Make Someone's Education Your Responsibility

2015-05-31 22:01

A couple of weeks ago, I completed my first undergraduate degree – a key milestone in every privileged student’s life and a great achievement in many families. Although I had achieved my qualification in record time, I couldn’t really find it in myself to be happy about it because I hadn’t achieved that initially - at a different institution.

I eventually found that my inability to appreciate the privilege it is to be a graduate evoked a sense of guilt instantly compounded by a book I had read. The book, which spoke of orphaned and vulnerable children, forced me to consider that there are people who would love to be in my position but haven’t the means to make it happen. More specifically, child-headed families in which the eldest sibling has had to sacrifice chasing his/her dream to sustain the livelihood of the family. In each of the scenarios portrayed, the family either lived off the young breadwinner’s minimum wage - or off a couple of hundred rands in social grants for several siblings, in addition to the little income received by a grandparent or guardian on pension.

I thought of the many young men and women whose education - and subsequent employment - affords them only the privilege of maintaining a “dignified” level of poverty or ‘just getting by’. The kind of job that allows you to purchase your necessities, indulge in a luxury or two and have just enough residual income to carry you through the month.

I thought of people who could have “made it” if they didn’t have to allocate so much of their income to “Black tax” – sending money home for groceries, paying for a niece’s school fees and the like, on the unfortunate account of these relatives residing in households with no breadwinners at all.

These thoughts took me back to something former President Thabo Mbeki said in his speech at an Indaba in 2008. Addressing a group of community development workers, he said:

 We must make sure that at least there is some cushion for the poor so that they don’t fall even lower than they are now… That we must do - but we must also see it as important to do certain things that would reduce the dependence of the people on grants… All of these things, so that people don’t think it is sufficient merely to hold out their hands and receive a handout, but to understand that all of us, as South Africans, have a shared responsibility to attend to the development of the country…

As true as this is - and as much as we can all acknowledge the ugly truth about how apartheid has tilted the equality scale unfavourably for some, to what lengths can we honestly say we’ve played our part in redressing this unfortunate outcome?

A few days ago, I came across a young lady’s story about barely making ends meet, even with the few jobs she had taken – to pay for her father’s medical treatment, over and above the monthly expenses she incurs on her own, including paying for her studies towards an undergraduate degree. In her post, she basically explains that she’s reached a point of desperation that forces her to defy her culture and ask for financial aid from complete strangers.

This is her post:

Sanibonani (Hello in Zulu)

My name is Vuyo, and I'm a 23 year old 2nd year student at Varsity College in Cape Town, South Africa. I have always wanted to be a University student, but it seemed the universe had another plan for me. I was not able to afford University because at the time, my father was going into a dark hole and he was unable to continue supporting me. When i finished high school at the age of 18, I immediately got myself a job and since then, I've been the driver of my life.

I moved from Johannesburg to Cape Town in the search of a happier life, and I have managed better than most so far. Unfortunately I did not have enough qualifications to be anything else but a bartender or a waitress so that is what I did. I work and I study full time, and on Sundays, I mentor at the 'DreamGirls international outreach and mentoring program', helping in the upliftment of young South African women in order for them to also have bright futures.

Sadly, being a waitress does not pay enough for me to afford College tuition but with the help of my amazing boyfriend, I am able to get by. He helps me with my tuition fees and he means the world to me but I don't think this should be his burden.

I felt a lot of pain in my heart since I left high school, watching all my friends graduate, travel and have successful jobs, all because of the help of their parents/guardians. Because I didn't have that kind of support, I thought I was going to spend all my life as a waitress. If it wasn't for my great boyfriend of over 3 years, I would probably still be stuck in that slum. I owe him my life, because he sacrifices HIS life, just so I can live my dream.

But now things have gotten really hard for me since my father had a stroke. He lives in Johannesburg by himself, and without my help, he will not be able to survive. I would love to go visit him one day, as I have not seen him in over 2 years, but travelling is an expense I cannot afford. I have almost exhausted my savings because of helping my father with all his bills, and now I'm scared that I won't be able to continue with my studies. I'm currently suffering from pulsatile tinnitus due to stress, and my GP has told me it could be dangerous if not checked out, but I am unable to visit an ENT because they are so expensive, and I would rather take care of my father first.

I cannot get a student loan because I do not have any assets, nor do I have parents with assets either, so the banks would never allow it. And my Varsity does not offer student funding. I have tried everything, believe me. I have even begged my boss of 3 years to loan me some money and he turned me down. So now all I have is FAITH. Faith that someone out there will hear me out and help me.

I reached out to my kind friend who lives in America, and she agreed to help me do this. I'm very nervous about everything because in my culture and the way I was raised, begging for money is frowned upon. But I decided to follow my heart instead, and swallow ALL my pride in order for me to reach out and admit that I'm in need of a helping hand. I just really hope that you all can see that all I want is to become a someone and create a better life for myself, in the hopes of being the voice for our youth. As everyone knows, South Africa is in desperate need of one of those, and I'm hoping my degree can get me there. And just to break it down in Rands, my yearly tuition is R64 900 ($5 408), and I have to pay out 10 installments of R6 490 ($540) a month. For the remainder of this year, I still owe R45 430 ($3 785). And since GoFundMe takes a portion of the donated money, I'm hoping that my goal of $10 000 will take care of the GoFundMe fees and still cover my tuition for the rest of this year, and my final year as an undergrad. Just for reading my story, I'm eternally grateful.

For a moment I thought of just how skewed it is that Africa, a third-world country, was the one place that doesn’t offer free education but should. Although this isn’t something that our country is addressing at the moment, it shouldn’t be a reason why none of us are doing so either.

The thing is – Vuyo’s story may be a unique one but it’s not the only one. There are many others like her who try their luck by seeking help on various platforms, looking to be heard and hoping that someone will help. Naturally, we all have personal responsibilities we can barely afford to manage, never mind adopting someone else’s load. It may even be a little discouraging to think of the little with which you can afford to part but that’s not the point. The point is - if you’re willing and able, even the little you contribute can go a long way towards reducing the load of a young South African student with the potential for a promising career and future.

It doesn't necessarily have to be a contribution to this particular young lady, it can be anyone in your community - and perhaps all you can really afford to do is share their story with someone who can afford to do more. As long as you're doing something. Like the good President said...

"... We have a shared responsibility to attend to the development of this country."

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