) lecturer is actively involved in community work. With the support of her peers in the math and science discipline, Mtya heads sessions at several centres, tutoring learners from different schools. She also often visits schools as a motivational speaker, inspiring children with her life story.Describing her journey as a roller coaster ride, the Belhar resident says she never allowed the down parts to break her spirit. Mtya started her schooling at Dumrhane Primary School, in Tabase, in 1991. However, in 1993 she moved with her father to Kanana informal settlement in Gugulethu, Cape Town. She then enrolled at Xolani Primary School where, having no school report, she was forced to repeat Sub A (Grade 1). Sub A and Sub B (Grade 2) learners had to share a single classroom. Mtya says she would at times answer Sub B questions by accident. This turned out to be fortuitous as she was promoted to Sub B in the same academic year. A few years later, her father moved to Vredenburg in the West Coast. She once again had no choice but to go with him. She soon realised that there was no future for her there. She describes life in Vredenburg as “tough”. The majority of people there worked as cleaners, domestic workers and as tellers.“There were no prospects for growth. It was not the kind of life I wanted to live,” says Mtya in an interview with City Vision. She also had to study Afrikaans, something she labels as a “disaster”. At her first class, she copied from a fellow learner. It only dawned on her later that she had been caught out when the teacher read out learners’ names from the worksheets. “My name was not called out, but there were two worksheets with my deskmate’s name on them,” she says with a chuckle. Mtya says she had to persuade her parents to allow her to go live with her uncle in Samora Machel in Philippi. That decision paid off almost immediately. She joined many initiatives to boost her academic performance. While they helped her grow academically, they upset her uncle. He was convinced she spent too much time with boys and ordered her to return to Vredenburg. She refused and instead moved in with her uncle’s neighbour. “The woman had children of her own and I added to her load. But I got a lot of support from her,” she says. “My uncle wanted me to stay indoors, while my neighbour wanted me to learn. She saw the bigger picture.”Things were going well for Mtya, but life was about to throw her another curveball. In 2003, Matya’s father and uncle died. The neighbour she was living with also got a house in Makhaza, Khayelitsha.Mtya had to find another place to stay. After first spending two months with another family in Samora, she eventually moved to her mother’s shack in Kanana. The daily commute from Gugulethu to Samora placed a huge financial strain on her. “I lived on dry bread,” she says.A few of her teachers saw her plight and organised accommodation for her in Samora closer to the school.Her love for figures was ignited in Grade 10 when she joined the Go for Gold project, an initiative designed to help learners with math and science. After passing her matric with distinction in 2006, the project placed her at NMC construction to learn more about the construction industry and to make an informed decision about her career choice. In 2008, she registered as a student at UCT in construction management. After completing her studies, she worked at NMC. In 2014, she secured a government job in Mafikeng, in the North West. She spent a couple of years there before landing a job at UCT as a lecturer in the department of construction economics and management in 2017. Mtya says her success should not be seen as extraordinary, but rather as a sign that black people are as gifted as their white counterparts. It’s a matter of self-belief and perseverance. “Our parents and their parents’ parents, were never incapable of being successful, brilliant, entrepreneurs or educated. They were deprived of opportunities. They were systematically oppressed. “It is 2019! Whether you’re in a township school or a rural school, you are beyond capable of achieving anything you dream of. You just have to be committed and consistent. Turn your misfortunes into motivation. Turn your limitations into innovation. Believe in yourself and invest time in your education,” says Mtya.