From poor barefoot school boy to successful Doctor: How a man with only R2.50 got his PhD

From poor barefoot school boy to successful Doctor: How a man with only R2.50 got his PhD

- Thuli Mthembu grew up poor, he even had to walk to school barefoot

- But, he had enough one day and decided to travel to Cape Town to study at UWC

- However, there was just one problem- he only had R2.50 in his pocket and he would not be able to afford the tuition fees

- Luckily, the Department of Health in Mpumalanga came through and gave him a bursary

Time after time again we hear stories about people who managed to come out on top despite having to start at rock bottom.

And, Thuli Mthembu is an example of one of those stories. He took a chance to change his life and it paid off.

Mthembu moved to Cape Town from a settlement in Mpumalanga with only R2.50 in his pocket, but he knew he wanted to try and change his life.

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So, he went and enrolled at UWC, despite being unsure if he'd be able to afford it or if he could make it. He came from a poor family, but three days after he arrived in Cape Town he received a bursary from the Department of Health in Mpumalanga.

Today, the 38-year-old holds a PhD in occupational therapy and he has published eight academic articles thus far- he's a long way from his humble beginning.

“I stayed in Schoemansdal in a house made of Mampara bricks. My mother would collect the bricks and carry them home.

I would walk to school, 10km every day, and wear a black plastic bag in the rain.“One day I went to school wearing no shoes and my foot was caught by a rusted nail. I was so worried.

Looking back, I am always telling my brother that getting my PhD is a dream, and it’s a pity my mom isn't here to see me,” said Mthembu."

However, no matter how tough times got, Mthembu said his mom always made sure they had something to eat. He said she also encouraged all her children to finish school.

Sadly, neither of his parents saw him attain his PhD- both passed away in 2014 just a month apart.

Mthembu recalled his first choice was to study nursing, but there was no bursaries available for it, so after he met an occupational therapist, he decided it was what he wanted to do.

Although studying got hard at times, Mthembu reminded himself he did not want to go back to the situation he was in before.

“Going back I would not be working and my mother’s R650 pension would not be enough for the family,” he said.

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In 2004, he finished his BSc Occupational Therapy qualification, which helped him land a job in Mpumalanga. It was not long before he was promoted to chief occupational therapist.

In 2010 he graduated with a Master's degree in public health and a year later he was offered a lecturer position at UWC's department of occupational therapy.

Now, after for long years of studying, Mthembu received the title of doctor and he hopes he can inspire others to also follow their dreams.

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