Youth Month 2021: Dr Thulani Andrew Chauke

Youth Month 2021: Dr Thulani Andrew Chauke

June is Youth Month, and this year the NRF is celebrating the Youth of the NRF who are Advancing Knowledge, Transforming Lives and Inspiring a Nation. We thank all participants for sharing their stories with us and we hope that you are inspired by the young dreamers and achievers who are affiliated with the NRF through their work or studies.

Dr Thulani Andrew Chauke completed his Doctorate in Education, specialising in Youth Development, at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) this year.  Currently, he’s working as the National Youth Service Provincial Coordinator for National Youth Development Agency in the Western Cape Province.

Dr Chauke was a recipient of NRF funding (2016-2017) for his Master’s in Youth Development, focused on media and youth deviant behaviour, which he obtained cum laude. He received funding from the NRF for conferences where he presented papers at the 5th SAERA Conference in 2017, hosted by Nelson Mandela University, under the theme of Education In An Era Of Decolonisation And Transformation. Also at the XXVIII International Population Conference in 2017, hosted by Statistics South Africa, under the theme of Children And Youth.

He was awarded an NRF scholarship for his doctorate studies but, unfortunately, wasn’t able to take up the scholarship at the time.

This is his story…

I am a youth development practitioner by profession. I was born in a small village called Madonsi Village in Limpopo.  I started my higher education at the University of Venda (Univen) and completed my Bachelor of Arts degree in Youth Development four-year programme, majoring in Psychology.  In 2015, I completed my BAYID and, in 2018, I graduated with a Master’s in Youth Development with distinction from the Univen. In 2019, I continued with my PhD at TUT, which was completed in 2021.

My interest in youth development was influenced by my early involvement in student politics and the challenges that young people faced at the institutions of higher learning. I served in student leadership positions culminating with my election onto the Student Representative Council of the University of the Venda in 2013/2014 as a Project Officer at the School of Human and Social Science and Chairperson of Black Management Forum (Student Chapter) in 2014/2015. This community involvement inspired my commitment to the transformation of young people’s lives in South Africa.

I have extensive experience in research and project management. I have published 14 articles in accredited journals, both local and international, and serve as a peer-reviewer for the Journal of African Union Studies; Journal of Public Health and DiseasesSouth African Journal of EducationYouth Voice JournalAfrican Journal of Gender, Society and DevelopmentChild & Youth Care ForumAfrican Journal of Development Studies, and the Journal of Nation-building & Policy Studies. I have also authored one book.

I have received numerous certificates and awards in youth development. I was Chairperson of a youth development organisation called Hlengelo Social Welfare Centre from 2016-2019. I presented papers at academic conferences on youth matters. I was a recipient of a Grant Traveling Award for the 42nd World Congress of the International Institute of Sociology Conference, hosted by the University of the Witwatersrand, in 2018.

What has been your study/career journey?

My academic journey was never an easy ride. There was a time when I thought it was not worth it, but I am very patient and I understand that good things take time.

I grew up in a small village where no one from my mother or father’s side, not even neighbours, ever went to university. I was not well enlightened about a career path that business and economics secondary learners could pursue when they go to institutions of higher learning. Luckily, there was a Xitsonga teacher by the name of Fakazi Mabasa – he would give us a task to write about our career path and indicate why we wanted to follow this career. I liked the way he dressed formally when he came to school and how he interacted with learners who were considered academically challenged by other teachers. It inspired me and I fell in love with teaching. In addition, my late father loved teaching with all his heart. He would say to me that, when he was young, he used to teach his peers and elders in his village. So, my father’s passion for teaching and Mr Mabasa’s love for education made me decide that when I went to university, I wanted to study teaching so I could become a teacher one day. I would also tell my peers that I wanted to be a teacher one day. They would laugh and say there is no money in it and that I would be poor. But, my answer to them was that it didn’t matter as long as I could change young people’s lives. So, youth development has always been my passion from a young age.

As we go through life, we learn that things do not always turn out the way we plan. I completed my matric with good marks and met the requirements to study teaching. I was so excited! I made copies of my result statement and my and my parents’ IDs. I entered the University of Venda and was about to be admitted to a school of education administrator to be a teacher-student. Then, all my documents inside my bag were stolen and that’s when my dream of being a teacher died. The administrator told me that they were no longer accepting any students and recommended that I try other schools. I cried the whole day. Three days later, I was told someone was found with my documents and that this person was about to sell them. Luckily, I got them back. I didn’t even get time to report that person to the police because as I was hungry for education. I rushed to Univen the following day to check if there was space available for another programme.

A lady from the school of Human and Social Sciences showed me love from the first day she saw me. She noticed that I was wearing the same clothes every day and enquired about my background. She asked me about my second career choice and I told her it was social work. However, there were no more spaces left for social work students. She took me to the HoD of the Institute for Gender and Youth Studies who explained to me that the institute offered a youth development qualification similar to social work, and that the following year I could do a change of degree if I did well. I enrolled for a BA in Youth Development, a degree that I never knew existed. I did well in my first year and passed with distinction. The following year, I wanted to do a change of degree to social work, but Univen removed the social work programme. I had no choice but to continue with a BA in Youth Development.

Then, I fell in love with the Youth Development degree and decided to pursue my Master’s, making me one of the youngest people in South Africa to hold a Master’s degree in Youth Development.

This was not the career path I had ever envisioned for myself, but I think the degree helped me a lot to discover myself and what I wanted to be in life. Importantly, I haven’t moved away from being a teacher because, as a youth development practitioner, we provide informal education to vulnerable youth. The difference between a teacher and a youth worker is that teachers focus on the educational development of a young person but, as a youth worker, I am more focused on the holistic development of a young person. So, I think there is still a teacher in me. Obtaining a Doctorate in Education brought me back to my calling and finally achieving my father’s dream of me being “Doctor” Chauke one day. I can’t believe I have made it so far!

Did you have to overcome any obstacles to be where you are today, and what did you learn from it?

I have overcome so many obstacles in my life. When I was doing my first year, I lost my father the day I was writing Criminology and Sociology. I couldn’t afford to fail these two modules, and the way I received the news broke me inside. The person who called me said, without greeting me first, “Come back home, your father passed away”. At the same time, I told myself that my dad wouldn’t want me to be unhappy, he would want me to go to the lecture hall and write these two papers and pass them. I wrote these two papers and passed one of them with distinction.

What I have learned from all the obstacles I have faced so far is (as mentioned previously) that things in life do not always happen the way we planned. When you have a dream, you will be hated and not be supported along the way. But, the desire to achieve more is what pushes us as humans to achieve the unthinkable. I think if I was accepted into the teaching programme I wouldn’t be a Doctor today but God allowed me to pursue Youth Development because he knew this qualification would make me hungry for education. I also learned that, in life, sometimes we as the youth must take what is available to us and not despise the days of small beginnings, because what you think might not be “the” thing might be the very thing that can take you to the “Promised Land”.

What is your research focus on/what is your area of expertise?

My research focus is on youth issues. Being outside of academia it is always difficult to define your area of expertise but my area of expertise has been on youth behaviour and evaluation of youth development programmes.

How can your research/work advance knowledge, transform lives and inspire a nation?

I think my research/work can have a positive impact on youth development research in South Africa as this is an under-researched field. I strongly believe that we as a country cannot change the lives of young people if we do not rely on scientific evidence on current youth programmes and their impact on youth development. Therefore, my work looks at whether these programmes are making an impact on the lives of youth, and suggests a positive youth development approach that can instil moral values, enhance youth employability and prevent anti-social behaviour.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

My proudest achievement is being the first person from my family to obtain a Doctorate. More importantly, to obtain a Doctorate in Education before the age of 30.

What is the best advice you have ever received (and from whom)?

The best advice that I ever got was from my teacher, Mr Mngomezulu. In my matric year, he said to me “Young man, you have the potential to do well academically. Just stay away from your friends, they have bad intentions. Focus on your books, you are on the right track. You will achieve something good educationally.” I carried his words wherever I went. I think his words instilled the fire and hunger to obtain more education in life.

What, in your opinion, are some of the best ways to get youngsters interested in science-related careers?

We need more Youth Cafés in our communities in villages and townships. After school, young people must be encouraged to go to these cafés and learn new skills that are needed for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). These cafés should be supervised by youth workers and social workers. Resources should be made available in schools so learners from poor backgrounds are not left behind.  Government should provide equal resources to learners so they can love science and maths.

Parents need to invest in their children’s educational future rather than spending more on materialistic things. Rich parents should also assist children from poor backgrounds. Parents with maths and science backgrounds should adopt a child in their community and mentor these youngsters to be the best in maths and science.

What are your career aspirations for the future?

My career aspiration is to publish more papers and books until I achieve an NRF-rating as an established researcher, and also to collaborate with the best researchers in youth issues such as Prof Lauren Graham.

The point alluded to above is just personal achievement. The real passion or achievement would be starting an NGO that can mainstream youth development, targeting youth who comes from broken homes and help them until they become achievers in their career. I think starting an NGO that will focus on youth development can play an important role in changing young people’s lives. Working with youth in the Cape Flats, seeing thousands of them crying for help, broke my heart. In addition, I feel this type of NGO can help our country to promote ethical leaders and promote social cohesion. Our country is not in the right direction because of unethical leaders, so I think instilling a positive mindset to youth at a younger age will help us as a country to produce the South Africa that Madiba and many more fought for.

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