Change agent for a sustainable future

Nelson Mandela once said education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.

Enter Dr Nosisa Matsiliza, change agent par excellence. Since 1984 this medical doctor, student of medical biochemistry and dietician has been working to ensure that South Africa’s youth receive an education.

She sees the mentorship as “the most crucial aspect of development in any setting” and stresses that it is the one way of establishing quality assurance. “Mentorship ensures that people are supported through the difficult stages of their lives, whether they be career-related or family matters. This keeps them in their chosen careers,” she explains.

“As a high-school student in the 1960s I was at one of the worst schools in the country, but we had a science lab and I always found it fascinating,” she smiles. “I guess that fascination is still with me 40 years later.”

After working as a records clerk at the Department of Education and a clerk at one of South Africa’s banks, she obtained a BSc in dietetics from Medunsa. She joined the Department of Health as a nutrition officer involved in rural health programmes.

She spent the next two years evaluating the nutritional status of 400 children in western Pondoland to raise community awareness of the needs of this vulnerable group of children. She also trained community health workers to support needy families with nutrition and managing tuberculosis.

After obtaining her MBBCh at UCT, she did her internship at the Groote Schuur and Red Cross Children’s hospitals and thereafter became a part-time medical officer in the emergency unit of the Red Cross Children’s Hospital.

As a research fellow at the MRC/UCT Liver Research Centre attached to Groote Schuur Hospital, her responsibilities included clinical work limited to liver patients as well as laboratory-based research studying the cardiovascular complications of chronic liver disease. For this work she received a Glaxo bursary of R60 000 from the Gastroenterology Society of South Africa in 1993. She accepted a position as assistant dean in UCT’s faculty of health sciences.

As chairperson of the curriculum reform working group she initiated the process of curriculum review and reform. The new curriculum was implemented in 2002.

She attended a short course in change management at Harvard University. She subsequently registered for PhD in medical biochemistry and joined the MRC/UCT receptor biology research group where she is involved in a project researching hormone receptors.

Throughout her career she has remained active in social responsibility programmes, many of these related to the health sciences.

Just over a year ago, she started a general educational programme that involves 14 children from a junior school in Gugulethu township. They offer whatever assistance the children may need to help them excel at school. One of the children has been moved to a boarding school to remove him from an abusive situation at home. Matsiliza is funding this project out of her own personal funds.

“Our country has a dire need for scientists and positive role models,” she says. “I sometimes feel I will never know enough! But I am hoping to know enough to be able to guide young colleagues entering this field and to give them the enabling environment that is so crucial for their development.”

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