Natasha Moodaley receives Distinguished Student Award

10 Sep 2019 - 09:00

Paying it forward is the butterfly effect of kindness that can change the face of a community. Natasha Moodaley advocates for community engagement – here’s why.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) recently announced their Distinguished Student Award winner Natasha Moodaley. She’s a Research Assistance at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Division of Family Medicine.

The R50 000 prize money was a merit-based award rewarding a student balancing a stellar academic record. She graduated summa cum laude with an Honours in Education and Development while remaining dedicated to her community engagement work. The rigorous selection process required backing from a staff member and a student from UKZN, a motivation letter, a portfolio, recommendation letters, as well as an interview by a panel including the Vice Chancellor for Teaching and Learning.

In 2005 Moodaley went to study at UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg Campus. But left the following year before completing her studies due to lack of funding. While still in KZN she met her then friend who has since become her partner – not only at home but also with their shared passion – the Young Professionals League (YPL). YPL was a reaction borne out of need. Moodaley explains that when she was studying a Bachelor of Social Sciences at UKZN she and her friends often lamented how university was not a safe space for black people.

“As a first-generation graduate, even with English as a first language, I struggled to speak up in class.” This was as a result of being raised in a school culture where “Yes Ma’am” and “Yes Sir” was the extent of learner-teacher engagement. Roles which later diffused into the student-lecturer dynamic, making the idea of speaking up or speaking back seem foreign.

Recalling a friend who hadn’t used a computer before but was suddenly expected to know how, Moodaley highlights that students get accepted into institutions with foreign cultures, languages and tools that they must often navigate without a compass. She says: “I didn’t know where the computer labs were. I went to the local computer shop to do my printing. It was more expensive than the university library costs.” She would have carried on in this manner had her partner not showed her where the campus labs were.
In 2017 the friends registered their nonprofit organisation (NPO), even though “unofficially, the conversations and collaboration started before then”. The space asked critical questions like: “‘What can we do to make it better for kids coming in after us?’ That’s what our initial conversations were about. It was about sharing: ‘This was my experience. This is how I got through it. This is how I navigated it’.”

The YPL was built on the shoulders of a committed team of volunteers from UKZN, Durban University of Technology and a Technical and Vocational Education and Training facility in Pietermaritzburg. The NPO teaches pupils and students how to “leverage your network in a situation that’s not favourable to you.” As a result the YPL has supported learners from Umvuzo High School in France and Amakholwa High School in Edendale with mentorship, campus visits, talk sessions and a peer-to-peer learning programme.

“One person doesn’t have the capacity to do this important work alone. It’s important to tap into other people, their skills and connections… And to also recognise that the volunteers make up an internal network that you can draw strength from,” says Moodaley.

When it came to drafting a budget for the recent cash injection Moodaley turned to the YPL Exco and her team of volunteers for suggestions. She was inspired by the thoughtful suggestions she received which included putting some funds aside for learners who want to send their transcripts through to the Central Applications Office. This is a consolidated platform designed for first-time applicants looking for admission to tertiary institutions in South Africa. Learners can use the CAO to track the progress of their applications. It’s an efficient and cost-effective way to tackle what can often be an overwhelming application process. 

Moodaley reminds us that: “You get and you give back. You always have something to give. You can give money, sure, but you can also give in many other ways too.”