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Alone no longer, Thato embraces the Unisa family

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Victory! Thato Amarath Senne is pictured here at Unisa’s main campus, ready to graduate and start his career.

25-year-old Thato Amarath Senne is an orphan, but after joining the Unisa family of graduates he no longer feels alone in this world. This young man, who once attempted suicide, never thought the dream of graduating at Unisa with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Management would come true. It did last night.

Thato was born in Phokeng Village just outside Rustenburg in the North West Province. He has three siblings who all share the pain of losing both their mother and father in 1998 and 1999 respectively.

He ended up at the Godisanang Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Programme early in 2014. “Growing up, I moved in and out of relatives’ homes to a point where I was accommodated by people who later became my family. During the first semester in 2014, my registration was suspended as I had not met the deadline for minimum payments and that led to me being very depressed. In fact, I even attempted suicide. I was referred to the Godisanang OVC Programme by a social worker in Rustenburg as they could assist with financial support and food parcels,” he explains. Thato was accepted and welcomed with open arms at the centre and they have been supportive throughout. To this day, Thato is still part of the centre and they have even sponsored some of his graduation expenses.

Self-discipline essential

Thato has experienced many challenges along the way. He discovered that he suffers from bacterial conjunctivitis, which is a seasonal allergic reaction that affects the eyes. In 2015 the condition became severe and Thato could not study for long periods of time. With the support of Godisanang and a medical doctor, he was taken to an optometrist for tests and it was then discovered that he was short-sighted. “Studying through Unisa requires self-discipline and time management, which I lacked. Being self-disciplined meant that I had to focus more on my studies and minimise the time I spent with friends. Time management is easier when studying with a schedule and personalised timetable and creating an environment that enhances effective studying,” he says.

Despite the challenges, Thato is grateful for the support he received from Unisa. “As a full-time open and distance learning student it is sometimes not easy to cope with studies, as we are not in full contact with our lecturers on a daily basis. However, Unisa, has provided great support with the help of tutors and e-tutors. Amongst other things, the Directorate of Counselling and Career Development organised programmes for students that I found very useful in terms of my academic development and skills development. The positive results of these programmes became evident as my studies progressed,” he says.

‘I am limitless’ reads the slogan on his cap. This is also Thato’s philosophy in life having dealt with many challenges and overcoming each. Thato smiled when he relayed the story of receiving this specific cap from one of Unisa’s Career Fairs that exposed him to industry and career practitioners.

Potential becomes reality

It was these, and other reasons, which made Unisa his university of choice. “Unisa was my university of choice because the fees are quite reasonable compared to other institutions. As my institution of choice, I learned that at Unisa you do your studies at your own pace and time. This has helped me to grow into myself and realise my potential. From this, I learned, amongst other things, resilience, working hard and striving for success,” Thato says with a smile.

Now that he’s graduated, Thato is ready to kick-start his career and other educational plans. He believes that education is a lifelong learning process so he would like to study further. “My dream is to hold a PhD. I aspire to be an advocate for socio-environmental issues which will enable me to contribute towards addressing socioeconomic and environmental issues that we as a nation are facing and the overall wellbeing of our environment,” he explains.

A pity party won’t get you anywhere

Having walked the journey he has, Thato has this advice to give to students who are facing dire circumstances and are disillusioned about continuing with their studies: “A pity party won’t get you anywhere. Good things will only happen if you get up and fight. Someone is always watching and willing to help, but one must meet them halfway. Being an orphan is not a disability but it means you have yourself to rely and depend on. Do not be defined by your circumstances, but instead define your tomorrow,” he says.

After everything he has endured, Thato remains grateful for the good he has encountered. “I am eternally grateful to all the people who have supported me throughout this journey,” he concludes. “It has never been easy but it was worth all the time, money and resources in the end. Thank you to the Unisa family for allowing me to be part of such an extraordinary institution and helping me to become a better version of myself. Thank you also to Ms Hellen Dladla (Office of the Dean of Students) and the Department of Institutional Advancement for sharing my story with the Unisa community.”

*By Kirosha Naicker