Maverick Insider Good News Series
From rejection to hope: Qiniso and the YES Trust
At Daily Maverick we believe there are countless acts of kindness happening daily in our communities that never make the news. That’s why we’ll be highlighting stories of positivity involving Insiders so that we can shed light on the good around us. To kick off this series, we have the story of the YES Trust, Maverick Insider Belinda Harris, and Qiniso Msimang…
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to reject the funding application of financially in-need students. For unlucky students like Qiniso, this rejection can come midway through their studies and after promises that funding is assured.
After finishing her undergraduate degree in 2019, Qiniso began her Bachelor of Laws (LLB) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal the following year. A year into her three-year course, she was told that NSFAS would no longer be funding her – or covering the costs of the first year of her LLB.
“I found out that I owed the school R89,000, and I had to pay a 15% deposit to continue,” she explained. “My father is unemployed and my mom worked at a hospital in Pietermaritzburg. They weren’t in a financial position to pay back the funds and keep me in school. We had to scramble to borrow the money to pay the deposit and keep me in school.”
After a chance meeting with an SRC representative – who confirmed that several students had suffered the same fate as Qiniso – the law student reached out to the Youth Education and Support (YES) Trust, a Durban-based non-profit organisation that funds the tertiary education of in-need students.
“One of the YES Trust’s strengths is that we mentor every student that we support,” explained the trust’s administrator, Belinda Harris. “Whether that is support with how to register or to learn how to write an essay or help them manage their finances… we are there to provide guidance. We also help with mental and emotional support. We provide a family and sense of belonging away from home.”
For Qiniso, the YES Trust’s caring approach was evident from the outset.
“Right off the bat, the level of empathy, compassion and understanding that [Belinda] gave me was something I hadn’t received,” said Qiniso.
“She took time to listen to me, to listen to my story. And the first thing she said after I explained everything, was, ‘I’m so sorry, this is so unfair. It shouldn’t work like that.’ And I just felt so much empathy and it made me feel at ease. Like someone was hearing me, someone was seeing me.”
Qiniso applied for funding from the YES Trust and after an interview with the trust’s committee, she was able to secure funding for the remainder of her studies. Not all students are as lucky though, with the YES Trust only able to provide funding for about 60% of applicants.
“There is a huge need for funding,” Belinda explained. “Many students get NSFAS funding, but even for those who do, it can often be unreliable because they don’t always communicate with the students or the funding comes through months after university has started, so students don’t have money to pay for registration or to feed themselves. That’s another area where we looked to step in. We also try to support the ‘missing middle’ – students who don’t qualify for NSFAS funding, but whose parents can’t afford to pay their fees.”
For students like Qiniso, the YES Trust’s support has been life-changing – and it didn’t end with funding and support. On the verge of graduating, Qiniso found herself in a position that many students do: she was about to embark on a career that she only had a theoretical understanding of. In stepped Araujo Attorneys, a Durban-based conveyancing firm.
Qiniso spent a week with Araujo Attorneys and the experience left her excited about what the future might hold.
“It’s opened a whole new door for me,” she explained. “I am now so interested in conveyancing as a field in law. Going into it, you’ve just finished school, you’re not completely sure where exactly you want to go and what you want to specialise in, but just that short amount of time I spent at Araujo, I thought, ‘this is something I can do, this is amazing’. Everyone was so friendly and I just loved it.”
The importance of work experience cannot be underestimated.
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“It’s about being exposed to the work environment,” explained Belinda. “You think you know what you want to do, but you have only been exposed to the theory of a profession. Is it actually what you want to do with your life? There is very little career guidance and even if there is, it’s not enough to know what you’re choosing to spend your life doing.”
Work experience is not a requirement of Qiniso’s course, but many students are left scrambling for the work experience required to complete their qualifications.
“We have a student who has completed a civil engineering diploma, but he can’t get the necessary work experience to get the piece of paper that says he’s done what is required,” said Belinda.
“Many companies worry about the cost of taking on students for work experience, but it does not need to be a burden on companies. All students might look for is some money for transport or lunch. It doesn’t need to be a salary.”
Hosting students for vacation work can be beneficial for all involved, said Stephanie Lopes, a director at Araujo Attorneys.
“You just need to be prepared,” Stephanie explained. “Put together a small programme for them so that they don’t arrive and sit in the corner making copies. Make it a rewarding learning experience for them and one that can benefit your business too.
“It’s important for businesses to recognise that students are the future of their industries and that they need to put time into them if their industries and their businesses are going to grow, are going to develop, and are going to be sustainable in the future.”
Qiniso was such a good fit at Araujo Attorneys that she was offered the opportunity to do her articles with the firm.
“I was just super-grateful and shocked at the same time,” Qiniso said.”It’s been amazing, even though it’s only been my first week. Everyone has been so nice and very helpful. I feel like I’ve learnt so much already.”
Qiniso’s future may now lie in conveyancing, but wherever she goes, she is approaching the future with excitement:
“You can find something that you love, something that you’re passionate about and you just work at it and just build your career on that.”
For Belinda and those at the YES Trust, Qiniso’s journey serves as an inspiration.
“Success stories like Qiniso’s bring joy to all the committee members and make us more determined to help find opportunities for deserving students,” she explained. “Qiniso’s story is also an inspiration to students still studying – they can see that goals can be reached and that while it is difficult to find, there is work out there.”
If you are interested in providing a work experience opportunity for a university student, or in helping to fund a student in need, email Belinda Harris at [email protected] or find out more about the YES Trust here.
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