At the recent Cyril Ramaphosa Education Trust (CRET) graduate awards ceremony, the First Lady of South Africa and Chairperson of Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation, Dr Tshepo Motsepe, reflected upon the challenges the pandemic presented for students. Dr Motsepe said that inequalities were laid bare due to lack of access to essential resources and young people lost a large chunk of the academic year because of higher levels of lockdown and the shift to online learning.

Despite these challenges, some students rose to the occasion, lent a helping hand to others, and had wonderful personal successes. What makes it even more special is that these students are themselves recipients of financial support to further their education.

Ntsundeni Ndou now a CRET alumni, studied at Wits where he served as President of the Wits Toastmasters Society and was crowned Area Speaking Champion. He was a recipient of a bursary from CRET and has been an active participant in the organisation’s projects and initiatives. Ndou is extremely passionate about student support and, on top of his academic commitments, he has facilitated time management workshops, exam preparation sessions and he tutors other students.

Ntsundeni is a big believer in the saying “A candle loses nothing by lighting another” and he gladly shares his knowledge with others. “I have always been of the belief that students don’t fail because they are not good enough, they fail largely due to controllable factors like mentality, habits and course-specific strategy. As I was excelling academically, I would share with those around me things that were helping me excel.” he said.

This year, Ndou is one of the recipients of the CRET Nelson Mandela Award for Overall Leadership, Excellence and Achievement. He was honoured for success in his academics, his leadership achievements and service to the student community.

“It really feels surreal. I still can’t believe I won the award. I am truly humbled to be recognised as someone who exudes the spirit of Nelson Mandela in leadership, excellence and achievement.  It is also an encouragement for me to continue working hard.” he shared.

Ndou founded an NGO called the Bono Foundation where he offers career guidance, mentorship and tutoring to youth. Even more impressive is that he was also part of the development team of Tutling, an app that links students with tutors. Considering all the challenges of 2020, it is inspiring that Ntsundeni found the time and showed great commitment to paying it forward for other youth.

On how he manages to get it all done, he muses “Time is one of the most valuable resources anyone can have. We have time for nothing, but we also have time for everything. I think university students have more time than anyone else and it simply takes discipline and planning to use your time to empower yourself and others.”

Ndou also credits CRET with being an inspiration for all he has accomplished.

“CRET has a culture of community work. Seeing other CRET students doing something for the community also encourages one to do likewise. For me three things have been my priority; my education, personal development and community involvement. I believe we are inspired to inspire, given to give, and taught to teach.” CRET is no ordinary bursary program. CRET believes in a holistic approach where their students receive psychological support, develop soft skills, do on site job visits to connect with their desired industry and even get help getting their drivers license. They’ve recently expanded their skills development program to include young people receiving training in aviation and agriculture. The chairperson of the CRET Alumni Advisory Board, Cyril Madiba, was recently named among the Top 200 Young South Africans. CRET has produced 142 successful graduates since inception who work in medicine, law, technology, finance, education and other sectors.

But, Ndou was not the only recipient of the organisation’s top award. Anna Mimbire was also lauded as a 2022 CRET Student of the Year. Anna grew up in the Westrand and attended Lodirile High School, a beneficiary of the Adopt-A-School program. With a strong passion for numbers, this vibrant young woman is studying towards a Bachelor of Accounting Science degree at Wits. Seeing how many students were struggling with their mental health in 2020, Mimbire created a Facebook page where people had a safe space to share their fears and concerns.

“In 2020, with the pandemic and school’s pressure going on…I broke down. I was fortunate that CRET offers holistic support so I was able to talk to someone. It kept lingering in my mind and kept thinking how many people need a listening ear so, I took it upon myself to create a safe space for people to talk about their struggles. There was a rise in the number of Confessions during the release of matric results. There is a rise in the number of messages I receive through the page’s WhatsApp, I have even received messages from people outside RSA.” she said.

Giving back and helping is a hallmark of how Mimbire moves through life, largely inspired by a teacher who told her “I don’t give because I have plenty or because there’s nothing better I can do with the money. You don’t need to think of repaying me but help others.”

Students often joke about not having enough food or money but Mimbire is always looking out for those with less than her. She helps the homeless with food and clothing. Mimbire also uses her shopping rewards points to donate vouchers. When it comes to sharing her knowledge, Anna tutors a high school learner as well as two university students.

She notes, “CRET always encourages us to give back to the community and they lead by example. I always tell others that helping doesn’t need to be monetary, helping a senior citizen fetch their medication at the clinic, helping a learner with a subject or project, volunteering in orphanages, the very little things that one may think are not as important may change someone’s life.”

Financial support for students can do more than just pay the bills. While it alleviates the stress and pressure of paying for tuition, books and accommodation, it could improve their mental well-being or inspire them to pay it forward by helping others. With a holistic approach like that applied by CRET, students can be encouraged to be active citizens and be of service to their communities. It creates more than just an employable graduate.

Anna reflects, “Programs like CRET are very important in shaping the youth to be good, kind active citizens. They not only pay for your fees but care about you as an individual and, when you experience so much love and care, it is nearly impossible not wanting to share it with others.”

While the country does need more graduates with the necessary skills to be an asset to their employer and contribute to growing the economy, we also need socially conscious people. An inherent desire to help others can only be cultivated when it is modelled through successful implementation and young people get support for their philanthropic ventures.

The hope is to have more socially conscious and kind students like Ntsundeni and Anna build a circle of teaching and support to cultivate generations of great South Africans. And, Ntsundeni believes every student can make a difference with this sage advice, “Start where you are with what you have. Your skills and time are enough resources for you to START. Tertiary institutions offer so many resources like free WIFI, computer labs and libraries, all of which can help you empower others. There are also your classmates, your educators, your fellow community members, even your bursary coordinators.  Those are the best resources; the human resources!”