FEEL GOOD | Scholarship programme sends Tembisa teen to university

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Lesego Mahlodi.
Lesego Mahlodi.
  • Twenty-six students have received scholarships to pursue tertiary studies.
  • The scholarship, offered in partnership between Ithuba and the Eric and Charmaine Mabuza Scholarship Foundation, makes funding available to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Students are selected on the basis of their academic results and their performance in an interview.

Lesego Mahlodi cried herself to sleep every night for weeks when she realised she did not have the funds to study at university.

But, thanks to scholarships from Ithuba and the Eric and Charmaine Mabuza Scholarship Foundation, the 18-year-old from Tembisa in Gauteng and 25 others will head off to university.

READ | All you need to know about university admissions as they gear up for 2021

The scholarship provides funding to cover tuition, boarding and other expenses, alongside a mentorship programme. It helps children from disadvantaged backgrounds further their education.

The application process is rigorous.

Selection depends on applicants' academic results and performance in a round of interviews, according to Ithuba CEO and co-founder of the foundation, Charmaine Mabuza.

"The children in our scholarship programme go on to become lawyers, doctors and so on. They are all from disadvantaged backgrounds, are academically strong and have involvement in community programmes," she said.

"Many of our students face challenges. There are students who are immersed in poverty or [who come] from child-headed households, or have no homes or food. But they have made it because of their attitude of resilience."

Lesego Mahlodi
Lesego Mahlodi achieved five distinctions, narrowly missing two more, after what was essentially a year of self-study during her matric year at Rhodesfield Technical School

Financial difficulty

Mahlodi grew up in challenging circumstances.

She and her single mother lived alone in a room in Tembisa for much of her childhood. She recalled that when it rained, the roof would leak and her mother would wrap her in a black plastic bag to ensure that she stayed dry.

Her mother later got married and had another two children. But when Mahlodi's stepfather died in 2011, the family again found themselves in financial difficulty and had to move into an aunt's RDP house.

"My mom has been with me through thick and thin. I know she sometimes feels like she failed as a parent, but I'm so proud of her. She gave me her best, and now it's up to me to take it further," said Mahlodi.

The teenager achieved five distinctions, narrowly missing two more, after what was essentially a year of self-study during her matric year at Rhodesfield Technical School in 2020.

"My matric year was very challenging. I couldn't do any online classes because I had no data. I had to learn it all as self-study," she said.

"I cried myself to sleep for weeks. I had worked so hard only to find I couldn't go to university."

The crushing disappointment Mahlodi experienced is common among high-performing students who enter the scholarship programme.

Third year student Stian van Wyk spent two years trying to obtain funding to study investment management and banking before hearing about the scholarship.

Born and bred in Upington, Van Wyk completed matric in 2016, but battled to secure tertiary, funding, despite his excellent results. He took up a job at a cold storage, packing grapes for two years while applying for funding.

"When I went for my interview, I told them: 'You are my last hope,'" he recalled.

"I'm the first person in my family to go to university. There are lots of social ills in my community. Most of my friends are on drugs or unemployed. The kids have no direction there. I lost hope, but there was still a little push in me that told me to keep on applying for funding," he said.

Van Wyk is completing his degree at the University of the Free State and aims to start his own hedge fund one day.

Van Wyk and Mahlodi are just two of more than 200 students who have been assisted by the scholarship over the years, according to Mabuza.

Mahlodi added that she intended to pay it forward by finding ways to give back to her community.

"If you look at much of the software and laptops we use, we don't have direct manufacturing here in South Africa. I want to be involved in developing local manufacturing and building drone systems," she said.

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