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Graça Machel Trust is giving the future a chance

Mrs Graça Machel knows that Africa’s future lies in the hands of educated women, and she’s making it happen. In 2008 she launched her Scholarship Programme, which enables women from rural and disadvantaged backgrounds to access post-graduate studies – to date 68 beneficiaries have completed post-graduate degrees in areas ranging from science and technology, to business and commerce, and the humanities.

This Women’s Day, 9 August 2014, Mrs Machel met with a group of beneficiaries – four smart and vibrant women from around Southern Africa, who are all pursuing master’s degrees in science and technology, as well as economics.

She shared with them the history of the scholarship fund, saying that it’s what she wanted for her 60th birthday, as a way of giving back and empowering women. Years ago she too had been the recipient of a scholarship for her tertiary education and though she did not complete her degree, she appreciated the opportunity. Today she’s in a position to give young women a similar chance, and she does so gladly.

“This is such a powerful demonstration of the concept of ‘paying it forward’,” said Zimbabwean Takunda Chitaka, who’s completing an MSc in Sustainable Mineral Resource Development at the University of Cape Town.

Connecting with like-minded women

After Mrs Machel left the scholars continued to discuss ways in which they can give back to their communities, and come up with ideas on how they can engage with the Trust and with each other.

Talking of their studies and their plans for the future, Takunda said: “I ultimately want to end up in public policy making because I feel that if I am on that side and I can write the blue print that will force companies to be accountable [to meaningful social responsibility programmes].”

Lesotho’s Mannyaleng Makhetha, a process engineering scholar specialising in renewable energy, expressed a need for a mentor as she missed the 2012 scholars’ conference where mentors were assigned. “I want to get a good mentor so that I am also able to mentor others.”

She suggested that the group would be happy to have regular engagements with the Trust, to learn about the work that we do, and to provide support and encouragement to other scholars.

Lerato Thakholi is also from Lesotho and is pursuing an MSc in Environmental and Geographical Sciences. Echoing Mannyaleng, she said: “During the semester it gets tough and we forget about the dream [of holding each other accountable to our dreams and plans]. We need to remind ourselves, ‘why am I here, why am I doing this’. I cannot overstate the importance of having a conversation with someone who also wants to change the world…to remind ourselves why we do this, why we are still doing this. I value these conversations.”

The fourth member of the group was Vanessa Darsamo from Mozambique, who’s completing an MA in Economic Development at the University of Cape Town.

Now women can achieve even more

The Scholarship Programme is jointly managed by the Canon Collins Trust and the Graça Machel Trust.

Each scholarship contributes to the Trust’s mandate of increasing the visibility and influence of a new generation of highly qualified women. Scholars are linked with mentors from the Graça Machel network and alumni from the Canon Collins Trust network.

Women may apply for a scholarship, provided they are:

  • A national of and normally resident in one of the SADC countries: Angola, Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe;
  • In possession of a good first degree (minimum second class, upper division or equivalent) or about to graduate in the year of application;
  • Studying or applying to study at a South African university.

The scholarship offers full tuition, a stipend, and other support for honours, masters and PhD study at South African universities. Applications for this year are now closed.