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By Sihle Mashaba, Talloires Network Student Ambassador

Growing up as a third born child in a family of five, I had no idea I would grow to be the most responsible child in the family. Life has taught me to be independent, and put me where I am today.  I grew up known as an “orphan or vulnerable child” at school. As time passed, I realized that I did not want to be pitied; rather I want to inspire people and give them hope. I knew how discouraged one becomes from that title. As an individual I could hardly see myself in a better position rather than being needy.

I am not a genius, but through hard work and a determined mindset I strived to become a better person. I lost my parents when I was seven years old, hence it was not easy to get through with my  education. I always owed school fees and would sometimes be sent back home. Nonetheless, that did not stop me from working hard to achieve my dream of becoming a nurse. I was admitted in a College of Nursing in Swaziland but due to lack of funds for buying some learning implements such as a uniform, a requirement for first year students, I could not enroll in that college.

Actually I opted for a second opportunity, studying for Bsc in Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness Management at the University of Swaziland. Choosing that degree seemed to be a way out of poverty as I was going to take a share from the stipend I was awarded and support my family. I did not have any background in economics but was familiar with agriculture. Funnily enough, I had chosen that programme because it had the longest name compared to the other programmes of study.

Despite my dream of being a nurse being shattered, I had to choose on my own and admit my new choices. Adapting to the university lifestyle was not as simple as back in high school. This is where I first realised my strengths and abilities. I had to stand on my two feet and fight all the battles that I faced. However, university has given me the opportunity to discover that, in trying all options, one can discover his/her passion. I started enjoying my studies and got an opportunity to work as an intern in an Environment Authority in Swaziland. This experience inspired me to pursue my studies and do a Master’s degree in Environmental Economics.

My mind set was completely changed as I now love the environment and believe it should be taken care of, for a balanced and sustainable biodiversity. The earth is warming resulting in climate change that is mostly as a consequence of human activities. We are polluting the atmosphere and being careless of the environment, which may affect our health, degrade natural resources and even result in dangerous weather patterns such as storms that  threaten our lives.

In a nutshell, I encourage students not to give-up on their dreams just because of their backgrounds, but to strive to get where their passions are. As a Talloires Network Student Ambassador I would call on universities to collaborate with high schools to market potential careers and help students understand their different potential career paths. Too often a lack of information drives one astray from their ambitions. Hence, universities can help high school students in finding their careers through sharing employability profiles for each degree course they offer in their institutions and organising career fair days/ open days for high school students, or sharing information through pamphlets to those who cannot reach a set venue.