Last year the EBE fund assisted 76 UCT engineering students with their individual needs. Picture: Tracey Adams/ANA
Cape Town - When Nkululeko Dlamini was found sleeping in an engineering lab – thin, hungry and penniless with his meagre belongings crammed into a small backpack – no one could guess what the future might hold for the third-year student.

Thanks to the support of academic mentor, Ernesto Ismail, and assistance from the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment's "distress fund" Dlamini was able to rise above his difficulties and complete his engineering studies at the University of Cape Town.

Raised in Johannesburg, Dlamini attended a poorly resourced school and relied on the school feeding scheme. The death of his mother was a huge setback for Dlamini when he commenced his studies at UCT, and he also struggled with the English language.

At times, Dlamini lost faith that he would be able to complete his studies, but the EBE’s Student in Distress Fund came to his rescue and enabled him to get his life back on track.

Dlamini, who has snagged a job at a national state-owned energy utility, is grateful for the assistance he received at UCT. 

“Today I am the person I am because the Faculty believed in me. This is the beginning of my career and I will grab the opportunity with both hands and ensure that I will continue developing myself to become one of the greatest leaders in the country,” says Dlamini.

Last year the EBE fund assisted 76 engineering students with their individual needs, at a cost of R383 000. Some aid was provided as a once-off, while other funding assisted students over a longer period, says faculty marketing and communications manager, Mary Hilton, who administers the programme.

Hilton says: “With the poor economic climate, the changes in the criteria for NSFAS funding and family circumstances that change, there are a number of EBE students who find themselves with no money for food, accommodation, or just basic necessities.”

The funds were used for cover fee deficits and pay for laptops, stationery, books, transport, rent and vouchers for toiletries, medicine and food.

Professor Alison Lewis, dean of EBE said: “It might not be a huge amount of money, but it helps us deal with cases that might fall through the cracks and we are able to intervene in a flexible way.”

The Student in Distress Fund was launched in 2015 with a fundraising campaign, supported by the faculty’s student council, which raised R6 600 from fellow students. Currently the fund relied on  alumni, friends and staff for funding. They also received a donation from industry and R100 000 from the Vice-Chancellor’s Challenge Fund .

Two other students who were assisted through the faculty’s fund will graduate this year.