Growing up wanting to become a doctor is a common aspiration. It’s a title with connotations of wealth, status, and credibility. But for Samkelisiwe Chissano, it’s more personal than that. She lost her baby sister at a young age, a tragedy that initially left her feeling helpless. But it also instilled in her new purpose. “I realised that if I could be a doctor then that’s one less child dying,” she says. Though still in high school, she has her heart set on becoming a paediatrician. And she’s working day and night to achieve her goal.
Knowing what she wants doesn’t make it any easier for the would-be physician. With as many as 80 students in each of her classes, Chissano and her peers lack the attention needed to thrive. This results in lower grades, posing a serious barrier to university entry. But Chissano won’t let her circumstances interfere with her ambitions. “I feel like I’ve faced a lot of challenges, but giving up has never been a solution,” she says. Chissano wakes up at 4am every day, dedicating her time to reading and learning. Post-it notes stuck to her bedroom wall test her knowledge, reminding her of the formulas she needs to ace her final papers. “Most people think I’m very clever, but it’s mostly got to do with hard work,” she says.
Chissano, a member of her school’s Representative Council of Learners, is also a participant of Imagine Scholar, a mentorship programme that develops promising students’ academic and leadership abilities. In 2015, she was chosen to attend an international leadership camp at Yale University. The experience taught her the value of working alongside others towards a common goal, rather than striving for individual achievement. Chissano is keen to motivate other students. “My message to younger girls and South Africa is that they should know what they want and go for it,” she says. “They can achieve anything that they set their minds to.” Her dogged commitment to bettering herself to help others has paid off. Chissano was recently granted a full scholarship to the prestigious African Leadership Academy which will enable her to keep studying – and one day save lives.