Biotechnology University of the Western Cape
Supplied Professor Leopoldt van Huyssteen (far right), acting rector and vice-chancellor of Stellenbosch University with the recipients of the Rectors Award for Succeeding Against the Odds, (left to right) Blain van Wyk, Caroline Pule en Agnes Molebatsi.
Cape Town - As a child Blain van Wyk was often teased because he looked different. Born with a cleft lip and palate he often felt like an outsider but now the 22-year-old from Paarl s using his own experiences to help others.
Van Wyk is the founder of the Operation Smile Student Society at Stellenbosch University which raises funds for Operation Smile, an international children’s medical charity that performs cleft lip and palate surgery.
Last week, Van Wyk, who is studying towards a BA Honours in political science, was one of the recipients of the Rector’s Award for Succeeding Against the Odds.
The award honours Maties who excel academically despite challenging socio-economic conditions, limited opportunities or disability.
Van Wyk, who had his first operation when he was three months old, enrolled at university in 2010 and initially studied engineering.
But he struggled academically and after a few sessions at the Centre for Student Counselling and Development enrolled for a BA in international studies.BLAIN VAN WYK, a BA honours student in Political Science, who was born with a cleft lip and palate and now works to help others Supplied
Initially Van Wyk asked fellow students in the Wilgenhof Men’s Residence to make a monthly donation of R8 to Operation Smile.
But soon others started donating and since 2012 the Operation Smile Society on campus has managed to raise enough money for five operations.
Last year he went to Rwanda with Operation Smile as a student volunteer and described it as one of the best experiences of his life. “Having been able to use my personal experiences to make a difference in an other individual’s life is the greatest success of my life thus far.”
Van Wyk completed his undergraduate degree with 10 distinctions and plans to continue working for Operation Smile.
The other recipients of the award were Agnes Molebatsi, a first-year theology student from Khutsong in Carletonville and Caroline Pule, a PhD student in molecular biology and human genetics
Molebatsi’s first few months at university were difficult as she didn’t have money to pay for registration and had no accommodation, books or pocket money.
Through the help of people from her church she found accommodation and a loan from the university bursary office. She finished her first semester with a distinction, achieving 81 percent, for one of her modules.