Improving lives and livelihoods is what the Durban University of Technology envisions as an organisation. Forging partnerships that provide growth for DUT students academically and holistically while providing financial support where required and possible is what prompted DUT’s Advancement and Alumni Relations Office to partner with Feenix.
This has been a partnership that has proved to be fruitful with 16 DUT students impacted adding up to a total of R406 538.99 in donations paid out to DUT by Feenix to date from June 2017 to March 2020. By providing a tool for students to formalise their fundraising efforts and a channel for funders to find students they wish to support, Feenix has been able to facilitate the raising of R39.52 million towards debt free education. 1181 students from public universities throughout South Africa have been impacted through the generous donations of the Feenix community.
The most recent positive outcome of the partnership, according to DUT’s Prospect Research and Database Assistant in the Advancement and Alumni Relations Office, Mthetheleli Gwaza, is that “Feenix has launched a campaign as a response to Covid-19 and the lockdown, namely the #CapTheGap Covid-19 Relief Fund Campaign.”
The CapTheGap campaign gives university students laptops, food vouchers and data. At DUT, the first and second batch of donations included laptops, data and food vouchers to 87 DUT final year and postgraduate students to the total value of R560 000.
Explaining more on the role of Feenix and the campaign is Cara-Jean Petersen, the Student Engagement Manager for Feenix. She describes her core function as, “building and strengthening the relationship between Feenix, students and the university.” According to her, all stakeholders must combine efforts to assist students in graduating debt-free. She said that Feenix has already secured R3.1 Million towards their #CapTheGap Response Fund impacting 296 lives thus far. #CapTheGap was launched in the beginning of June 2020, and the relief fund aims to raise a total of R6.6 Million to equip final year and postgraduate university students with laptops and data to make online learning more accessible. “The campaign will run for three months. At the end of those months we will review the need and decide if it will be continued or not,” says Petersen.
Feenix is working closely with public universities to identify postgraduate and final year undergraduate students who do not have access to the resources needed to cope with the remote learning approach prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They are currently collaborating with the Advancement and Alumni Relations office to identify DUT students in need of laptops and data in order to complete their education journey and enter the job market.
One of the lucky DUT student recipients is Bhekizenzo Simelane, a postgraduate student at DUT, enrolled for his Master’s degree in Language Practice. When asked how he feels on being a #CapTheGap beneficiary, he said that it feels like a dream come true! “Now I have no worries about online learning and Microsoft meetings with my supervisor. All worries have gone, thank you so very much. As it started by providing me with a laptop and data, Feenix campaign has already helped me. It would be easy for me to do my research and to fulfil my dream of becoming the first doctoral scholar in my family,” he said proudly.
Simelane further added that he wants to be an inspiration to future generations of his family and to all young boys and girls that come from poor families so that they can see that it is possible to achieve their dreams despite all the circumstances they may face. “My biggest dream is to have a successful NPO that will assist young people from rural areas to achieve their dreams and my goal is to stay humble and be a helping hand where I can to make a better life for our future generations. All credits go to you (Feenix) if it were not for your kindness my life would be difficult,” he said.
Feenix is a Public Benefit Organisation governed by a Trust that was launched in June 2017 as a response to the #FeesMustFall movement that spread across campuses in South Africa during 2015 and 2016. This movement highlighted the extremely high cost of tertiary education and the impact that financial stress has on a student’s success rates.
Elaborating more on the partnership, Mthetheleli Gwaza, the DUT/Feenix Champion, said: “As an office that deals with fundraising we decided to strengthen the relationship with Feenix through this partnership sometime last year through discussions between our Director, Mr Ngubane and representatives of Feenix. Their vision to assist university students in settling their outstanding debt is in line with one of our primary goals of fundraising for students.”
Gwaza further added that students have been using the platform to individually fundraise for their fees even earlier than the partnership. “The reason or rather the significance of the partnership for us is that it helps us reach our fundraising goals and to also have alternative ways of funding in place should we have students who need assistance but could not be granted the Alumni Bursary or Postgraduate Support,” he stressed.
Speaking more on the partnership, Petersen said that Feenix’s relationship with DUT began in 2017 as they had reached out to the Financial Aid Office who continue to assist them with debt verification and donation payouts to student university accounts. She indicated that as the credibility of Feenix grew throughout 2017 and 2018, the Director of Advancement and Alumni Relations, Zwakele Ngubane, reached out to the organisation in 2019 and they began to work closely together to ensure that communities supported ‘missing middle’ DUT students in their efforts to access education and graduate debt-free.
“In 2019, Mthetheleli Gwaza, the Assistant Prospect Research and Database Officer of Advancement and Alumni Relations was nominated as our Feenix Champion staff member whom we continue to work exceptionally closely with. Through the years our relationship with DUT has flourished and we are extremely excited for what the future holds and the additional lives that will be impacted by our partnership,” she added.
Petersen further said that the way forward for Feenix and DUT is to keep strengthening their partnership. “We look forward to strengthening our partnership with the various departments within the DUT and ensuring that all ‘missing middle’ students who desire to graduate debt-free are able to access the resources needed to thrive and succeed in life, including the wonderful tool of crowdfunding through the Feenix platform,” she said.
She also said that in the future, Feenix hopes to be able to provide additional wrap around services to students, such as mentorship and they believe that their continued partnership with DUT stakeholders will assist them in making this possible when the time is right.
Pictured: One of the lucky DUT Campaign student recipients is Bhekizenzo Simelane.