DARE TO DREAM
By: Lisanne Lazarus
With a golden heart and wisdom far beyond his years, Wandile Mthiyane has stolen the hearts of many around the world.
The 23-year-old who is pursuing his masters degree in architecture, grew up in a shanty house in the small town of Phoenix in Durban. He admits that he was born into a home and to parents who were underprivileged.
Despite odds stacked against him, Mthiyane knew he had to excel academically to break the chains of poverty. After matriculating from Solusi Adventist High School with straight A’s, Mthiyane received a bursary to study at the Durban University of Technology toward a diploma in Town Planning.
“After a lot of hustling and praying, my high school good grades paid off and I was awarded a full scholarship to DUT,” he said shyly.
Alas! Durban could not hold the optimistic dreamer. Even though Mthiyane was grateful for the scholarship, he had his eyes, mind and heart set on a bigger goal and to follow what he believes is his soul’s purpose.
“My goal was to go study abroad. If we all study in South African universities, we are bound to think in similar ways hence there’s merit to study in an already developed country and bring that home to help develop SA. I then wrote a proposal to the mayor on how I wanted to develop Durban. I wanted to get the skills to develop our country,” he said.
One year had passed since Mthiyane had written his proposal to the then mayor of eThekwini Municipality, asking him for help with funding so that he could study abroad, attain the skills and in return fulfil his purpose, giving back to his home city. Wandile got no response until one day, he had bumped into the Mayor at the Durban City Hall.
“Right there and then, sparing no extra time, I began to pitch my proposal to him. He seemed intrigued. He listened. And that was my first door being unlocked,” he says with a broad smile.
The eThekwini Municipality funded Mthiyane’s first semester at the prestigious Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA.
“I still can’t believe that actually happened,” he said humbly.
After just his first year at Andrews, Mthiyane was recognised as the best architecture student and was awarded with the rare “Dare to dream” scholarship, making him one of three ambassadors for the Andrews University.
Mthiyane’s passion for architecture stems from his younger years, when he would dream of living in a mansion. He said that he knows what being poor and suffering is like, how it feels to stand in a long queue waiting to retrieve water from the one municipal tap that the whole informal settlement had to share.
Today, Wandile Mthiyane has returned back to Durban and is doing exactly that … fulfilling his heart’s desire through his passion, architecture. He is the founder of a non-profit organization known as the Ubuntu Design Group (UDG).
The word Ubuntu is a Zulu word that encapsulates the essence of humanity. Many people translate it to mean ‘I am because you are’.
Mthiyane is currently using the skills he acquired abroad by working with a team of DUT and the University of KwaZulu Natal architecture students as well as professors from Andrews University on his first major project under UDG which is to build a handicap accessible home for a family of three.
“I can’t explain what great exposure I’m getting as a student. I’m not only helping out one of the most incredible organizations but I also have a say in how this home is being built and where my skills are needed,” said DUT student, Calvin Ragg.
The beneficiaries of the home are the Mtshali family who’ve survived many unfortunate circumstances. Nkosinathi Mtshali being the head of the household was left handicapped after a horrific accident. His wife also suffers from a disability, limb length discrepancy. Mr and Mrs Mtshali have a 15-year-old son who currently resides with relatives after their shanty home was damaged in a storm.
“I feed Nkosi, bath him and take care of him in this small house. There was no room for my son as he started growing. I had to send him away,” said Mrs Mtshali.
Wandile together with his team at UDG have started a campaign called the #BuyABrickBuildAHome where ordinary civilians are urged to buy a brick at R100 which will go toward the building of the Mtshali’s home.
“I bought a brick, took a picture with a brick in my hand and posted it online using the hashtag so that my friends could see it, get inspired and donate just like I did,” said Mthiyane.
He added that one of his greatest highlights thus far is having the UDG project presented at the United Nations and showcasing his work on the cover of Crit Architecture Magazine.
His strong head and good heart has made him a successful mover and shaker in society, and he said that he had his late parents to thank for that, as he flags his upbringing as the corner stone to his success and future goals.
Pictured: Wandile Mthiyane, founder of a non-profit organization known as the Ubuntu Design Group.