As a little girl in the village of Mhangweni in Tzaneen, Limpopo, Gladness Baloyi would sit and listen to her grandmother interpret life traditionally. But she decided that when she grew up she would become a scientist, writes AMANDA KHOZA.
At the weekend Baloyi, now 24, was among leading scientists and astronomers who gathered for the two-day Third Annual Astronomy meeting in Umhlanga, Durban.
She told News24 on Sunday that she was an example that “where you come from does not determine where you are going”.
Raised by a single mother, Gloria Bvuma, who died in 2009, Baloyi said she always had big dreams.
“My mother had a spaza shop in the village and she used all the money she got to support me and my younger sister, Glacious,” said Baloyi.
“When we were growing up we used to spend a lot of time with my grandmother who used to tell us these traditional tales and she would interpret them traditionally. One day I told her that I wanted to be a scientist so that I could interpret things scientifically.
“I told my grandmother that things had changed and that we were living in the modern times and that there was technology.”
After high school Baloyi applied for a bursary but she did not receive a reply so she applied for a student loan at the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
“I realised that my mother had saved up enough money for me to register so I went to the University of Limpopo and applied to study for a Bachelor of Science and I was accepted.”
Baloyi said she remembers assisting other pupils in Maths and Science in high school.
“Today I am a graduate and an intern at the Department of Science and Technology because I persevered,” she said shyly.
Baloyi started working for the department in April.
“We do research in astronomy. I am looking at furthering my studies so that I can become an astronomer. People in my village lack information and some of them don’t imagine themselves out of the village and beyond their circumstances.
“Everyone in the village wants to be a nurse or a teacher. People should dream big and stay away from social networks. That is what is killing our youth today,” she said.
Baloyi said the youth should rather focus on doing research into their careers.
“One day I want to pass on the knowledge I have to my family. I think my mother is very proud of me where she is,” said Baloyi.
Chair of the South Africa’s committee of the International Astronomical Union Professor Patrick Woudt, who also heads the University of Cape Town’s astronomy department, said the two day meeting brought together astronomers and policy makers from the department and the National Research Foundation.
“We come together once every two years to discuss developments, new initiatives and share ideas of where we are going in the future and the capacity development is the most critical part of it.
“Young people need to be excited about astronomy. The discussions also focused on the efforts made by the community as well as the support from the department in developing capacity in astronomy.
“We also discussed the vision of astronomy, where we see ourselves in five to ten years… because there is a lot of investment that is made by the country and that investment needs to be matched by a clear vision and strategy,” said Woudt.