Can I share this with you?

I may have mentioned that eight years ago I met and befriended an Aids orphan in one of our shanty towns. Mbali is very bright, and battled her way through a very poor and dysfunctional school to qualify for university. She wanted to do a BSc, but could not get in due to space constraints. She therefore did a diploma course in biotechnology at the University of Johannesburg last year – and did very well, getting three distinctions, one in chemistry.

We applied to transfer her to BSc this year, and the admin botched things – they told her she was accepted subject to space being available, then told her she’d been rejected. I got into a rage and wrote an impassioned – but I hope reasoned – email to the dean, pointing out that this way, South Africa was likely to lose a scientist and gain a technician. She has proved that she is dedicated and hardworking, and will not drop out mid-year, as so many of our deeply unprepared first-years do. I said she should be accepted based solely on her 2011 results, but added that I found it really sad that they were turning down a girl who, on one occasion, turned to me with a glowing face and said, “I really LOVE science!” Someone who has the potential to go way beyond BSc, to really contribute to science nationally and globally. (Plus, I reminded them, she has a sponsor who is paying her fees, and I am sure I can fundraise a little to cover books – so many of our first-years don’t have enough for their fees, and can’t qualify for a bank loan, the Catch-22 being banks won’t loan to first-years who they well know could drop out.)

And guess what? I got a phone call from the faculty. They have decided to accept Mbali. She’s on her way! A kid born in a corrugated iron shack will become a scientist, will, I am sure, one day be Dr Nkabinde. Tears, laughter, and a desire to rush out and polka down the street…. OMG, I am so glad!





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