inspiration in a coffee shop

In my lifetime as a journalist I have interviewed many people from all walks of life. Some world famous, others for whom fame is only a dream.

Today I had the privilege to interview a man who will surely rank as one of my top five most memorable interview subjects.

Dakalo Muavha has just begun his fellowship in the sub specialty of urogynaecology. When he has finished, he will be the first black male urogynaecologist in South Africa. But that is not the most remarkable thing about him.

The picture above which I got off Google Maps is the road to Masiza High School in a deeply rural part of Limpopo. Here's the other side of that road:

This is where Dakalo went to school. The middle child of a single, unemployed mother, his  dream for as long as he could remember was to be a doctor. He was the only person in his high school to do maths on the higher grade, and as his teacher was only able to teach standard grade they often had to work out problems together.

Google maps won't let me go down that sand road to the school, but Dikalo told me that many of his lessons during his school career were held under a tree.

His neighbour had a television, so the young Dakalo would go there to watch William Smith, the retired maths teacher who had South Africa's first interactive educational TV show and is surely credited with providing the help needed for thousands of young South Africans to pass matric maths.

After school, Dakalo went to the University of Venda for a year to improve his maths to the standard he needed it to be, and then was accepted to study medicine at the University of Pretoria.

The challenges were considerable. He arrived with nowhere to stay and only R300 in his pocket. Many lectures were in Afrikaans, a language he did not know well. Even the English was strange as he had to "learn how the white people shaped their tongues around the words" - at school even English lessons had not been conducted in English.

By the time he qualifies as a specialist urogynaecologist in two years, he would have been studying for 15 years. As things stand, he will become Limpopo's only urogynaecologist.

So what motivates someone to beat the odds over and over again?

"I want to make an impact," he said. "I don't want it to be said that Dakalo went to school, became a doctor and that is all. I want to make a difference. I want to show others that they can achieve their dreams."

He tells the story of a young boy that came up to him when he went home as an intern in the car he had bought for himself.

"That boy asked me if he could touch my car. He said he didn't want to die without ever touching a car - that was the extent of his dream for himself."

That was one of the experiences that inspired Dakalo and some other graduates from the area to give back to their school community through a programme of Saturday classes and winter schools that prepare students for matric and then mentor them through the university experience. The programme started in 2000, and some young people have already graduated and are now part of the giving back themselves. Next year, one of the people Dakalo has been involved in mentoring will graduate as a medical doctor.

On the wall in my office is a quote by Neil Gaiman:
A world where there are monsters and ghosts 
and things that want to steal your heart 
is a world in which there are angels and dreams 
and a a world in which there is hope.

It is people like Dakalo who keep hope alive.


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