Monday 5 December 2022 was a big day for Dr Hillary Chibaya. Not only did he cross the graduation stage to receive his doctoral degree from Stellenbosch University (SU) but he also did so on his 30th birthday.
“I am excited to graduate on my birthday. Individually, they are precious events. To be able to celebrate both of these with my family and friends is simply priceless."
Chibaya grew up in Harare, Zimbabwe together with his younger brother and two sisters. He went to Moleli High School near the town of Norton, about 80 km from Harare. His interest in and understanding of the social interactions among people coupled with a passion to assist those without substantial means, led him to persue Social Work as a field of study.
It was his grandmother, Dr Chipo Mutyambizi, who advised him to study at Stellenbosch University. “While I was trying to decide on a university to attend, she was completing her Master's in Economics at SU. She was convinced SU was the best fit for my intended degree programme, as well as my sheer ambition. Almost nine years later, I am inclined to agree with her."
His research topic centres around understanding the opinions of social workers on their perceived roles in social protest actions. “As a researcher, I had an avid curiosity to understand the complex and intricate workings of how people decide to join one another, and collectively decide to pursue respective social change efforts," Chibaya explains.
But pursuing a doctoral study is inherently challenging on one's mental, social and emotional dimensions says Chibaya. “Without proper guidance and mentorship, the sheer complexity of the task is enough to drive one into depression. The long hours it demands of you can easily leave you without any friends or companions. When you couple all that with a lack of adequate financial means, it is overwhelmingly impossible."
However, he was fortunate have a “brilliant supervisor and outstanding mentor" in Prof Lambert Engelbrecht. “Over the past four years, he has guided and directed me in every stage of my research study. Owing to him and the Social Work Department, I received scholarships to fund my doctoral study. A special thank you to Dianne Orton and Gordon Howard who supported me financially."
Orton, also a social worker, says, “We have met Hillary on two different occasions and were impressed with his sincerity, intelligence, determinism and future ambitions. His career will be a joy to follow and as I understand it, he is well on his way to making a mark in the social work profession."
Chibaya is also full of praise for his parents and siblings, whose support has always been “indispensable" in his academic career. “They were my stronghold during my lowest moments and kept me measured during the small victories."
Chibaya is convinced that discipline and a measured, well-balanced approach to his studies was the key to his success. “I had both long and short term goals carefully spread out across the intended timeline to complete the study." Despite the demands of his research, Chibaya participated in activities such as Toastmasters and exercised regularly.
For the past three months, he has been completing an Erasmus+ post-doctoral programme in Trento, Italy. This programme entailed co-authoring research articles with Engelbrecht and Prof Alessandro Sicora from Trento University. He also facilitated seminars and workshops on social work and social action at the Universities of Turin and Trento and attended workshops on various topics within social work and practice research.
After almost a decade at Maties, Stellenbosch feels like home to him. “I have met friends who have since become family to me. Together, we explored the Winelands, which I highly recommend. I have also been on many scenic hikes with some unforgettable views."
But he will soon be waving the vineyards of Stellenbosch farewell as he is heading to Canada next year for a post-doctoral programme at the University of Montreal. “Beyond that, I will further my research on social action for human rights and social justice in social work," says Chibaya. “Perhaps I will become a professor of social work one day. I love Stellenbosch, so maybe I will come back and lecture at the SU."
More about the donors
Howard and Orton live in Iowa in the United States. Orton, a social worker by profession, was on a faculty exchange programme through the University of Missouri and the University of the Western Cape in 2000 when she met Dr Sulina Green, then the Director of the Social Work Program at SU. “It was through that association that I decided to pursue my doctorate at Stellenbosch with Green as my mentor and supervisor. I graduated in 2007. Prof Lambert Engelbrecht was a member of my dissertation committee."
The couple has been to South Africa and especially to Stellenbosch many times and have become friends with many of the faculty members. “We found there was a need for student support, so we decided to donate in the area of student scholarships. Engelbrecht recommended Chibaya as a deserving student. After reviewing his information, we decided to provide financial support for his studies.
“Student support in the form of academic scholarships is our passion. We hope to continue to help support the department and its students in the future. Stellenbosch is truly a world class institution and I am grateful to be an alum and donor," Orton adds.