Scientist Dr Fanelwa Ngece-Ajayi braided hair and supported her domestic-worker mom to help pay for her studies.
Today she is giving kids in Khayelitsha the help they need to become South Africa’s future scientists, engineers and mathematicians.
The UWC physical chemistry lecturer has started NPO AmaQawe ngeMfundo, to give children confidence to tackle maths and science.
She understands that applying to a university to further your education is not a given for people living in township communities like Khayelitsha, where she comes from.
She started AmaQawe ngeMfundo in February, along with five other academics. “I’m happy to be leading this group of academics. We all have a heart for the communities we come from and we want to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics among pupils in townships and rural schools, and to encourage these pupils to pursue careers in these areas,” she said.
They are looking for donors to help them expand the project beyond Khayelitsha.
“We visit schools with our makeshift mobile laboratory and give learners access to interactive demonstrations and experiments to help make learning more practical.”
She has found youngsters eager to solve the water crisis and seek solutions to health issues in the country.
“Lecturing at UWC showed me that students from the townships and rural-based schools struggle financially, and sometimes quit their studies due to a lack of proper foundation in science and a lack of exposure in the field, and I’d like to change that,” she said.
AmaQawe ngeMfundo has helped more than 60 pupils from schools in Khayelitsha through the motivational seminars, workshops and talks, as well as advice on how to apply for scholarships and bursaries.
“It is rewarding to see the positive effect the seminars have on them and how they influence pupils to eventually choose science as a future career. I’d like to see more scientists, engineers and doctors – these are exactly the kinds of skills that this country needs,” said Dr Ngece-Ajayi.
“I like the whole idea of breaking the cycle of poverty by means of education. It’s what motivated me. My mother, who worked as a domestic worker, pushed education and hard work, simply because she never had the opportunity.”
They had no support from her father, but her mom managed to pay for her schooling and that of her other three siblings — a brother now aged 30, a sister currently in matric, and another sister who completed matric a few years ago. They all relied and survived on only her mother’s salary as they were growing up.”
“I would contribute financially by braiding hair over weekends as well as helping my mom work as a domestic worker — also over weekends – until I eventually obtained a government bursary during my honours year. That’s when I was able to stop working and concentrate on my studies.
“To me the most disheartening thing is to see bright kids from my area pass matric and sit at home aimlessly. It makes a difference, going out to communities which don’t have wi-fi access and teaching them how to go about doing an online application.
“When you’re right there in the community, it makes it easier for learners to run back home quickly to get the necessary documents, instead of travelling back and forth. I’m basically doing what I would’ve liked done for me when I used to be in the same situation,” she said.