Two major obstacles once threatened their ability to access higher education at their preferred institution Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University – their visual impairment and a lack of funding.
Now, more than three years later, some of the University’s first cohort of blind students will cross South Campus’s Indoor Sports Centre stage, with their parents and siblings witnessing them become the first in their families to graduate.
Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) student Avukile Jeke and BTech Public Management student Lubabalo Sapepa, both 24, described their academic journey as an unforgettable experience.
Jeke and Sapepa, who began their studies at the University in 2014, were part of the group of students initially not admitted to the University due to a lack of adequate faculties to accommodate completely blind students.
NMMU’s Disabilities Unit has since vastly improved its facilities, having worked closely with organisations working with the Blind in developing comprehensive support for the students.
Mount Frere-born Jeke, who was born partially blind and gradually lost his sight completely, is receiving a general BA degree and is currently doing a PGCE as he wants to heed a calling to teach disabled children and contribute to bettering their lives.
“It has not been an easy road, but I have always been determined to push through. I’m the first in my family to graduate. I’m my sibling’s role model, and a trailblazer who is not afraid to break barriers,” he said.
“My motto throughout school was ‘I’ve started and I’m moving forward’ and now that I have finished the first step of the journey, I’m determined to continue as far as possible.
“I felt called to teaching and believe I can use my talent and abilities to make a meaningful contribution to bettering the lives of disabled children. I want to teach, and show them, that a disability is not a hindrance.
“I’m ready to take the world to the classroom and the classroom to the world.”
Sapepa, who comes from the Upper Ngqwara village in Mqanduli, said he could not believe that he would be graduating, as getting a higher education qualification seemed impossible.
“I’m very excited to be graduating and I’m proud that I will be the first in my family to do so,” he said.
“I was very fortunate in being able to secure financial aid to study. I love studying and have always striven to finish in record time.”
Sapepa said despite not having yet secured funding for his BTech Public Management studies, he was forging ahead and was confident that “something will come up”.
He said his “very proud and excited” mother would be at the graduation ceremony, “probably ululating and sweeping the floor with her traditional wear”.
The pair joined the University after matriculating from Mthatha’s Efata School for the Blind in 2013.
Acting Senior Manager in the Disabilities Unit, Ruth Sauls, reflected on what she described as an initially overwhelming moment “filled with trepidation and uncertainty”.
“It’s been a learning curve for all of us and we are proud to witness and salute the graduandi, Messers Jeke and Sapepa,” she said.
Estelle Broekhuizen, who heads up NMMU’s Braille transcription services, recalled how students started their university success story the minute they arrived in a taxi from Mthatha.
“This is such a great achievement. They were overwhelmed in 2014 but with the team behind them they are here for the big moment,” she said.
“A big ‘thing’ that I’ll always remember, is the first year nervous moments of uncertainty and expectation. It’s with a tear that I say a hearty congratulations and sincere thank you to these students who are now celebrating their big day.”
Tel: +27 (0) 41 504 1111
Fax: +27 (0) 41 504 2574 / 2731
PO Box 77000, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Port Elizabeth, 6031, South Africa
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