She spent her days polishing the corridors and lecture halls of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), longing to be one of the students rushing between classes and swopping notes during breaks on the campus lawns.
She also watched each year when the students lined up for graduation in their caps and gowns and emerged with a scroll containing their precious degrees.
But for 14 years, becoming a student was a distant dream for Sthembile Mngwengwe. There was simply no money for her to study and she eked out a living as a cleaner instead – until an opportunity presented itself to her and she reached out and grabbed it with both hands.
The 40-year-old Pietermaritzburg resident is now the proud holder of a Bachelor of Social Science degree and she has a powerful message to spread: don’t let the passing of time define you. Your dreams do not have an expiry date.
Sthembile, who graduated from UKZN – the same institution she spent years cleaning – admits her journey wasn’t easy. Before she enrolled at the varsity it had been two decades since she’d last sat in a classroom and at first she felt self-conscious and out of place.
“Balancing work and studies gave me a lot of stress,” she tells YOU. “But if you work hard and pray, God will help you achieve what you want.”
Sthembile spent the past few years practically living at UKZN. Each day she would rise before dawn to be on time for her first class at 7.45 am then at 3 pm she would change into her cleaner’s uniform and start her eight-hour shift, sweeping, scrubbing and buffing everything from bathrooms to hallways.
“Seeing students walking up and down going to their lecture theatres to attend classes made me wish to be like them.”
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