Defying the Odds: Building Strength Amidst Adversity

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By Anna Cocks

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 1 of VARSITY News.


UCT is a university filled with many different individuals. We all come from different backgrounds, but we are all here together for a common purpose – to get that degree. We all got into UCT through different processes. For some, the challenge was more difficult than for others.


Meet two individuals who have overcome some major obstacles to get to where they are now: Naida Kassim Ibrahim (19) and Hlanganani Mnisi (22).


Naida was born and raised in Burundi. She was in high school when the effects of the civil war began to affect her studies. Although she wasn’t a target, her friends and extended family members of Tutsi decent were at risk of being killed.  She first moved to Uganda to complete her grade 11 year, living by herself in a hotel, and then went on to complete her matric in Nairobi, living at boarding school.
She was thrilled at being given the opportunity to receive an education – but for her, not only did she have to face the challenge of school, but of living away from home, sometimes alone, in a foreign country.                                                                                                                                            the hardest part about being away was knowing that there was nothing she could do about the hardships taking place at home. When asked how she overcame these struggles she replied, “I chose to channel my energy into studying and gyming. I also found someone to confide in. I found that support system.”         


Hlanganani grew up in a village called Mariveni in Limpopo. Towards the end of grade 11 he became very sick. He got rapidly worse, weighing 28kg, and his family thought he wasn’t going to make it. However, his inner-strength kept him going. By some miracle and the help of his Gran, who was previously a nurse, by April the next year he was healed. He took the rest of the year off to recover and began matric the following year. He had to face the frustration of being a year behind and teachers who didn’t believe he could excel. “I was motivated to work hard, and work smart,” he told me. He was determined to prove to himself thathe could do well. He had been given a second chance at life and formed a new appreciation for it. At the end of his matric year, he was the first person in his village to achieve seven distinctions. When asked how he overcame his hardships he stated: “Situations are there to make you stronger. You have to appreciate life and tackle the hard experiences because they help you tackle the future.”  


These are two students who study beside you and me. They possess strength and courage. I know there are many other students with similar stories who have overcome the odds that life has thrown at them. To those that have got into this university facing some unpredicted challenges: Be proud of yourself! You’ve made it this far and you can make it so much further.                            


As the term rolls on, think of those who have acquired the strength to keep running this race, and keep your head up, keep running… towards that goal.


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