A cleaner from Belhar, a small town in the Western Cape, turned teacher at the age of 47.
Natasha Dietrich, who will receive 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 is never too late to start.
After years of working as a cleaner, with only a matric qualification, the mother of two packed away her overalls and began teaching grade five and grade six mathematics and social science at the Dr Van der Ross Primary School since January this year.
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 permanently employed 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,’” she said.
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 said.
She attended classes at UWC during the day, before starting her eight-hour cleaning shift at 3pm. She said she completed most of her assignments at night.
Dietrich said her success would not have been possible without the support of her family. Her children, aged 18 and 30, and her husband, said they are proud of Dietrich’s dedication and hard work.
“I knew I had to do something and I had to make a difference. I come from a very poor community where there is a lot of unemployment and gangsterism,” said Dietrich.
She said when she was afforded the opportunity to study at UWC, the institution also paid her fees.
“A degree in education 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 experience,” she said.
Abduraghman (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,” said Regal.
Adding that what he found pleasing is how the opportunity has been successfully used in a life-changing way.
Dietrich’s story is one of many such successes at UWC where anyone – regardless of their circumstances – can receive a quality education, he said.
Professor Rajendran Govender, Dean of UWC’s Faculty of Education, said Dietrich showed 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,” he said.
Govender added: “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 said: “Oh, yes, definitely. I am going back next year to do my honours, and I am not stopping until I have my doctorate.”
There is certainly no stopping this dedicated pedagogue from Belhar who lives by the mantra, “You’re never too old to learn”.