Student population at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) comprises of 30% of South African quintile 1 and 2 schools – these are schools that serve the less privileged communities. The university’s graduates’ life stories almost often portray a picture of success from humble beginnings – a story of a growing country whose black communities produce graduates who many times have to take care of their siblings and parents after getting employment.
Mosima Letsoalo and Thabiso Phakwago, both 22-years-old, recently graduated at UJ with a national diploma and BTech in Environmental Health, respectively. Living in Vosloorus, a township in the east of Johannesburg, Letsoalo did not have much, but with the support of both parents, she completed her studies. While Letsoalo was an ordinary student on campus, Phakwago who comes from Ga-Nchabeleng village in Sekhukhune, Limpopo, was involved in the Student Representative Council (SRC) at the Doornfontein Campus.
Raised by his grandmother, Phakwago says helping other people had become part of his DNA through the work of the UJ SRC. “My grandmother was a very strict person, especially about education. She used to prepare everything for me in the early mornings before going to school. She shaped the beginning of my schooling journey. Later on, I stayed with my parents who also motivated my siblings and I that education was important to help us fight the challenges of life,” says Phakwago.
Now both alumni of the University, the two graduates echo the same sentiments about working hard and persevering through their studies at UJ. “The graduation pictures people see and praise on social media come after the hard work, determination and sacrifice of many years of studying. It is not an easy journey, but through focus it is possible to reach your dream,” explains Phakwago.
Letsoalo shared the same sentiments: “I managed to complete the course through dedication, hard work, and being my own cheerleader. The help of the dedicated lecturers in the department as well as through the one-on-one consultations made a huge difference. In my first year I did not have a laptop or any smart digital device that I can use to access study material and course information. I took notes during lectures, printed slides and used the computer labs for typing assignments. The support UJ provided through the Academic Development Centre for academic assistance with writing techniques and other necessary tools for studies, was pivotal. UJ is a university of choice for many poor black students,” says Letsoalo.
Letsoalo says although her parents had difficulty paying her university fees, they slowly but surely helped her to be the professional she wanted to become by sacrificing many things to get her through university. She graduated cum laude on 3 May 2017.
Some of Letsoalo’s achievements at UJ:
- UJenius Club member in 2015
- Made an oral presentation at the Faculty of Health Sciences Research Seminar – Undergraduate 2015)
- Made a poster presentation at the Department of Environmental Health Research Day (2016)
- Top Achiever in Management Practice (2016)
Letsoalo will be continuing her studies in research to improve people’s lives and Environmental Health, while Phakwago is studying towards a BTech in Quality at UJ.