Thembisa Qwabe – I want to use my hands to heal

Love life - story by Thandiwe McCloy

Thembisa's uncrushable spirit has seen her matriculate with an A-aggregate and earn a scholarship to study medicine – so she can help others.

Thembisa grew up in a disadvantaged community, has been brutally attacked and has had to deal with the death of her mother, grandmother and a close friend. But she has never allowed harsh challenges to get her down. As a child growing up in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, her life was marked by poverty, unemployment and crime, but she remained upbeat and excelled at Intlanganiso High School. "I've always done well at school. I enjoy learning about new and different things," she says.

But being a bright spark came with its challenges. "I was bullied by other learners because I was quiet. They'd call me names and make me do their homework."

Thembisa stomached being bullied, choosing to make moves by working hard to get good grades. Her dedication paid off and her excellent marks earned her a place at the Centre of Science and Technology (COSAT), a specialist Mathematics, Science and Information Technology school for Grade 10 to 12 learners. The centre is run in Khayelitsha at the Good Hope Campus of False Bay College. Learners from surrounding township schools who excel in Maths and Science are invited to leave their secondary schools and join COSAT where they receive top class education (at no cost).

"Moving to COSAT was a huge change. Most of my teachers were white; there were computer and science labs; there was no bullying and everyone was committed to their work. I loved going to school. The staff supported us in every way."

When Thembisa first got to COSAT she doubted herself. "I believed everyone was cleverer than me and that I wouldn't match up to them. My confidence was low because I'd been bullied."

Not believing in herself negatively affected her marks, but slowly – as she gained confidence – her marks started skyrocketing. "I improved through working hard and being responsible," she says.

Life was going well, but then pain struck. In her Matric year, in 2006, while her father was in the Eastern Cape, Thembisa was assaulted by two armed robbers who broke into her shack in Khayelitsha. "The attack almost broke me and for months I struggled to get through each day."

She was still drowning in fear and sadness when her mom passed away later that year. Thembisa decided not to wallow in self-pity, but to draw on her strength and courage.

"I decided not to allow these tragedies to spoil my life and my future." Her friend, Neliswa, as well as teachers and counselling helped her through this tough time. "I was in so much pain. Neliswa told me that life has difficulties and that I should never give up."

Taking her friend's advice to heart, Thembisa studied hard for Matric. "The belief that one day my hard work would be worth it, and that I would achieve something great is what kept me going. I worked hard so I could fulfil my dream of studying to become a doctor. I just wanted to succeed."

And succeed she did. Thembisa matriculated from COSAT in 2006 with an 86% aggregate and distinctions in Biology, Maths and Xhosa. She attained Bachelor degrees in Science and English. This got her into the medical faculty at Stellenbosch University where she is currently doing her third year medicine! Her studies are being funded by NSFAS and last year the university presented her with the Rector's Award (only given to five students each year) which covered her second year fees. Thembisa is doing well in spite of all that has happened to her. "To be successful, you have to be committed," she says. "You need to tell yourself, 'I'm going there, I'll get there, I will succeed."

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