Change the world


Dr Zikhona Tywabi-Ngeva is a finalist in The Herald Citizens of the Year Awards in partnership with Nelson Mandela University.

A passion to empower the youth from disadvantaged backgrounds is one of the reasons Dr Zikhona Tywabi-Ngeva returned to her home province, where she now plays a vital role in changing lives through education.

Eastern Cape-born TywabiNgeva, 34, is the youngest and only SA woman physical chemistry lecturer and researcher at Nelson Mandela University’s chemistry department.

She has worked at various universities as a lecturer and researcher, including the Durban University of Technology, University of Zululand, University of Fort Hare and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

The work that she does through the Dr ZTN Foundation has earned her a spot as a finalist in the education category of The Herald Citizens of the Year awards in partnership with Nelson Mandela University.

While lecturing at Fort Hare in 2018, Tywabi-Ngeva noticed that there was a lack of career guidance among students from disadvantaged backgrounds, which posed problems for lecturers in tertiary institutions.

And so the Dr ZTN Foundation was born. “My goal and the goal of the foundation is to become a leading partner in promoting life skills empowerment, mentorship and career development to young people in the Eastern Cape and beyond, more especially the ones from disadvantaged rural areas,” she said.

Another arm of the foundation is its “Clothing Drive-Fitted for work”.

The focus is on collecting clothes that are suited for the workplace for graduates from underprivileged backgrounds who will be starting new jobs or attending job interviews.

In the early days of establishing the foundation, reaching out to the youth in rural areas was challenging due to a lack of resources such as the internet.

The Covid-19 pandemic also prevented Tywabi-Ngeva from travelling to remote areas to reach out to young people.

A lack of funding to employ an administrator to run the foundation daily and to attend to queries promptly posed another challenge.

Due to being employed on a full-time basis, Tywabi-Ngeva dedicates her weekends and spare time to the foundation, usually starting her day at 3am on Saturdays.

A typical Saturday includes responding to e-mails and messages received on social media platforms, sharing information on jobs, bursaries and internships, and drafting funding applications that are sent to potential sponsors to assist the foundation with students’ university registration fees, accommodation and textbooks.

Work is also done on online fundraising campaigns all while sifting through students’ CVs to proofread and spruce them up.

Despite the challenges, the foundation is slowly starting to grow.

To date, it has successfully assisted about 15 students to secure postgraduate scholarships, some of whom have been paired with their mentors in their respective careers, while others have secured jobs and internships.

Many have successfully enrolled at universities and FET colleges, received NFSAS funding and have benefited from the clothing drive for job interviews.

Job seekers are regularly kept informed about vacancies and opportunities by way of the Dr ZTN Foundation’s social media platforms.

“Youth unemployment is one of SA’s most intractable challenges, made worse by Covid-19.

“Unemployment is not limited to those with basic or lower levels of education.

“The trend of unemployed young people with tertiary education is also on the rise.

“Dr ZTN Foundation NPC is evidently making progress to better the situation by trying to make a difference with our initiatives.

“We work on many exciting projects to help improve the lives of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Tywabi-Ngeva said.

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 20 August 2021 written by Lynn Spence. Nelson Mandela University is the main sponsor in the Citizens of the Year Awards 2021.

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