Dukwi refugee stars at school
#Finishes Form 5 with 48 points
Wars and conflicts not only displace millions of people across the globe, but also steal the joy and shatter the future dreams of young lives.
Xolile Ngwenya, a 17-year-old refuge at Dukwi camp, knows this all to well.
The teenager recently burst into the limelight, setting social media abuzz after scooping 48 points for her Botswana General Secondary Examinations.
Xolile dreams of pursuing Actuarial Science or Medicine at one of the world’s finest universities. Despite her excellent results, it is a dream that hangs in the balance.
Her refugee status spells doom; like many before her, the Botswana government does not sponsor refugees for tertiary education.
Unlike other top achievers spoilt for choice of where to study, the Zimbabwean native must pray that well-wishers come to her rescue.
When The Voice met up with the softly-spoken Xolile in Dukwi recently – a camp she has called home for the last 11 years – we find a calm, slightly shy but incredibly driven young woman.
“I won’t let my background and present circumstances limit me,” she says, gesturing defiantly at the cramped shack where she stays with her mum, step-dad and two younger sisters.
The interview takes place in a small room, added as an extension to the humble dwelling. The room’s sole window and door are open but it does not take long for the space to become unbearably hot, the midday summer sun beating down relentlessly on the tin roof.
As reporter and photographer suffer in the stifling heat, Xolile and her family seem not to notice; they are used to such discomfort.
Relieving her educational journey as her proud parents listen quietly on, the young Maths fanatic explains it had been her dream to attend Maru-a-pula School.
“For this to happen I needed to get straight As in my PSLE but I narrowly missed out. The same occurred three years later when I sat for my Junior Certificate – I did really well but not well enough to get a sponsorship to MaP,” recalls the chess enthusiast, a rueful smile lighting up her dark features as she reveals she had to settle for a place at Nata Senior Secondary School instead.
However, far from discouraging her, these setbacks made Xolile even more determined.
“Nata Senior is not the best of schools, but I told myself I just have to nail it. I read stories of other top achievers, and, although they achieved extraordinary things, they were ordinary boys and girls just like me. Their stories motivated me. I realised there was no reason I couldn’t achieve the same!”
Boarding at Nata and being away from her loved-ones proved difficult for the family-orientated teen. The poor school diet, rundown facilities and rowdy behavior of fellow students were other factors Xolile had to overcome.
“At times we would spend days without running water. Eat white plain rice or soft porridge. Food was never enough. But I had to adjust to the new life. I just had to cope!” continues Xolile, adding her clearly defined goals and family’s support helped her maintain focus.
“From time to time mum would send me cornflakes and other food stuffs to supplement my diet; she had to take piece-jobs to earn the money. It went a long way. I appreciate my family’s sacrifices.”
For her two years at Nata, Xolile’s daily routine followed a similar pattern.
“My day started as early as 4:30. After praying, I solved a math problem then dashed to prepare for school. I put in extra work, revised past exam papers with my classmates. Following afternoon study, I remained an extra hour finishing off my assignments,” narrates the well spoken youth, who reveals she removed herself from social media for the whole of 2018 to concentrate on her finals.
“I just deactivated my Facebook account. I didn’t want any distractions!”
Having completed her exams an anxious wait for her results followed, anxiety compounded by the fear she had messed up her Additional Mathematics paper.
“I ran out of time and didn’t manage to answer all the questions. I was so worried that I’d failed!” remembers Xolile, who only took up the subject at the start of her final year.
At last, the day of reckoning dawned.
“That Friday I did not eat. It was impossible. To make matters worse I couldn’t access the results. The system was saying a candidate with my surname could not be found!
“Because the Internet was slow at the youth centre in Dukwi where I volunteer, I whatsapped my friend, studying in the United Kingdom to access them for me. It took five minutes; it seemed like forever!”
Finally, Xolile’s phone buzzed. The reply read simply, ‘Wow!’
Another message followed. ‘Congrats my friend. You made it.’
Agonisingly, Xolile still did not know her final score.
“On the third text, my friend sent me a screenshot of my results. It took ages to upload – the wait was unbearable!
“Finally my symbols came through. Boy I could not believe it; I had achieved the results I had long wanted!” she says, adding she got a ‘B’ ine her Add Maths paper.
Unable to contain her joy, she told her younger sister her results before sprinting off to find her mother, who was visiting a friend deep in the camp.
“I ran as fast as I could. It’s about 4km but I ran the whole way. When I got there, I told her to guess my results,” giggles Xolile, turning to her mum, Beauty Mlilo to take over the story.
“At first I guessed 40,” laughs the 36-year-old mother of three, adding her eldest daughter’s reply was, “Mum, get serious!”
Three more incorrect guesses followed before the weight of Xolile’s achievement finally sank in.
“I was so happy, I cried. We have been through so much as a family; what my daughter has managed is incredible! We are so, so proud of her,” whispers Mlilo, her husband Ernest Tiyeho nodding his head vigorously in the background.
“She has done her part, now someone needs to help her,” is Tiyeho’s heartfelt assessment, his voice breaking with raw emotion.
As the interview comes to an end, Xolile is asked what she hopes for in the future.
“I want to contribute to human kind and make a difference in the global economy. When I have achieved the career I want, I will definitely give back to the community and to the less privileged, like me.
“I have achieved the results I wanted and intend to do A-Levels before university. Who knows, maybe my dream of studying at Maru-a-pula can still come true!” she ends, her eyes shinning with youthful optimism.