After Xolisa Mtiki obtained his degree at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), the world was at his feet. He had a cushy job at one of the leading banks and received countless offers from top companies – until a conversation with an academic changed his life.
The academic was his former lecturer, Professor Heng-Hsing Hsieh. He persuaded Mtiki not to leave the academic world for the corporate sector. “He said: ‘Look at these black students who are struggling and you are leaving with all these skills you have. What will happen to them because you have a talent that can change their lives for the better?’,” Mtiki recalled.
The Class of 2010 BCom Finance graduate tried to argue his case – he liked what he was doing and he was putting his profession to work. “But [Prof Hsieh] said there was more to life than living comfortably. Since that day I actually realised that there is more to life than money. It’s all about making an impact.”
It was in that vein – to make an impact – that Mtiki, a PhD candidate who obtained all of his BCom qualifications up to Master’s level at UWC, this year established the Mtiki & Ngada Institute in the garage of her parents’ home in Kuyasa, Khayelitsha. The institute aims to intervene in addressing the academic and social challenges that many young people are experiencing as a result of COVID-19.
“Whenever I visited my parents I would see kids, including my younger brother and sister, struggling academically because of the new ways of studying, as most things are done online,” explained Mtiki, who was born in Indwe in the Eastern Cape. “For me it triggered that this is exactly what I’m dealing with at the university. Let me play a small part. Let me come up with something better to keep them focused on their studies and improving. Obviously, when they don’t attend school, the first thing that comes into their minds is to use that freedom to play.”
Together with his high school friend, Asanda Ngada, they introduced a programme dealing with various academic- and social-related challenges faced by young people. From Mondays to Saturdays, they provide several services including mentoring, tutoring, interviewing and computer skills, curriculum vitae development as well as psychological social support to deal with issues such as substance abuse.
“The main objective is to respond to the high dropout rate of kids from school. But I realised that you need to deal with the root cause that leads to concentration levels dropping, and there are various factors. That is why we have a social worker on the team to give them psychological support before we can help them with their academic challenges.”
They have seen significant improvements in the academic performance of their 30 students, ages 14 years and over. “Some have moved from code 2 and 3 in the first term to codes 6 and 7 in the last term. That is good because we want to instil a learning culture in the black communities and make learning fun. We also want to prove that it’s a myth that to be successful you need to attend certain schools. What is important is self-determination.”
Ultimately, the institute, which is free of charge, intends to assist learners enter university, do well and land or create employment afterwards so they can help those who come after them. “Fortunately, I’m a lecturer myself and I will monitor and guide them every step along the way”.