Aisha Kamedien

Refusing to become a cape flats statistic

Aisha Kamedien grew up in Lavender Hill on the Cape Flats, an impoverished area synonymous with drugs and gang violence. “Poor people, people of colour especially, are much more likely to be found in prison or hooked on drugs than in institutions of higher education, but I refused to become a statistic,” Aisha says.

With one year of her BA LLB left at the University of Cape Town, she looks around her in amazement and gratitude. But it has been no easy feat getting there. “My father and two older brothers were caught up in substance abuse and, while this affected me negatively, I refused to let this become my life’s theme,” she explains.

Aisha grew up in a one-bedroom RDP house and her bedroom – an extension to the house – was cold and leaky. “It was unpleasant, but what devastated me most was when my schoolbooks got soaked because of the leak.” Aisha loved school. It was her “solace”: the place she went every day “to get away from the hardships at home”.

When she first started primary school, her mother gave up working for three years so “she could help me build a strong educational foundation”, says Aisha. But those years were a financial struggle for the family and most nights they would eat only porridge or rice for supper.

She attributes her ability to rise above the hardships to her mother. “I was a quiet, shy child and she understood me, teaching me valuable lessons. She told me that sometimes the only helping hand is the one at the end of your own arm. Because of this, I could never blame anything on my circumstances.”

Her mother set the example, working as a fabric retailer, sewing part time and later starting her own upholstery and curtaining business. Despite the support of her mother and teachers, Aisha dropped out of school at the end of Grade 9. “I had no plan, I simply didn’t want to go to school. Life at home got the better of me,” she says.

After a year, she realised she wanted more: ”I knew I had potential and I didn’t want to waste it.” Back at school, she became the top student and later decided to study law. She applied to UCT without telling her family, using money her teachers rewarded her with for great marks. She

secured a National Student Financial Aid Scheme loan to pay for her first year. But this covered only her tuition. “I never had money to feed or clothe myself, but I managed to remain at university regardless,” Aisha says. “I stopped minding that I was poor and others at university weren’t. We are all at university for the same thing and where I come from doesn’t matter anymore; where I am going is what is important.”

When she heard she had been awarded a Moshal Scholarship, she was elated. Besides being the key to her economic independence, the Moshal Scholarship Program has “contributed to my growth as a person and exposed me to new experiences”.

Outside of studying, she has been doing part-time work for two lawyers and volunteering at a shelter for children in her community. Aisha’s dream is to have her own legal practice one day and to be in a position to help her family and create jobs for people in her community.

“My mom has a chronic illness and nobody is employed right now. It is difficult to concentrate on my studies when I know my family are going to bed hungry. I remind myself that is why I am here (at university). My degree is a stepping stone to improving their lives and ensuring a bright future for myself.”