Santie BothaI think it is absolutely essential that all deserving students should complete their higher education. The 160 students for whom we are climbing Machu Picchu to raise the funds for each of them to do their final year at NMMU, have all achieved a 60%-plus aggregate. It is unthinkable that they should not be given the opportunity to graduate because of a lack of finances.

In today’s higher education environment, there are only a certain number of bursaries and scholarships available, and many students are not able to secure loans from NSFAS or the banks. The responsibility lies with all of us to help all our students to graduate.

Socially conscious citizens and leaders
As a university, NMMU believes in investing in our students to ensure that they not only graduate, but that they are equipped to achieve as socially conscious citizens and leaders on the world stage, be it in South Africa or elsewhere.

The quality of our higher education offering needs to be unquestionable and that is why I always emphasise the importance of attracting the best academic and non-academic staff who are committed to helping our students achieve their full potential.

Immediately on board
I agreed to participate in the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and to help raise funds because I completely support the cause. Machu Picchu has also always been on my bucket list. When the opportunity came up to do this climb and to raise money at the same time, I was immediately on board, as was my husband, Pierre van Rooyen who, as an entrepreneur, encourages graduates to forge their own paths and become job creators.

Raising funds
I have already approached several individuals and corporates to pledge donations, and I have pledged R100 000 of my own money. I am a strong proponent of social entrepreneurship gaining momentum in South Africa, as is happening internationally. Social entrepreneurship draws on innovation in the business and private sector to find solutions to pressing social, cultural or environmental problems.

The underlying ethos is that whatever we do in life, in a small or big way, we are committed to making this planet of ours a better place for all. It is about thinking beyond yourself and developing a socially committed mindset. These are the values of Ubuntu. We need to take these to heart and for each one of us to question: ‘What have I done to make a difference to someone else’s life today and this year?’

Training for the climb
Training for the climb is imperative and I am getting there. I’m a runner and I normally do 6-8kms four times a week anyway, but I have added stairs training to my schedule as there are about 1900 steps to the top of Machu Picchu. Pierre and I have also done some mountain climbing training in the Maluti Mountains at Golden Gate in the Free State.

Altitude adjustment
I live in Joburg where the altitude is high for South African cities, but still nothing like the altitudes we will be facing. Machu Picchu is in the Andes Mountains at an altitude of 2 430m above sea level. By comparison, the City of Joburg is 1 700m and the City of Port Elizabeth is 60m above sea level. Altitude adjustment will be a big part of our climb.

Life-changing experience
I’m really excited about going, it’s an incredibly beautiful landscape and the history of the Inca people and Peru is deeply fascinating. It is such a privilege to be able to experience this incredibly special place on Earth. I believe it will be a life-changing experience, just as graduating will be for the 160 students.