It has been that time of the year again when the Africa Foundation team, wherever they are, join forces to select the CLEF bursary recipients for the next academic year.
CLEF – which stands for Community Leaders Education Fund, is now in its 21st year and has to date granted 659 bursaries to 438 students across South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya.
Applications are accepted from 38 rural communities in which Africa Foundation is currently active in these three countries. They are then assessed by the whole team, who, no matter what their everyday role in the organisation, are invested in the process that ensures deserving young people are given a fair chance to benefit from this life changing opportunity.
This year 513 applications were received; 339 from South Africa, 141 from Tanzania and 33 from Kenya.
170 students were shortlisted for interviews.
The programme which began in South Africa, successfully expanded into the East Africa region in 2014, experiencing year on year growth, not only in the number of overall applications, but encouragingly also the number of young women applying to access tertiary level education. This year the interview process started there. Over two weeks interviews were hosted within the rural communities, led by CLEF Programme Officer, Nonhlanhla, who was joined by Operations Manager, Matthew, Regional Manager, Ernest and the respective programme officers, Crispo (Tanzania), Simon (Kenya) and Bakari (Zanzibar). In addition andBeyond lodge representatives and of course, elected community members are on the panel. 23 females were interviewed, the highest number for this region to date.
During the interview process, the team want to identify the applicants who demonstrate an understanding of what it means to be part of a community, and to be a leader. For students who recognise the opportunities offered by tertiary level education, not only for their personal development but also that of the wider community. For young people who, despite the challenges they face in terms of financial insecurity and an unstable home-life (40% of this years applicants had lost one parent, 33% have lost both), have shown commitment to their studies, and developed a plan to support their succession to the next phase of their education. This is because Africa Foundation strongly believes that the positive results achieved by CLEF can be attributed not only to the thorough vetting of students during recruitment, but also the fact that the bursary does not represent ‘full’ funding. Students selected are required to take ownership of their own finances and have responsibility for sourcing the extra money required, for planning, budgeting and being proactive in helping themselves to succeed. Africa Foundation does not give hand outs, but is more than willing to hold hands with someone who is taking steps towards their own development.
The third pillar of success in CLEF’s structure, the mentorship element of the programme, provides each bursary recipient with ongoing pyscho-social support, practical help and advice and quite frankly – a stern talking to when they need it! Students are given 24/7 access to a dedicated SMS and phone line. For young people from rural environments and families who have no experience of university life, this support structure is the difference between make and break for many potential young leaders.
From East Africa, the CLEF interviews moved to KwaZulu Natal and Mpumalanga in South Africa. I had the privilege of joining Nonhlanhla in Mduku community, KwaZulu Natal, on the interview panel alongside programme officer Thokozani, ex-CLEF student and current teacher in Makhasa Secondary School Phumlani Mdluli, and elected community member Mama Mathenjwa, the wife of a local Induna (Headman).
52 students were interviewed over two days. These included Celenkosini Malinga, CLEF bursary recipient in 2016 and 2017, now applying for support towards his final year of study in Radiology at University of Johannesburg. From Mduku, Celenkosini and his siblings were raised by their Grandmother after they became orphaned when he was in Grade 3 (roughly 9 years old). Celenkosi said, that despite writing exams, and being offered the opportunity to interview in Johannesburg, he was happy to make the trip back to Mduku. He wanted to use the gathering of interviewees as a chance to talk to the younger CLEF applicants about his experiences at university; to provide them with advice and hope! He was also thrilled with the chance to see his grandmother again for a weekend and afford her that wonderful opportunity that every grandmother lives for, to revel in the glory of him.
And Zakhele, who having lost both his parents is responsible for looking after his siblings. Zakhele completed his matric in 2014, but did not do so well, and started doing unskilled work to support his household. He recognised however that only through better education would he be able to earn the money required to really help his family to improve their circumstances. This year he applied to ‘upgrade’ his matric – he registered to redo his Maths and Life Sciences, and in his own words ‘put in extra effort to a level that I have never done before’ in order to achieve the grades to secure a place at University of KZN. Zakhele wants to become a nurse, which he says suits his character as he is naturally sympathetic and has learnt a lot from his experiences looking after his mentally disabled sister. He says that he has the full support of his neighbours in the community and extended family, to go and study this nursing degree and improve himself.
The things that struck me most, from my privileged position on the interview panel, were; firstly how many of these young people were living without parents, were in fact the ‘parent’ for their siblings, or under the roofs of devoted grandparents, were thrust into adulthood and a role of carer from a tender age. The level responsibility and the wisdom that they demonstrated as a consequence, far exceeded their years.
I was also struck by their understanding of the complexity of the issues that their communities faced. And not only that, but also their desire to be part of the changes that they so accurately identified as critical to progress.
Mostly, I was struck by the fact that a relatively small amount of money could change their lives, the lives of their siblings, guardians, and their extended community family.
I saw that genuinely it was possible.
On the flipside I was struck by the weight of the opportunity that we presented.
An opportunity that represents the light at the end of a tunnel for young people, who have against the odds, worked hard to pass the application process, have excelled in the face to face panel interview- despite how daunting it must be, proven their ability, commitment and passion, and secured themselves a place at university. The final hurdle for them and their families is finances, the one thing that has so often stood in their way.
Back in Johannesburg, all interviews now complete, I was eager for an update on the student’s prospects. It is anticipated, pending final exam results that 50% of those shortlisted will qualify for the bursary.
The reality however is that for those deserving 81 to be awarded what is justly theirs, we need to raise another 1.09 million Rand ($77,580).
This is no small task. But nor was reaching this point for these students. We need to raise our game, raise the profile of this story and these students and raise that deficit! We ask that you, our committed supporters help us by sharing this story and link to our CLEF givengain fundraising page. And as you think about Christmas, please think about a gift for CLEF, as you think about the New Year and set yourself new challenges and goals, please consider a sponsored activity for CLEF – what more motivation could you need?