Daphne Chiunye

When Daphne Chiunye’s dreams were twice almost destroyed, each time a generous person came to her rescue. The first was Olympic medallist and world-record holder in long-distance running Elana Meyer and the second was Martin Moshal, founder of the Moshal Scholarship Program.

Both gave Daphne the chance to further her education, which was financially out of her reach, and ultimately to become a social entrepreneur.

Daphne was born and grew up in Zimbabwe where her family moved around a lot due to her father’s work as a mechanical engineer. She was the second oldest of four girls and her mother was a school teacher. Daphne was at her seventh school and finishing Grade 10 when her parents – who were getting divorced – took her out of high school at 17 and sent her to South Africa to find a job.

“My father decided it was time for me to go work for a living because the economy was down, and he still had to put two other children through school,” she says. Resigned to not completing matric, she went to her sister who was working as a live-in nanny in Stellenbosch while studying by correspondence through the University of South Africa (Unisa). Fortuitously, her sister worked for Meyer, who insisted that Daphne finish school. She sent her to Rhenish Girls High, a top school in Stellenbosch.

Like Meyer, Daphne had always loved running and excelled at school level, but, until she met Meyer, she kept to short distances. “Elana introduced me to long-distance running. I started doing 10, 15 and 80 kilometre runs and loved it,” she says. “Running relieves my stress and helps me think. I get these great ideas of what I want to do when I run.”

Daphne also joined the recycling club at her new school, eventually becoming its head. Her team successfully marketed, educated and motivated the school about recycling and even had the scholars bringing recyclables from home. Daphne was always fascinated with and had a knack for business. Even at boarding school in Zimbabwe, when she wasn’t given pocket money, she would make things people wanted to buy or barter for sweets.

Although she applied to Stellenbosch University to study actuarial science, she was happy to be accepted for her second choice, a BCom Management Science degree. As a foreign student, bursaries and government student loans were mostly out of her reach so, after finishing school, Daphne went to work as a waitress to save up for her studies. She had made R5000 by the registration date and her sister put in the rest.

As determined as Daphne was to get her degree, trying to survive and pay for her studies all but killed her in the first two years. Not having a home, she would “crash” for months at friends or find the cheapest (albeit dodgy) places to stay. She would go to lectures and then waitress for the rest of the time most people were awake. And when everyone else was sleeping, she would study. She hardly ate and hardly slept.

But her health and her marks began showing her inability to keep on going like that. She went to Stellenbosch’s Tygerberg campus finance department having heard that there was a possibility of a foreigner getting a bursary there. “I told them my story and left believing that continuing at university was totally pointless. I wanted to do so much, but I was barely surviving, and my desire to succeed was seriously eroded,” says Daphne.

Just as she was about to give up, she was called in for an interview for the Moshal programme – and soon found out she had the scholarship. “I was sure it was a prank because I didn’t believe anyone would help someone like me.”  When she realised it was real, she was in shock. “I was completely drained of emotion and felt as if I was looking down on someone else.” It took months for Daphne to absorb that she no longer needed to worry.

This year (2016) she is helping a younger Moshal Scholar and says, “Making a difference in someone else’s life makes me feel good.” She has changed her majors to Entrepreneurship and Information Systems, which suit her dreams, and plans to continue with an honours degree before moving into the world of business.

“I want to create something like the American GED (General Education Development) training and test, which will enable people who have the acumen to get a degree but not the matric marks to get into university.”

She wants to start a recycling business, among others.

If I can change people’s lives even in a small way, I am happy,” She uses Martin as a role model, saying, “If I could do what he did for me, for someone else, I would be so happy.”