When a young girl in South Africa discovered her passion for technology, she found a way out of poverty for herself and her family. Ntombozuko (Soso) Luningo guides a new generation of students toward economic empowerment and self-reliance with the Cisco-sponsored Learnership program.
Born in an impoverished village on the Eastern Cape, Soso found her way to an ICT center, learned technology and discovered a world of opportunity. Today, she is an information and communications technology (ICT) expert, inspiring teacher and mother, living in a comfortable Johannesburg suburb.
The policy of apartheid ended decades ago, but lack of economic opportunity continues to divide South Africans. In a population of 47 million, just 5 million workers earn enough to submit tax returns. Less than 5 percent of the 9000 high schools in South Africa offer ICT as a subject, yet ICT is the backbone of economic growth. Limited access to 21st century curricula and affordable higher education make it difficult for members of next generation to find their place in the modern economy.
“When you grow up in a township and go to school there,” explains Alfie Hamid, Cisco Corporate Affairs Regional Lead, “you generally do not have access to 21st century schooling, and, with your financial situation, you cannot afford university, your only opportunity is for menial labor and the poverty spiral continues.”
Afterschool classes at an ICT training center built by the Nelson Mandela Foundation awakened Soso’s passion for technology. CIDA City Campus provided the opportunity for a college education, and provided a path to a better life.
Founded in 2000, CIDA City Campus in Johannesburg is a nonprofit institution of higher education that serves the educational aspirations of students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds at little or no cost. The curriculum helps students raise their skills to a competitive level and achieve at international standards of excellence. “Our goal is to develop business-minded graduates,” said Khulu Ntuli, director of the ICT Academy, “who can think creatively, engage in open dialogue and who care about transforming Africa. We aim to transform these students into leaders within their communities who will then advance the socio-economic transformation of the country.”
Cisco helped to network the campus and provided the Cisco Networking Academy curriculum, instructor training, and networking lab equipment. Launched in 2003, the ICT Academy, has become a talent pipeline for businesses seeking skilled workers.
Soso graduated high school at the top of her class and earned a scholarship to CIDA. By 2007, she had received a bachelor’s degree and a Cisco CCNA certification at the ICT. As she put it, “there was no time to waste and I had goals; I wanted to go back home and make sure my parents got paid back for everything they had done for me.”
On the bus back to East London, Soso overheard a few passengers discussing how to securely connect computers at a new casino. Soso suggested they consider virtual local area networks (VLANs). She told them, “If you want to use VLANs, you had better ask your boss to employ me.”
Soso became the youngest IT technician and only woman on the IT staff at Queens Casino in Queenstown, impressing her co-workers and boss with her skills, knowledge, and personality. Within 3 months, she was promoted to Network Administrator and team manager, providing IT training to her co-workers. With her salary, Soso built a new home for her parents in the village where she grew up.
When Khulu offered her a position as a trainer at the CIDA ICT Academy in Johannesburg, she could not resist. “She is the kind of person who is able to break down barriers for students,” said Alfie. “They might be afraid of IT or have never used computers. She is able to guide them through the process. Students who might be overwhelmed or drop out follow her example and see the program through.”
She said: “I love training at CIDA because there are different students every year. Having those faces look up to you to learn something new is refreshing. It’s like having a baby. This baby is dependent on you to help them… it’s like that with the CCNA students I train.”
Soso has become a very employable and valued professional in South Africa. With her skills as a networking professional, a leader, and a teacher, she is in high demand. In 2014, Soso became a mother and an instructor with the Learnership program at CTU Training Solutions where she can have a powerful impact on the next generation.
She has found a way to balance her teaching and family responsibilities with the demands of her new job. “It’s easy for me to juggle between family and work life because they keep locking horns,” she said. “I treat the new CTU students the way I'm treating the new member of my family. I keep in mind that I need to help them get used to my way of teaching while I get used to their ways of learning. I'm hoping to take these students, especially the girls, to even greater heights than CTU and Cisco is hoping for.”
When asked what she would say to young men and women who are considering a career in ICT, she doesn’t hesitate… “You can do it, go ahead.”