News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Thursday August 28th 2014

Inspiring stories emerge from UWC graduation

Najah ben Jaeddou

Inspiring stories of people obtaining their goal of achieving a higher education degree in the face of daunting odds have emerged as the University of the Western Cape wraps up its nine-days of graduation on Thursday.

Among the 3690 students capped since the opening graduation ceremony on March 12 are those who have overcome physical disability, poverty, and barriers of language and geography to obtain their degrees.

Despite being barely able to speak a word of English when Najah ben Jaeddou left her hometown in Tunisia 14 years ago to be by her husband’s side while he studied at UWC, she this week obtained her BA degree with majors in English and Geography.

Having left studies in French and Arabic when she came to South Africa, she worked as a shop assistant, teaching herself English by watching cartoons and reading children’s books.

She said her husband, Professor Mongi ben Jaeddou, promised he would help her complete her studies once he had finished. He kept his end of the bargain and Najah, despite also being mother to two boys, is moving on to obtain her Honours degree.

The odds against Vinoria Nyembezi obtaining her matric, never mind receiving her nursing degree, seemed insurmountable when she was subjected to a forced marriage in 1984, at the age of 13 when she was in grade 5.

However, Nyembezi, originally from Willowvale in the Eastern Cape, when back to school 12 years later after giving birth to three children.

Nyembezi attended Mkhangeli Adult Night School in Cross roads and eventually matriculated from Simunye High School in Delft.

Not satisfied with her results, she went back to school and repeated all six subjects.

While applying, and being rejected, by a number of universities, Nyembezi contracted TB and was bed ridden for six months. After recovering she worked as a domestic worker and in 2005 she studied homecare for six months before being accepted into UWC in 2007.

Challenges continued to come her way, she soon found out she had Glaucoma after finding out she could not see images on the projector properly.

“I did not understand what it was, but the thought of losing my eye sight was too much to bear, not when I had all I ever wanted right in front of me…I prayed to God, I said God please not now.”

Yet, she persevered.

“It was not easy, sometimes I thought that I am just wasting my time, nursing is not for partially blind people. But my lectures and the other students were so supportive of my situation,” she said.

Nyembezi chose to major in psychiatry as she would then not run the risk of harming patients with any sharp objects. Psychiatry deals with mostly giving patients medication and observation.

She said understanding and accepting her illness has led to her considering studying braille and administration in preparation for the possibility she may one day go blind.

As fate would have it, Nyembezi has graduated during Glaucoma awareness week.

Nyembezi and ben Jaeddou are just two of many students who have persevered against significant challenges to obtain their dream of higher education.

Newly inaugurated Chancellor Archbishop Thabo Makgoba capped the last of the 2012 graduates on Thursday, bringing the total degrees this year to 3437 undergraduate students, 210 Masters students and 43 Doctorates.

Honorary degrees have this year been conferred to Rhoda Elizabeth Reddock, Aubrey Sheiham and the late Hal Shaper. – West Cape News

Tags: Aubrey Sheiham, Chancellor Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Eastern Cape, Hal Shaper, Mkhangeli Adult Night School, Najah ben Jaeddou, Professor Mongi ben Jaeddou, Rhoda Elizabeth Reddock, Simunye High School, University of the Western Cape, Vinoria Nyembezi, Willowvale

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