Lungelwa Mkokeli was born in the Eastern Cape in 1992. She grew up as one of seven children, all raised by her hard-working mother who had only the help of national child support grants. Despite the difficult living conditions Lungelwa performed well in school, but her mother knew her educational options would be limited at her rural school. In 2005, her mother sent her to live with her uncle in Masiphumelele, where Lungelwa could attend the local high school.
It was a difficult time for Lungelwa, away from her siblings for the first time in her life and living in a simple shack with an uncle she did not know well. The level of crime and lack of space in the dense urban community was very different from her rural home. Despite these difficulties, she settled into her new school quickly and continued to excel at most subjects. She developed a keen interest in economics and business studies – subjects that were not available in her school in the Eastern Cape.
In 2010, Lungelwa completed high school. She had visited CPUT and UWC for career exhibitions and had begun to think seriously about the possibility of higher education. She knew of Masicorp from the establishment of the Masiphumelele library and the construction of several houses in the community. When advised by a friend that there was the possibility of a university bursary through Masicorp, she immediately applied. She briefly considered studying to be a teacher in order to give back to the local children, but ultimately her dreams lay in financial management and business studies.
Lungelwa was offered a place at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) to study for a National Diploma in Management in the Faculty of Business. After impressing us with her commitment to study, Masicorp accepted her onto the bursary programme. Once again it was a difficult transition to live away from home in student residences, and she regularly returned to Masiphumelele to visit her uncle. Her studies never suffered and she passed each examination. She even found time to be house committee representative for her residence during her second and third year of study.
We were delighted when Lungelwa graduated in 2012 and equally happy in March of this year when she secured employment with a financial company in Cape Town. She still lives with her uncle in Masiphumelele and remains a good friend of Masicorp. Eager to give back to the programme that has helped her succeed at university, she has kindly offered to use her financial expertise to manage our bursary loan book on a voluntary basis. Lungelwa has been remarkably successful and we are so pleased to have her helping our bursary team.
In 2006, Masicorp had not yet considered supporting students with university level education. That all changed one afternoon when Olwethu Mlaza tapped Masicorp volunteer Jill Stirrup on the shoulder and asked her for help getting to university. Having achieved good grades in mathematics, Olwethu was keen to apply his technical mind to engineering. What followed was a learning experience for Masicorp, as we began to establish a programme that would see Olwethu become our first ever bursary student and our first graduate.
At the time, Olwethu lived with his family in Philippi on the Cape Flats. His mother was instrumental in sending him to school in Masiphumelele after becoming frustrated at the poor quality of schooling in Philippi. It was a brave decision given the complicated journey. Every day Olwethu began his commute by waking at 04.00 hrs to catch the first of two trains into Cape Town and then out of the city south toward Masiphumelele. On a good day it was at least a two-hour journey each way. Ever the resourceful student, Olwethu could often be seen on crowded trains solving maths problems with his textbooks on his lap.
In 2006, Olwethu began a National Diploma in Mechanical Engineering at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). He balanced his studies with part-time work for the Bicycle Empowerment Network (BEN) and the Table Mountain Cable Car, but still managed successfully to work his way through the course. Some aspects of the course were difficult, with subjects such as electrical engineering being completely new to him and very difficult for all students.
In 2010, Olwethu passed his final six modules (some with distinction) and graduated with a B. Tech. Mechanical Engineering. He found work very quickly, and now works with a specialist engineering company in the fishing industry in Hout Bay. He remains employed, despite the recent economic downturn, and is now married with young children and living in the Pinelands suburb of the city. Olwethu encouraged his younger brother Mihlali to continue his studies by applying to Masicorp. Mihlali obtained a diploma at CPUT last year and is now close to completing a Bsc honours course in Biotechnology at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Olwethu remains an inspiration to his family and all of us at Masicorp. He encouraged us to set up this valuable programme and demonstrated how it can lead to dramatic improvements in the lives of its participants.
The Council on Higher Education (CHE) and Department of Higher Education and Training have expressed concerns over the high dropout rates at South African universities. Despite the critical need for high level skills, particularly amongst the country’s previously disadvantaged groups, it seems the higher education system remains difficult for young people to access and complete successfully.
South Africa’s university dropout rates are high by international standards. They have been around 50% since the 1990’s, and the most recent statistics indicate a worrying further decline to 58%. This compares unfavourably with the UK (16%), France (19%) and the United States (30%). While these are clearly developed economies, even a comparison with other African nations indicates problems for South Africa. The other two African nations with a similar sized higher education system, Nigeria and Ethiopia, have estimated dropout rates of 20% and 35%, respectively.
The reasons for South Africa’s high dropout rates include financial constraints (students enrol for courses but do not have funding to see them through), lack of academic preparedness and lack of support while at universities. This is where the Masicorp bursary programme can play a huge role. The Masicorp bursary system removes financial uncertainty, and the role of the mentors is crucial in providing the non-academic emotional support that students seem unable to access on campus.
The dropout rate among the 50+ students that have passed through the bursary programme is less than 10%. More than a third of all students entering higher education in South Africa drop out in the first semester, when the shock of moving away from home and the reality of the step up in educational standards really hits. None of the Masicorp bursary students has ever dropped out at this stage thanks to the support and encouragement provided by the programme. We have many success stories among our graduates who have gone on to find employment in their fields of expertise. This week we will be sharing some of these success stories. Please check back here later in the week to read our updates.
For a case study of Mechanical Engineering graduate Olwethu Mlaza please click HERE
For a case study of Management graduate Lungelwa Mkokeli please click HERE
The first week of September is National Book Week in South Africa. Government statistics show that only 14% of the South African population are active book readers, and only 5% of parents read to their children. National Book Week is therefore a chance to raise awareness of the benefits of reading as well as to take positive action to increase the number of readers nationwide.
In Masiphumelele we managed to achieve this thanks to help from Little Libraries and their founder Camille Quine, who visited three pre-schools with us on Monday. Little Libraries started as an initiative to help a Cape Town school to acquire more books. As Camille’s friends came on board and overseas sponsorships were acquired she has been able to considerably expand the scheme. During her time in Masiphumelele this week she was able to deliver the fiftieth Little Library. You can hear Camille talking about the project to Africa Melane at 567 Cape Talk here.
A little library is a small bookshelf that contains about 120-140 children’s books. The bookcases have been decorated with bright patterns by volunteers to appeal to the children. They are filled with books with hard pages so that children can learn to handle books, as well as brightly illustrated stories with short sentences that the caregivers can read to their audience and translate into Xhosa. This is important because in many poor communities children can arrive at primary school not knowing how to handle a book and never having had a story read aloud to them.
Camille previously visited Masiphumelele to select three pre-schools with a particular need, as well as the commitment and staffing to make the scheme a success. Three pre-schools were chosen – Kiddies Corner (seen in the photographs here), Masincedisane pre-school (recently reopened following a devastating fire) and the Home of Love (recently refurbished by a collaboration with FACE-UK and Masicorp). On Monday Camille was joined by Carol Hanks and Fiona Maitland from Masicorp to hand over the little libraries.
In each location there are experienced staff who will ensure that the children get the most out of the books they have received. Fiona Maitland is the project manager of our Seedlings ECD programme in Masiphumelele and will be monitoring the usage of the books and mentoring of the pre-school staff in each location. The staff are helped in the regular reading of the books and encouraged to use English and Xhosa in an interactive way. This was the perfect start to National Book Week and we would like to express our thanks to the Little Libraries and their sponsors for making a lasting difference to each of these pre-schools.