A lecturer moonlighting as a fairy godmother is looking to expand her network of assistants as she helps fund needy students' travelling expenses, graduation attire and monthly groceries - all with the tap of a mouse.
Over 1 400 students have reached out to the University of the Western Cape's (UWC) Fairy Godmother in the last two years, with needs ranging from textbooks to closed shoes for winter.
Preferring to remain unnamed, Fairy Godmother - or FG in short - knows the struggles of "Udubs" students. She has read accounts from students unable to cover their travelling fees to attend lectures, others who couldn't afford to buy basic groceries, as well as graduates unable to pay for their graduation attire.
FG started the initiative two years ago when she was hit by the "horrendous reality" of how an amount as small as R30 could stand in the way of a student's education.
As a member of the faculty assessment committee, her role was to review applications for supplementary exams.
Among the "normal" sick notes and other explanations, a large number of applicants applying to write had missed their exams for financial reasons, specifically taxi fare to get to the exam venue.
Travelling costs formed the bulk of assistance requests received, she said.
It costs her less to drive from her home in Pinelands to campus than for a student from neighboring Langa to commute there. A two-way taxi trip to the Bellville campus can cost as much as R60 per day.
This can be financially crippling for a student, she pointed out.
"It makes you understand why some can't come to class. If they do, they won't have money to eat."
The initiative provides a platform for registered UWC students to submit requests for assistance for short-term needs, FG explained.
"Our aim is to plug the gap of everyday expenses, like travelling fare, text books and groceries."
No corporate funding
This, however, has not stopped her from stepping in to help a student mother after her child's clothes were stolen when her shack was burgled, or assist in raising funds to cover the costs of another student's funeral.
She runs the online initiative on her own without any corporate funders as she is not a registered NPO. FG publishes the student's request anonymously and puts the person in touch with the donor.
Most sponsors respond to specific posts, in which students are required to indicate what they need, how much it costs and a short profile about themselves which is published without their name or student number.
The anonymity of the project is important to her, FG said.
"Dignity matters more than taxi fare," she maintained.
Most of the messages she receives start with the request that the student's identity not be revealed. FG understands this, pointing out that no one would want their peers to know they are in need of something sometimes as basic as underwear because their bra is being held together by safety pins.
'It's not a three-year party'
The requests received paint a sad picture of some students' dire realities, she said.
"It has become clear that the average student is a lot poorer than we thought. You think that at university, students get pissed and have fun, living the best days of their life. This can't be further from the truth for most of our local students. This gives perspective and a more accurate idea of what's happening - it's not a three-year party."
Among others, an aspiring anthropologist from Khayelitsha currently requires R310 for two weeks' bus fare, a psychology student needs a laptop charger and a graduate is appealing for R470 for her gown and hood hire.