A Fighting Chance at Education
>> Authored by Tess Murphy (Kiva Fellow)
As I push the revolving door and walk through it, the noise of radios, horns and sirens that make up the busy Johannesburg roads dissipates immediately. A calm hush fills the entrance hall and I look down at my watch: 8:30am. The faculty and and students that make up Maharishi Institute are in meditation but the peaceful atmosphere will last throughout the day.
Maharishi Institute is a nonprofit university that offers affordable education and business skill development to students from low income backgrounds. Maharishi uses conscious based education to help students alleviate stress and focus on their studies. Time for transcendental meditation and instruction is built into every students schedule.
Kiva partners with Maharishi to provide interest free student loans to cover school fees and a monthly stipend. Many of the students use this stipend for transportation costs to and from school. The stipend helps to alleviate just one of the many stresses these students deal with.
When the students finish their meditation, I invite them to stop in and say hello before classes. Many sit down with me to share their stories and many, far too many, are stories of a struggle to fund education before Maharishi. Like Lethiwe’s.
Lethiwe is from the rural town of Ntumbane in South Africa. At the age of 22 she lost both her parents and a sister to an illness. With no immediate support, Lethiwe and her sister fled to Johannesburg. “We had no options left. We knew we had to figure out a way to have a better future”. They found refuge in The Home of Hope where they lived for two years. She is grateful to have left, “life in the shelter..” Lethiwe says, pausing and searching for the right words, “is not good. It is not good”. During her stay at the shelter, Lethiwe heard about Maharishi Institute on the radio. A university that is willing to work with students who cannot afford their school fees. She immediately went to the open house.
“When I found out I was accepted, I cried”. Now Lethiwe uses the Kiva stipend to pay for transportation and living costs in Johannesburg so she can afford to continue her studies. She hopes to work in finance as a payroll administrator one day.
When I show Lethiwe a page of all the lenders who contributed to her education, her eyes fill with tears. “The things that they are doing, it’s amazing. They are encouraging us as young people to put more effort into studying, which motivates us to focus and stay in school.”
Another student studying at Maharishi through Kiva is Thokozani, a fifth year, who grew up in an informal settlement outside Johannesburg. Informal settlements were created post apartheid after blacks were able to move into ‘unofficial’ white only areas. People from all over South Africa migrated to the city in search of work, setting up these shacks made with scrap metal. Inhabitants of the settlements, like Thokozani, face infrastructural challenges and lack of opportunity. When Thokozani first moved there with his family in 2000, there were no roads, water or electricity.
Thokozani now attends Maharishi University, with the help of a Kiva loan. He studies Business Management and hopes to continue on to law. “My interest in law was sparked by a business ethics and corporate governance course. The minute I heard about that world, I knew it was something I’d be passionate about”. When Thokozani graduates in December, he will be the only person from his family to obtain a degree. Thanks to interest free student loans, supporting his family will be manageable.
When I asked Thokozani why people should considered lending to other students he said,
“It’s not just bettering another person’s life, you are giving them a fighting chance, you are showing them that life can be beautiful. In TM (Transcendental Meditation), we are taught that life
is found in layers. My life has had many layers and you are giving them a chance to experience all the layers. So they can eventually help someone else. It really goes to show, by educating one person, you are educating a nation.”
Sounds to me like he will make a great lawyer!