“Currently, our main and only sponsors are our parents. We also survive on members’ contributions”
A group of university students are advocating for leaners from marginalised communities to get tertiary education
Eastern Cape is one of the poorest provinces in South Africa with the majority of people living in under resourced rural areas. Because of this, the annual matric pass rate has remained at the bottom for a long time, which means most grade 12 learners do not get the opportunity to pursue a tertiary education. Even those who do pass, as a result of scares resources, such as access to technological advancements, which could enable them to apply to tertiary institutions, chances to do so are very slim to none.
It is these realities that propelled a group of university students to take upon themselves the responsibility to bridge the gap, through assisting grade 12 learners who wish to apply to institutions of higher learning and for funding.
They are doing this under a non-governmental organisation called Sakhikamva, which is based in the O.R. Tambo district in Umthatha. “Our mission, is to ensure that all high school learners from marginalised and disadvantaged backgrounds get access to tertiary institutions. Assisting them with career guidance, applying to tertiary institutions, etc.” reads the organisation’s Facebook page description.
This initiative started in 2016 according to Sakhikamva’s president, Afika Ralgane. “We started as a group of six students from different universities here in South Africa. Because we know the situation here in Mthatha, we started by applying for them at different universities. We had access to a lot of application forms from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) and the University of Johannesburg (UJ)”.
Ralgane says, when they first started this initiative, it was just an instinctive moxie, driven by passion, with no clear vision or precise direction as to where they envisioned it to veer. “We had no logo, no mandate; only a passion and means to assist. Then in 2017, we branded ourselves, created a logo and recruited more volunteers who were willing to assist and expand our initiative.”
They attended about three winter school centres. “We borrowed a car from our parents and visited the centres for two days. We dedicated the first day as a career day, where we offered advices on different careers to choose from because, sometimes grade 12 learners lack precise knowledge when it comes to careers and the universities requirements. On the second day, we started with the applications.” So now that they have grown, so has the number of days to assist grade 12 learners, which have increased with one more day, bringing the total number of days to three.
Provided that Sakhikamva’s board members, along with volunteers are students, they only target winter schools, which run for a period of two months, between June and July. This is a convenient time for them, because, during this period, they are on university recess and most winter school centres accommodate grade 12 learners from a minimum of three different schools. This, in turn, gives them an advantage to help as many learners without visiting a single school at a time.
“We have three regions that we frequent, namely, Tsolo, Mqanduli and Ntlaza/Ngqeleni. So we divide the number of days within that period. For example on the 15-17 of June, we are at the Tsolo region and so on. We contact the schools in advance, usually a month prior to our visit to inform them that we will come and assist learners with university applications so that they are aware of our visit”
However, the nature of winter schools can be hectic, due to tight schedules and classes going on for longer periods. “Among many, one of the challenges we face, because winter school classes dismiss at around 6pm in the evening, with one hour lunch break at maybe 3pm. So we start working from 6pm after classes are dismissed, until around 1am, depending on how fast we were able to apply for that particular portion of the group we were assisting that evening”, explains Ralgane.
Considering the positive impact the organisation has on this district, one would think, sponsors are mounting from all corners to support and possibly turn this initiative into something even bigger, thereby reaching other districts throughout the province. However, that is not the case with Sakhikamva. They don’t have sponsors yet. They use their own resources, such as laptops, extension cords and Wi-Fi resources.
“Currently, our main and only sponsors are our parents. We also survive on members’ contributions. As members, each of us contributes an amount of R50 per month and then in June, we make use of our parents’ cars to move about different winter school centres. We also get donations from close relatives and friends, but they do not go to greater length as would sponsors from big organisations or business personnel and so forth.
“When you’re a volunteer, you’re not expected to contribute the monthly fee. You just assist us with phase two, which is to apply for two students in 3 different universities and for funding like NSFAS and other bursaries,” elaborated Ralgane.
Despite all these challenges, they do not deter these young people from their primary mandate.
Success stories and future plans
Like any other organisation, Sakhikamva prides itself for helping total a of 23 matric learners to get into university in 2017. “When we first started, we applied for 100 grade 12 learners for tertiary education. Only 23 were accepted at the universities. So the whole 77 of learners did not make it because of their marks, which was beyond our scope of agenda. The only thing we could do for them was to assist them with university applications, it was then up to them to hone their marks”, concluded Ralgane.
Looking into this challenge, the only way to erode or even obliterate it, is establishing a tutoring subdivision of Sakhikamva, which is more of a long term and demanding, provided that the founders are also students with demanding schedules.
“Despite the challenging and complex operating environment, Sakhikamva continued to create value for all our stakeholders; seeing our donations (personal), exceed our expectations with an increase of more than 200%” remarked the organisation’s treasury, Bulelani Mpelane in a written statement.
For more information about Sakhikamva, visit their Facebook page: Sakhikamva Out reach. E-mailed them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call them on 079 667 74 71.
By Lwando Mqokweni