Words: Jenni Newman Public Relations (Pty) Ltd
June 11, 2015 – A commitment to increase access to education for young children in marginalised communities in South Africa has earned Lebo Sekhotla – a third year student at Monash South Africa (MSA) – global recognition for her work. The Psychology and Management student was awarded the international “Here for Good” award by the Chairman and CEO of Laureate International Universities, Douglas Becker. The ceremony held in Miami, Florida was attended by higher education leaders from around the world and other dignitaries.
The “Here for Good” award, which recognises the social impact of students from across the Laureate network, that is present in 29 countries serving close to 1 million students, attracts hundreds of applications annually. Each applicant vies for the coveted annual accolade by submitting compelling entries on their innovative development projects that drive meaningful change in their respective local communities. MSA is a member of the Laureate International Universities network. In addition to the award for her work with local school learners, Sekhotla will also receive support for the “Tomorrow Starts Today” programme, she will receive further support for her post-graduate studies and be appointed a Here for Good Ambassador for South Africa. She is the first South African student to secure this recognition.
Sekhotla developed a motivational program for Grade 9 learners from nearby communities designed to give these learners the life skills, confidence, and career guidance they need to stay in school, apply to university, and contribute to their communities. The school learner programme, “Tomorrow Starts Today,” assists and inspires numerous learners from local community schools while helping with necessary life and computer skills to equip them for tertiary education. The programme is carried out at the MSA campus in Roodepoort, outside Johannesburg.
A challenging background that included frequent moves and financial difficulties did not waver Sekhotla from her commitment to drive change. Forced to relocate to a local settlement at 17, she completed her matric at Cosmo City Secondary School, but was unable to qualify for tertiary education. Through a local pastor and his wife, she joined a community organisation, where she regained confidence, learned computer skills and even became an instructor herself. “It was the first time I realised I could make a difference,” Sekhotla recalls. Determined to further her education, she applied to MSA in 2011 and was accepted as a bursary student within the Foundation Programme and commenced her degree the following year.
During her first year at MSA she volunteered with the campus-sponsored Saturday School tutoring program for local township youth, becoming the community liaison officer for the local area representing the campus. Recognised as a strong leader, in her second year she was elected by fellow students as Community Outreach Officer for the Student Association, overseeing over 800 student volunteers on campus. The modest stipend she was paid, in addition to her bursary, allowed her to be self-sufficient and help support her family.
When Sekhotla began the “Tomorrow Starts Today” programme, MSA agreed to provide transportation for Grade 9 learners to come to the campus each Saturday, provide access to classrooms and computers, additional career counselling and a healthy lunch. Close to 100 students have benefited from the initiative to-date.
Sekhotla believes education empowers and can break the cycle of poverty. “I’ve seen how my own experience has impacted my sisters and my cousins and how much more motivated they are to continue their studies. It’s made me realize that if you educate one person, you educate the whole family, and the whole community becomes transformed.”
Esther Benjamin, CEO of Monash South Africa is pleased that this honour was bestowed on a Monash South Africa student, “We are so proud of Lebo and the work she and her fellow her students commit to each week, in order to inspire the youth in our local community. Community Engagement is very much a part of our DNA, we see it as a vital part of the educational and student experience on our campus – to connect and engage our students with the communities around us. Nearly a third of our students participate in some form of volunteerism. Last year alone, over 650 students completed 15, 000 hours of tutoring, benefitting students in 50 schools.”
Benjamin also commented that these volunteer programmes “offer MSA students great learning and growth opportunities, and allow students to develop as leaders by experiencing leadership roles on the ground and develop life skills themselves; from project management to financial and time management. Through both academic and additional hands-on learning pursuits we are ensured of strong graduate outcomes.”
Both the Laureate network and MSA are committed to being positive change agents in the areas in which they work. Previous Here for Good Award winners, have included a student team who built homes designed to protect the villagers of Peru's Puno region from harsh snowy weather conditions, with greenhouses attached to provide extra heat and a growing space for food. A graduate from México, who won the 2013 Here for Good Award for her work in establishing a National Foundation for Cervical Cancer and the inaugural winners in 2012, from Chile, were rewarded for dedicating a year of their lives to providing medical services to the people of Burundi, a country that has been ravaged by civil war and political unrest for more than 20 years.