Dikeledi Sebola is the living embodiment of fortitude and tenacity. Her success, despite the odds stacked against her, provides eternal source of inspiration to many young people who are growing under similar trying circumstances.
Presently, Miss Sebola is a PhD student in Veterinary Sciences: Para-clinical Sciences, at UP after she received a DSI-NRF Internship in 2016 and an NRF Doctoral Scholarship for 2020-2023.
Growing up in a semi-rural township called Lenyenye in Tzaneen, Limpopo, Miss Sebola started her primary school education at local Ramalema Primary School. She then proceeded to Manorvlei Primary School and in 2005 she moved to S J Van der Merwe Technical High School, where she completed her Grade 12.
Like most children, Sebola’s wish list of career she fantasised about kept changing until she met a microbiologist while doing Grade 11. “At that time, I still only had a vague idea as to what microbiology was but I had an interest in laboratory work,” recalls Miss Sebola. She says she is practically the first one in her family to get a university education.
Long and difficult road
In 2006 she enrolled at the University of Pretoria (UP) although she says she did not understand the path she was on.
“While I was on the course, I developed an interest in more than just laboratory work – I was interested in the research thereof. I desired to do medical microbiology post-graduation; unfortunately, I did not qualify at that time,” says Miss Sebola.
But she says her academic journey was long and littered with all manner of obstacles. She dug deep and drew on the sePedi saying that: “Kgotlelelo e tswala Katlego”, which translates to “perseverance births success”.
Miss SeboIa says she struggled to find her feet in her first years of study. In the second year things got really tough: she failed for the first time since she started schooling. Another string of setbacks followed, culminating in her dropping out in 2011.
“I thought I would find my peace in the time I took off, but I was stressed even more because I desired to change the narratives around me. I believed even more in finishing what I have started, regardless of circumstances. In my stress, I got extremely sick in 2013 and was diagnosed with diabetes,” says Miss Sebola. But again, this never dimmed her zeal to succeed, she says.
Going back to class
In 2015 Miss Sebola decided to go back to UP because she “wanted to do something I could be proud of at the end of the journey”. In 2016 she applied for a DSI-NRF Internship in 2016, although she was doubtful she would make the cut because of her poor academic record. To her surprise, Miss Sebola was called for an interview which she passed. At the beginning of 2017, she got placed at the UP Faculty of Veterinary Science, and this marked the “beginning of a great journey for me”.
Within a very short space of time she regained her confidence. With the help and motivation of her supervisor, Professor Qekwana, she enrolled for her Masters’ degree even though she did not have funding. The pressure of not getting funding became unbearable as she couldn’t afford medication for her diabetes condition. But she never stopped “because something inside me was strong and I believed I would make it”.
In 2019, Miss Sebola applied for funding for her PhD studies after she completed her Master’s degree. She also became part of the Toyota initiative called “begin your impossible”, adding “I decided to put my health as an “impossible”. The vision was to be off medication and live a healthy lifestyle. In 2020, she started jogging after she heard it was possible to manage diabetes by exercising. And by September last year she was off medication and still is today.
Miss Sebola’s current research focus is on infection prevention and control in veterinary medicine. “I focus mostly on the management of the transmission of nosocomial infections. The study looks at implementing multimodal approaches to improve hand hygiene among healthcare workers,” she says.
Miss Sebola says the multimodal approaches have been implemented in human hospitals to improve hand hygiene compliance, and where they have been introduced, they have led to an improvement in hand hygiene compliance and reductions in nosocomial organisms.
She says “most healthcare facilities have implemented different strategies to improve hand hygiene compliance; however, long-lasting hand hygiene compliance remains a problem”. Miss Sebola says even though the approach has shown to be effective in human medicine, there are limited reports in veterinary medicine showing the adoption of the tool in veterinary hospitals. “As such, the results of this study will lead to the development of an effective tool that could be implemented in veterinary hospital settings to reduce the transmission of HAI pathogens,” she adds.
Miss Sebola believes that without exposure to science streams, learners will still not understand what STEM is about and what it entails. She says the scientific community needs to create forums and school outreach programmes as well as offer career expos, especially in STEM.
In addition, says Miss Sebola, funds could be made available for STEM-related projects and businesses owned by young people to encourage more learners to pursue science streams.