Ex-ho­tel cleaner to PhD holder

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - ASANDA MATLHARE [email protected]

CON­STANCE Mat­shidiso Le­laka once waited tables and cleaned ho­tel rooms for tips to raise funds to pur­sue her aca­demic goal.

The then-teenage girl from Diep­kloof, Soweto, did not let her job at Sand­ton City’s Gar­den Court Ho­tel dis­cour­age her from her am­bi­tions. It was just over 20 years ago when she swept the ho­tel floors and served its tables, and now at 43, Le­laka is a proud mem­ber of the Wits Re­pro­duc­tive Health and HIV In­sti­tute where she works as a So­cial Sci­en­tist Re­searcher. She also holds a PhD in Lit­er­a­ture and Phi­los­o­phy.

In 1995 her mother, who was also a do­mes­tic worker, per­suaded her to work at the ho­tel and save her earn­ings. At the time, she had just ma­tric­u­lated. She knew since she was 14 years old that she had a call­ing in so­cial work.

“I served as a wait­ress in a restau­rant and in the ho­tel room for house­keep­ing. In 1995 dur­ing the Rugby World Cup, I had re­ceived good tips in for­eign cur­rency from the in­ter­na­tional guests,” she said. Her mother had al­ready in­stilled the cul­ture of sav­ing when she was young.

An ac­cep­tance let­ter from Fort Hare Uni­ver­sity prompted her to re­sign and fo­cus on her dream. She used her tips to reg­is­ter for a so­cial work Hon­ours de­gree at the uni­ver­sity in 1996.

“In July, I re­ceived uni­ver­sity govern­ment fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance. In my fi­nal year, I re­ceived the Kel­logg’s bur­sary,” she ex­plained.

She said she al­ways wanted to make a dif­fer­ence in peo­ple’s lives.

“The pro­fes­sion helped me break out of my shell and im­prove the lives of those who were faced with so­cial, men­tal and fam­ily dilem­mas,” she said.

Af­ter earn­ing her de­gree, she was in­spired to grow fur­ther in her ca­reer.

“I en­rolled with the Uni­ver­sity of South Africa to achieve the fol­low­ing – a six-month cer­tifi­cate in HIV/Aids Care and Coun­selling in 2002, a one-year cer­tifi­cate in Hu­man Re­source Man­age­ment in 2004, a one-year cer­tifi­cate in To­tal Qual­ity Man­age­ment in 2007, an Hon­ours de­gree in HIV/Aids So­cial Be­hav­iour Stud­ies 2011 and a Mas­ter’s in Pub­lic Health 2014,” she listed.

Al­though she had no in­ter­est in study­ing to­wards a PhD due to the doc­toral de­gree tak­ing five or more years to com­plete, Le­laka was per­suaded by her su­per­vi­sor, Pro­fes­sor Azwi­hag­wisi Mavhandu-Mudzusi, who ad­vised her about the im­por­tance of a PhD and its ben­e­fits in one’s ca­reer.

“I de­cided to ap­ply for the PhD later in 2015 and I com­pleted it in Jan­uary 2019,” she said.

This fit, how­ever, came with some sac­ri­fices.

“I cre­ated a study sched­ule that I stuck to and per­mit­ted my­self to only watch TV news. I re­duced the time I spent with friends, cut down on at­tend­ing church and used my Sun­days to study,” she said.

She said she was still get­ting fa­mil­iar with her ti­tle but should any pos­i­tive op­por­tu­nity arise, she would not hes­i­tate to seize it.

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