They Visited Taiwan Fifteen Years Ago ― Now Two Students from South Africa have Graduated from TCU


Text: Tzu Chi Foundation and Tzu Chi University
Photo: Tzu Chi University
Translation: J.B. Willis, Steve J. Lin

On June 2, 2019, TCU held its annual commencement ceremony at Jing Si Hall. A total of 772 students, including 86 from 13 countries/regions, graduated this year.

Thabethe Lungelo Ntombenhle and Mazibuko Nondumiso Ayanda completed their undergraduate programs this year. Both of young ladies are from the Zulu ethnic group of South Africa.

There is a story behind why Thabethe Lungelo Ntombenhle and Mazibuko Nondumiso Ayanda came to Taiwan. It has something to do with a Tzu Chi volunteer, Mr. Tang-Hsing Ho, who used to be a high school teacher in Taiwan and later moved to South Africa in 1988.

Mr. Tang-Hsing Ho followed his friend’s suggestion and relocated to South Africa with his wife and children. His family adapted well to their new lives in South Africa. To support the family, Mr. Ho decided to organize and operate a shoe factory. Moreover, he invited children from the Zulu ethnic group to join a choir and band, and accompanied them as a teacher.

In March, 1996, Tzu Chi volunteers in South Africa visited a school which had no desks or chairs in the classrooms, and students had to stand in classes. The Tzu Chi volunteers decided to do something about it and, thus, in 1997, they built South Africa’s first Tzu Chi Elementary School for the children. The school is near Tang-Hsing Ho’s factory, so he and his wife Shao-Li Liao went to Tzu Chi Elementary School very often, tutoring students, teaching Chinese, singing songs, and so on. Ms. Shao-Li Liao has a vivid memory that, back then, the economic situation in South Africa was bad, for many families didn’t have tap water and electricity, and families lived difficult lives. The couple attended to the needs of local youngsters, by picking them up after school, inviting them to have dinner at the factory, letting them take food back to their families, and providing facilities for them to bathe before going back home.

In 2004, Tzu Chi volunteers in South Africa accompanied sixteen students from the first Tzu Chi Elementary School in South Africa, coming to Taiwan to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Tzu Chi’s Education Mission. Both Thabethe Lungelo Ntombenhle and Mazibuko Nondumiso Ayanda gave their public performances at Tzu Chi’s Jing Si Hall in Hualien.

These children are born with marvelous dancing and singing abilities. In addition, Tang-Hsing Ho and others worked with them continuously. As a result, these children impressed nearly1,000 spectators, especially Dharma Master Cheng Yen, with their performance. They presented “The beans that connect my Master and me” in Taiwanese, and moreover, they interpreted the lyrics very well using sign language.

After going back to South Africa, these two young ladies kept the good memories of Taiwan in their hearts. In 2013, after completing their high school education in South Africa, they came to Taiwan. They spent two years learning Chinese, then Thabethe Lungelo Ntombenhle chose to study public health, while Mazibuko Nondumiso Ayanda selected laboratory medicine and biotechnology as her major.

In addition to devoting themselves to their studies, they also volunteered to serve the needy regularly. When eastern Africa was struck by intense Tropical Cyclone Idai in March, 2019, and malaria and other infectious diseases spread in the region, Thabethe Lungelo Ntombenhle, who majors in public health, was contacted by volunteers in South Africa seeking her advice regarding how to deal with this situation.

Thabethe Lungelo Ntombenhle said: “Fifteen years ago, I never thought about attending a university, and at no time had I imagined graduating from a university. Here I am, on June 2, 2019, in Taiwan, and I have officially become a graduate of Tzu Chi University.”