Stellenbosch University (SU) graduate Tirelo Mtombeni never imagined she would pursue a research career in social work.
Having failed to meet the entry requirements to study medicine or her second choice, accounting, she chose social work. And today, she is on a mission to help improve social workers' practice so that they can better assist and uplift their communities.
“I always dreamed of becoming a doctor. To be honest, I was neither interested in social work, nor knew what it was about besides listening to people's problems, which was the definition I got from one of the social workers that once visited my high school. I only developed an interest in social work as I embarked on the course, and eventually fell in love with it."
Born and raised in Limpopo, the 25-year-old graduated with a master's degree in Social Work on Monday 29 March 2021 during an online ceremony of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at SU. She is the first in her family to obtain a master's degree, which was a major motivation for her to keep going.
“Perseverance has been my biggest life lesson. I wanted to change my adverse circumstances and break the poverty cycle, so my background was also my motivation. Things happened in the course of my studies that could have disturbed my progress, but I continued, sometimes with more or less courage than the previous day. At times, I was not sure if I would complete my master's, but I always pushed myself towards achieving my goal."
For her master's, Mtombeni researched newly qualified social workers' preparedness for executing management tasks. She focused especially on non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which strongly depend on target-based state and private funding. “Acknowledging the changing context of practice for social workers, my research sought to establish the management tasks typically expected of them, and whether the preparation provided by training institutions matched the expected practice in the world of work. I concentrated on NGOs, as they are the ones to suffer should their practices not align with donors' demands or expectations."
Mtombeni plans to continue her studies and will be enrolling for a PhD in Social Work in the near future. She also hopes that her social work research will help influence legislation and policy development in this field. “Continuing with my postgraduate studies is the only way I can achieve my dream career, which is to become a lecturer or a valuable NGO board member. Learning is my passion because no matter where you come from, you have the potential to change the future. I would like to continue with this life mantra and make a difference in others' lives."