As a child Nandisa Ngubelanga moved from home to home, place to place. “My mother was a single mother, without job security or a secure income, and she battled even to put food on the table sometimes. So I was always the new girl at school,” she recalls.
When her mother was injured in a car crash and couldn’t take care of her Nandisa had to live for a while with an aunt, uncle and cousins. “My aunt was very supportive and did all she could to make me feel at home, but I missed my family.”
At Margate Primary in Grade 3, Nandisa was bullied. “I was an overweight child and still battle with my weight. The boys would sing nasty songs about me. I’ve tried every diet, but sometimes I just comfort eat, especially during exams,” she says. Yet despite these challenges, she worked hard, won favour with her teachers and involved herself in as many extracurricular activities as possible, from athletics to toastmasters, speech and drama, and the eco-club, creating healthy and safe environments for the community. She was chosen as a prefect.
Four years later, Nandisa moved back in with her mother, new little brothers, stepfather and step-brother in Durban. Her life was settled, but only until her mother divorced and again became unemployed. We had no money, food or electricity, and had to ask the neighbours and my grandparents to help out,” she says.
Still, Nandisa maintained excellent grades. “Somehow, I achieved As in all my subjects that year,” she says. The following year, in Grade 9, Nandisa won a bursary from Zenex that covered the rest of her high school fees. In matric she cracked five distinctions, in geography, biology, life orientation, English and Afrikaans.
With an impressive matric exemption, Nandisa enrolled at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine in Durban, and then, in January 2014 as she prepared to start first year, she got the call that she’d been selected to be a Moshal Scholar, which would pay for her entire university tuition.
“It didn’t just change my life, but my family’s life too. I was their golden girl, the manifestation of their dreams. Moshal enabled me to be that for them, and I will forever be grateful to them for this,” she says.
Unlike many young students who battle to adjust to university in first year, Nandisa found third year, the hardest because “the volume of work really increases”. At first she didn’t get the marks she expected, she admits, and this affected her confidence.
“Now, in times of difficulty, I think about how far I've come, how I've been able to survive past difficult circumstances and then I start thinking about the things that matter most to me - God and my family - and how the decisions I make affect them. When I think about this, I’m motivated to persevere and find a way to deal with those problems or issues,” says Nandisa.
Now in her fourth year, and still living with her family in Umlazi, she has grown to love medicine and is looking forward to graduating in 2019 and joining the ranks of professionals who are critically needed in South Africa.
Nandisa ascribes her tenacity in life to the ethos of her humble family. “I was brought up in a Christian home so we were taught love, kindness, compassion, perseverance, politeness, humility, thankfulness and, most importantly, respect. Those values still resonate with me today and probably always will. This is why I feel so at home in the Moshal Scholarship Programme. It was these values that got me to where I am today.”
The programme, she says “goes above and beyond” simple funding. “They give us financial, academic and psychosocial support. They take us on lovely camps, and trips to Joburg. They guide and coach us in becoming our own brand and give us tools to build that brand as we go further along our academic careers and beyond. The Moshal Scholarship Programme is not just about funding, it’s a way of life,” she says.
Nandisa, who is considering specialising in anaesthetics or dermatology, says the programme also helps her overcome her innate introversion. “I have a gentle, modest, reserved and sensitive personality. I’m careful and thoughtful, although I’d like to think I’m friendly ... I’m known as the girl with the brightest smile. My mother always says I see the good in people.”
She believes this and her own journey will make her a good doctor. “I don’t believe in looking at my patients solely from a physiological/pathological point of view but from an emotional perspective as well. In other words, when my patients come to see me, I want to them to feel as though they are in a safe haven.”