Durban - Tivana Chellan is accustomed to scaling heights, whether it’s finishing top of her class or the roof of her home.
The pint-sized medical student from the University of KwaZulu-Natal matriculated with eight distinctions from Tongaat Secondary School and went on to become a changemaker at university.
Now in her sixth year of studies, the aspiring neurosurgeon is preparing to jet to Brisbane in Australia next month, where the winner of the Global Outstanding Leadership Awards will be announced.
Chellan, the outgoing national chairperson of the South African Medical Students Association, is one of four finalists in the category of Student Leader of the Year Award.
The accolade is “awarded to the student leader who can best demonstrate leadership courage and influence, inspiring dedication and motivation to achieve team goals. This person is not afraid to make suggestions, take the lead and play to their strengths,” according to the website.
At the age of 23, Chellan has already had several leadership roles, most recently working towards debunking the misinformation and myths surrounding Covid-19.
She is also the vice-chairperson of the Dean’s Clinical Medicine research team as well as mental health and academic mentor to almost 500 UKZN medical students.
Since 2017, Chellan has been on the dean’s commendation student list and a merit scholarship awardee for achieving grades above 75% and 80% respectively.
She is also a member of the Golden Key International Honor Society, the world’s largest collegiate society which is by invitation only.
Chellan, a staunch devotee of Sathya Sai Baba, says it is her faith that keeps her grounded and able to achieve such heights.
She lives by the dictum that by serving humanity she serves and worships God.
Her aim is to meld medicine with spirituality.
“In modern medicine we have to start integrating the two,” she said.
Her achievements are not only limited to university.
While still at school she became a director of the Rotary Interact Club which is part of the international Rotarian body for community upliftment.
She also represented her school at the Model United Nations in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature.
This project of the South African Institute of International Affairs sees pupils from around the country representing various countries and debating with each other in a mock United Nations setting.
For this she worked closely with human rights activist Ela Gandhi, which was a huge honour, said Chellan.
Although the gender-based violence and mental health activist has achieved much, she says it hasn’t always been easy.
When she started school her teachers believed she had a severe learning disorder, but she soon proved that it was just the opposite.
During her fourth year at university her parents separated, which she said was also a huge blow to her but she believed it made her more “relatable” to others who thought her life was easy and therefore she had achieved so much.
“Don’t let your circumstances define who you become,” she said.
While she is currently in the middle of exams, when she has time she is a daredevil.
During the Royal Show in Pietermaritzburg she wrapped a boa constrictor around her neck.
She is also known to chill on the roof “like in the movies”, is a published poet and loves to dance.
The winner of the Global Outstanding Leadership Awards will be announced in mid July.
The Independent on Saturday