A group of students walked 650 kilometres from Pretoria to Durban to raise funds and create awareness around financial issues faced by students who would like to further their studies. Walk4Access is a campaign started in 2019, and participant Mathias Yuvan Shunmugam spoke to us about its aims and how South African youth can take action
Can you tell us a bit more about the campaign?
Walk4Access started in 2019 with some of the key role players in the #FeesMustFall movement, when it was decided to take a more strategic route to raise funds for students at tertiary institutions. That year we walked from Cape Town to Pretoria and raised R100 000 that was used to assist ten students with historical debt and registration fees. Towards the end of 2019, there was also the meal crisis and we assisted by providing over 5 000 meals for students during that time. Last year’s walk was cancelled due to COVID-19, and this year we decided to do a shorter route, so a group of ten of us walked from Pretoria to Durban.
The students also had some help while on their journey, including a place to rest along the way. From left: Mrs Vilakazi, students Lwazikazi Zimkita Fihlani, Namatai Ruswa and Mathias Yuvan Shunmugam, and Mr Vilakazi. The Vilakazi’s opened their Harrismith home to the Walk4Access participants during their long walk.
What was the goal of the campaign?
The purpose of the campaign is to raise funds for students at tertiary institutions and to help the broader South African community become more aware of the financial challenges students face. One of the things we said during this walk was that if 50 000 South Africans donated R21, we would have just over a million rand to assist countless students. We know that the pandemic has worsened the financial state of many students, and this year we wanted to give students hope.
What made you decide to do this walk?
In 2018, I was the chairperson for house theology and in 2019, I was on the Student Representative Council. I have served in different leadership positions at the University, and I’ve worked with a lot of students who have financial issues. Seeing these issues first-hand has become very close to my heart; I come from a single-parent household, and my parent has a disability, so I can relate to a lot of the challenges. Driving change in this area has become something I’m passionate about.
What impact has Youth Month had on you?
Youth Month shows the power and the strength of the youth, and how when the youth come together, we can make a big impact on South Africa and the world at large. I think that is beautiful. I think if the current South African youth - mainly tertiary students - come together, we can eradicate financial issues faced by students.
What advice would you give to young men and women about helping their communities?
We must remember that we are always dependant on someone, and the place or position we are in now is the result of a community of people. It’s our moral obligation to help people. Our purpose is to contribute to something that is far larger than any of us are. My advice is to identify one problem within your community and dedicate yourself to that problem. Take initiative and try to address the problem. Once you have a plan of action, reach out to organisations and ask for help.
What advice would you give to people about perseverance and overcoming adversities?
When you are facing adversities, turn to the motive. Ask yourself why you were doing this. Overcoming adversities will always be a challenge but remember why you committed to a specific activity. With Walk4Access, what kept me going is the thought that someone was going to benefit from my action; someone’s degree and probably future was going to be saved. Remember your goals and the things you want to achieve.
Click HERE to donate towards this initiative.