The Umthombo Youth Development Foundation, a program that funds students from rural areas to study health sciences, may no longer be able to fund students due to rising fees. NOMASIKO MYENI, a medicine student the University of Cape Town who is a beneficiary of this foundation,told Zilungile Mnisi how she benefited from the fund.
I grew up in Jozini, a small rural area in KwaZulu-Natal. I am the fourth of six children, raised by both parents. We had difficult times at home because we are a big family but my parents managed to send me to a boarding school outside the rural area, and I later gained acceptance to medical school.
I was the first in my family to actually go to a traditional university. My older siblings had gone to colleges and universities of technology. Qualifying to go to the University of Cape Town was a great achievement and my family was happy for me. The one challenge that almost stopped me from pursuing my dream of becoming a doctor was the fees that I had to pay in order to study. It was quite stressful having no idea where or how I would raise high fees that the university required.
I discovered the Umthombo Youth Development Foundation through a family friend. She told me about a program that our nearest hospital runs and how I could apply for funding for my studies. It was not a complicated procedure because I applied and it didn’t take long until the foundation accepted my request.
The foundation has been amazing to me. They didn’t just fund me, they’ve been very supportive in other ways too. That support is not only based on academics. I have a mentor who checks up on my well being and personal life frequently. Studying can be very stressful, particularly so when you’re the first in your family to go to university and especially when you come from a rural area and are living in the city for the first time.
Before I got introduced to the foundation, I would notice certain things about people in rural areas. They do not normally get exposed to opportunities that contribute to a bright future; they are somehow limited. It is not common for them to get access to bursaries and sponsorships. For the first time in my area, I had people who were willing to uplift people in rural communities by helping them fulfil their dreams. Such foundations are important because they give hope to people, knowing that nothing is impossible no matter what your family background is. It also motivates high-achieving scholars to work hard towards their studies. If you don’t know whether you’ll be ever able to pay for university, it’s hard to stay motivated through high school.
The rate at which university fees are increasing makes it almost impossible for students to finish their studies. Even for students who study through sponsorships it is a problem because sponsors can only do so much. If fees increase, it makes it difficult for sponsors to fund unprivileged students. As it is, I have people back home that constantly ask about the foundation and how they can apply. It’s unfortunate that the foundation may not be able to fund new students next year because people back home really rely on getting funding if they want to make it through university.
As bursary holders, it would be great if we could give back to the foundation just as it has done for communities for the past 14 years. This gives us a chance to change someone else’s life, just as the foundation did for us. As beneficiaries and graduates, we were all once needy and the foundation came through for us, so I think this is a chance where we can take over and lend a helping hand.