A passion for uplifting struggling young people
When she is not lecturing chemistry students at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, Zikhona Tywabi-Ngeva is mentoring young graduates and school students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Since starting her non-profit company, the Dr ZTN Foundation in 2018, Tywabi-Ngeva has dedicated her spare time to providing career guidance and support to youngsters.
“According to a Stats SA 2018 report, the Eastern Cape was and still is regarded as the poorest province in SA in terms of the GDP. The Eastern Cape is predominantly rural, and many children are born and raised in environments where family members do not possess any type of education, or if they do it is a low level, and they are largely unemployed.
“This makes it difficult for a child coming from this disadvantaged background to gain a good grasp on post-school education and work environments,” explained Tywabi-Ngeva, who at 34 is the youngest female senior lecturer in physical chemistry in SA.
She has lectured at the University of Fort Hare, UKZN, the University of Zululand and the Durban University of Technology, but Tywabi-Ngeva said it was her experiences as a lecturer in the Eastern Cape that inspired her to start her foundation.
“My aim is to empower, nurture and develop young people in Eastern Cape and equip them with the skills they need to make an impact in their local communities and SA,” she said.
My aim is to empower, nurture and develop young people in Eastern Cape and equip them with the skills they need to make an impact
Born and raised in Machibini village outside Ilinge township in Komani, Tywabi-Ngeva said through the foundation, she offered a "fitted for work" clothing drive and shared various academic and work opportunities.
“We collect professional clothes from friends, colleagues and local business people to give to graduates from underprivileged backgrounds who will be starting new jobs or attending job interviews after they have graduated from university.
“I also have an active Facebook page where I share job opportunities, scholarship opportunities, in-service training and learnership opportunities,” said Tywabi-Ngeva, who holds a PhD in chemistry from the Durban University of Technology.
She said that through dialogues, career advice and sharing bursary, learnership training and job opportunities she hoped to inspire and motivate youngsters to reach their full potential.
“My foundation is committed to engaging and embracing these young leaders by providing career guidance and advice to both high school and university students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
And while her foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of others, Tywabi-Ngeva's career goals are equally inspiring.
“I decided to become a lecturer because I find some joy in planting a seed and seeing it flourish. I am extremely passionate about shaping and supporting the future of the intellectual youth of our country and in this way help the youth build a better future for themselves,” said Tywabi-Ngeva who hopes to become a leading scientist and provide solutions that will benefit rural communities.
“My short-term goal is to be able to provide alternative cheap and reliable renewable energy solutions to the disadvantaged communities in rural areas. I am currently working on a renewable energy project in collaboration with researchers from the mechanical engineering department at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, ” she said.
Tywabi-Ngeva said her job was also her passion.
“The most rewarding thing about my job is taking in students from all walks of life, some from disadvantaged backgrounds — poverty, abuse, alcoholism, death and more — and helping them develop, learn, evolve and have a positive influence on future generations.
“Witnessing the dedication from students to break whatever cycle they were born into is really special,” said Tywabi-Ngeva.
Thulethu Seyisi, one of her Master's students, said Tywabi-Ngeva was more than just a lecturer.
“She is more like a parent to me. No doubt she is the woman we look up to as young scientists,” said Seyisi, 23.
“Our relationship started at University of Fort Hare, where she was my physical chemistry lecturer and my supervisor at honours level in 2019.
"She helped me with the transfer in 2020 from UFH to NMU. She helped me with the registration process at NMU and she also helped me with my bursary process,” Seyisi said.
“I trust everything that she does, as I believe her goal is to give back to the community and bring light where there is darkness.”