“I wish to see rural youth taking up space on earth” – Mxolisi Xulu


Mxolisi Xulu is a fifth-year medical student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, an ambassador for his family and community, and the founder of an NGO called Black Child’s Dreams Matter. It’s easy to see why this Umthombo scholar and future doctor is one to watch.

Mxolisi Xulu, a fifth-year medical student at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, believes that “every challenge is an opportunity for self-transformation”. Nothing highlights this more than his first year at university in 2016, when he started late because of financial constraints.

“I was three weeks behind. Term tests were approaching,” the 22-year-old student from Nongoma in Zululand recalls. “There were two major modules. I had to sacrifice one, and in that module, I got 48.6%. I laughed at myself and said, ‘Boy, you made it’. In June, I wrote the exam for this module, but I nailed it this time. From there I was well prepared. In 2017, I got a scholarship for an outstanding performance in my first year. Isn’t that funny? Failure is not in the passions I have.”

It’s also in 2017 that Mxolisi became an Umthombo Youth Development Foundation scholar. “In October 2016, Dr Mpathiseni Dlamini, a high school friend and Umthombo scholar, sent me an Umthombo poster,” he says. Mxolisi contacted Professor Andrew Ross and Dumisani Gumede, who encouraged him to apply for the scholarship. He applied and volunteered at Benedictine Hospital that December holiday.

Mxolisi Xulu, Umthombo Youth Development Foundation scholar and young doctor to watch

“In 2017, early January, I got a call from Umthombo that I had an interview. It was a telephone interview; it was not easy, hey. The next day I became an Umthombo scholar. The scholarship covers meals and book allowances, essential study materials, transport and meals during holiday work, and after holiday work I get a stipend.”

Using his passion to inspire the youth

“Why did I choose medicine? I wanted to be the first doctor in my family. As early as elementary school I developed a love of maths and science,” Mxolisi says. “When I decided to be a doctor, I didn’t understand what it meant. But now, I know why I wanted to be a doctor. Initially I was curious about this degree; then I developed love and passion for it.”

In grade nine, Mxolisi’s friend and mentor Mpathiseni was an Umthombo scholar in his first year at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. “I said this is the thing I’ve been looking for, an opportunity to help others,” he says. “Being a doctor is not easy. To be a doctor takes courage, curiosity and empathy.”

Having had a role model who showed him the way, Mxolisi is passionate about helping other young people. “Nothing motivates me like imagining the lives of the youth I could change. I wish to see rural youth taking up space on earth,” he says, before quoting South Africa’s 2019 Miss Universe, Zozibini Tunzi, “Nothing is more important than taking up space in the society.”

“When I was in grade 11, I started an NGO called Amaciko Unity of Art Production, where I created space for the youth to showcase their talents and keep themselves busy. The aim was to reduce substance abuse in the community. Unfortunately, when I left for university, the organisation collapsed,” he says.

“In 2018, I started a registered NGO called Black Child’s Dreams Matter where we promote a culture of learning and make learners aware of different careers and universities. Moreover, we are restoring dignity and liberation to poor rural learners through career expos, school visits and winter schools.”

A future leader in health

Mxolisi looks to the future. “My main goal is to be a good, well recognised doctor in the community, country and even worldwide. I’ll grab every opportunity and use it effectively. I’m the ambassador of my family and community. In future I wish to work for the World Health Organization and United Nations.”

“Thinking about my community gives me heart palpitations,” he says. “Our communities are suffering out there, I’ve witnessed that several times since 2016 when I joined Umthombo’s holiday work at Benedictine Hospital. In future I’m hoping to see a positive change in health systems in terms of distribution of human resources and healthcare workers. We want reasonable and dignified access to healthcare services. I hope that government will prioritise rural communities and provide more advanced healthcare facilities.”

“We need to do more to attract healthcare workers to help rural areas,” he adds. “Primary care shortages are creating access challenges in many rural and underserved communities.”

Coping with COVID-19

“As a fifth-year medical student, I’m worried about academics like every student across South Africa,” he says about the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s not that easy to study at home; there are many distractions and it’s difficult to use the internet due to lack of data and poor connectivity. But I keep the momentum. Even though there’s no clinical exposure, when revising I use my siblings as simulated patients.” He laughs. “I use what is available.”

“I make a schedule and stick to it. I set my intentions and choose behaviour that will keep me on the right track. When I heard about the lockdown, I downloaded all the essential study material that I needed,” he says. “A big shout out to Umthombo, they gave us cash for data bundles and an app that makes it easier to study offline. I’m so proud to be the part of this family.”

About the Discovery Foundation

Each year, the Discovery Foundation gives five different awards to outstanding individual and institutional awardees in the public healthcare sector.

The Discovery Foundation is an independent trust with a clear focus to strengthen the healthcare system by making sure that more people have access to specialised healthcare services.

Since 2006, the Discovery Foundation has invested more than R230 million in training and support for more than 400 medical specialists and institutions. The grants support academic research and clinical science, sub-specialist training, rural medicine as well as programmes to develop public healthcare resources. For 2019, Discovery Foundation awarded 42 grants to medical specialists working in South Africa’s healthcare sector to the value of R27 million.

Learn more and apply for the 2020 Discovery Foundation Awards.

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