Ngece-Ajayi supported her domestic worker mother financially by braiding hair on weekends, so she could make it through school.
Now the physical chemistry senior lecturer at UWC has established a non-profit organisation, AmaQawe ngeMfundo, in the hope of changing negative stereotypes about townships - starting in schools and instilling confidence in pupils to study maths and science.
“We visit schools with our makeshift mobile laboratory and give learners access to interactive demonstrations and experiments to help make learning more practical," Ngece-Ajayi said.
"Then there are times we take them on outings - to the Science Centre, for instance. One of the learners inspired by that trip would like to become a forensic biologist.”
Ngece-Ajayi said her organisation was currently limited to Khayelitsha, due to a lack of funding and resources.
“In future, I’m excited about seeing these youngsters interested in solving the current water crisis, as well as finding solutions to the health issues in South Africa.
"I want them to see that it is possible to be part of this country’s teams leading projects of this magnitude.
"Lecturing at UWC showed me that students from the townships and rural-based schools struggle financially, and sometimes quit their studies due to a lack of a proper foundation in science and a lack of exposure in the field, and I’d like to change that.”
Ngece-Ajayi said she was able to stop work and focus on her studies after getting a government bursary.
“The most disheartening thing is to see bright kids from my area pass matric and sit at home aimlessly.
"It makes a difference, going out to communities which don’t have wifi access, and teaching them how to go about doing an online application. When you’re there in the community, it makes it easier for learners to run back home quickly to get the necessary documents, instead of travelling.
"I’m doing what I would have liked done for me.”
Meanwhile pupils from around Khayelitsha have been treated to a “science feast” at the National Science Week, being held at the Oliver Tambo Community Hall.
The annual event will come to an end Saturday.
Dr Rejoyce Molefe-Gavhi, the Project Leader of the AIMS South Africa, that was part of the event said it is important to inspire pupils to take part in the fields of Maths, Science, Technology and Engineering.
“With pupils from areas like Khayelitsha you find that they have no role models in the community and there is also a lack of resources and you find that they don’t take it further. It is important to have resources they can have more interest. We want them to have the experience of doing the experiments.”