Sam Moshoeshoe is intent on making a difference in people’s lives by any means possible – whether by scalpel, or simply sharing his story…
When Sam Moshoeshoe was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he simply went along with the prevailing choice of his Grade 1 class. “Everyone in the class said: ‘I want to be a doctor,’ so to sound like them and not be a misfit, I also said I want to be doctor. But of course at that time I did not understand what it meant; I only found out later.”
In high school, Sam considered becoming a lawyer – but his interest in medicine was ignited when his mother started getting ill. “ She was always going to the clinic, but not getting help.” That’s when Sam realised there were just not enough doctors, and that people were suffering from lack of proper medical attention. “I realised that as much as I cannot change the world all at once, I can touch one person’s heart – literally and figuratively – at a time and change their life; and hopefully they can do the same wherever they go.”
Born and raised in the Eastern Free State town of Virginia, known for its mining and agricultural sectors, Sam first glimpsed the world outside the dustbowl he was raised in thanks to high school field trips.
Life at home, though, was a struggle. His father had left to find work in Gauteng when Sam was in Grade 8, and never returned. Two years later, when his mother was ailing, his brother quit school to help fend for the family, who were relying on their grandmother’s social grant to survive. “He struggled to find work in town, and moved elsewhere; at first he sent money every once in a while, then we lost contact with him,” Sam reveals.
Lighting the spark
Thankfully, his mother’s health improved; she met a new partner and moved in with him, leaving Sam and his younger brother with his gran. By this time, a spark had been lit in the youngster: his physical and life sciences teacher at Marematlou Secondary School had started to take an interest in him.
“I’ve never been a top A student, but in Grade 11 Mr Liphoko told me he sees something in me. He said: ‘If you put more effort into your studies you might actually improve and do more than you think.’
“Him realising I had this potential lit the spark. It made me want to improve myself, and to prove that I could. That’s when everything just changed,” says Sam. In the following exam, Sam was one of only two students to pass with distinctions. “That hadn’t happened in six years; he was so proud. Just seeing him that happy touched my heart.”
Sam’s academic prowess paved the way to university – but didn’t secure his tenure there, and a lack of funds meant his first year proved particularly challenging. “We were struggling at home, I had no bursary and no funds to continue. Even when registering, I was asking everyone to help,” he recalls. One bursary he applied for initially said yes, then backed down. All applications were met with a ‘come back later’ response. “Eventually I was just going for the sake of saying I went,” Sam says.
By the second half of 2016, when a friend who had applied to Moshal suggested Sam do the same, he was so dispirited that he was initially reluctant. “I’d never heard of it before, and did it out of desperation,” he recounts.
Born to serve
Acceptance into the program has paved the way for Sam to focus on his studies. “It meant that I no longer have to struggle – and spend time going back and forth trying to raise money. It removes the burden from my family, who put every cent they could into my tuition fees, and it means peace of mind!” he exclaims.
Now in his third year at the University of the Free State – in the second year of his MBChB (medicine and surgery) course – Sam also has the freedom to devote more time to his passion: community service.
“Usually during the holidays, I volunteer at local clinic in Virginia. Though I can’t do much as I’m still a student, I can still help; even doing something small like checking blood pressure gives nurses and doctors more time to see to patients,” he reveals. It’s hardly surprising then, that when Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) opened a branch at UFS last year, Sam was one of the first to join. “Any time that I have, I put effort into moving the project forward – whether it’s helping out at an orphanage, cleaning, getting donations, or singing to kids,” he says.
Giving back is crucial to Sam, whose life experience has made him more keenly aware of the need to inspire others. After medicine, he would opt for psychology or social work as a profession, he says. “Even if I don’t get to change the world, I can actually make a difference in someone’s life. I want to share my story, to let people know that it might seem impossible, but you can achieve whatever you want.”