You’re never too old to learn, says Natasha Dietrich, a Belhar, Cape Town, cleaner-turned-teacher.
The 47-year-old mother of two, who received her bachelor of education degree from the University of the Western Cape (UWC) on 5 May, is proof that learning is a lifelong journey and that it’s never too late to start.
After years of working as a cleaner, with only a matric qualification, Dietrich has packed away her overalls and has been teaching Grade 5 and 6 mathematics and social science at the Dr Van der Ross Primary School since January.
It was her work as a cleaner at UWC that first sparked Dietrich’s desire to study further, she said.
Dietrich started at UWC as a casual worker with Bidvest Prestige in 2011 and was employed permanently in 2014.
“As I worked in ResLife, where the students spent time studying, I found myself surrounded by an environment of learning. I also witnessed the students’ commitment and their struggles. I thought to myself: ‘If they can do it, so can I.’”
In 2015, on the final day of student registration, Dietrich decided to submit her online application.
“I was honestly a bit scared when I was accepted. I thought, now I have to face the reality that I will have to study and work.”
She attended classes at UWC during the day, before starting her eight-hour cleaning shift at 3pm. Most of her assignments were completed at night.
Dietrich says her success would not have been possible without the support of her family. Her children, aged 18 and 30, and her husband, are very proud of Dietrich’s dedication and hard work.
“I knew that I had to do something and that I had to make a difference. I come from a very poor community where there is a lot of unemployment and gangsterism,” said Dietrich. Afforded the opportunity to study at UWC, which also paid her fees, Dietrich opted for a degree in teaching.
“It was the best direction I could have chosen. To be surrounded by children and to have the opportunity to teach them, has been the best thing,” she said.
Manie Regal, executive director of finance and services at UWC, said Dietrich’s remarkable achievement is a testament to her determination.
“It takes commitment and grit to work and finish such a demanding degree,” he said.
“What is pleasing for me is how this opportunity has been successfully used in a life-changing way. Her story is one of many such successes at UWC where anyone – regardless of their circumstances – can receive a quality education.”
Prof Rajendran Govender, dean of UWC’s faculty of education, said Dietrich exhibited good character, industriousness and dedication to her undergraduate studies.
“She was always brimming with ideas that helped to resolve problems and promote collaboration among her peers.”
“We, as the faculty, are extremely delighted in her outstanding achievement and her passion to be a proficient beginner teacher.”
As Regal said: “We are convinced that she will make a positive impact wherever she goes and we wish her every success on the journey ahead.”
Dietrich celebrated her success recently with her former colleagues at Bidvest Prestige.
When asked if the study bug had bitten, Dietrich exclaimed: “Oh, yes, definitely. I am going back next year to do my honours and I am not stopping until I have my doctorate.”