• Lorraine Tolo struggled with student debt. She called into radio stations and reached out to people on social media for assistance.
  • She received a donation to pay for her registration earlier this year after reaching out for help on LinkedIn.
  • Her Mandela Day post on Facebook is helping pay her outstanding fees of R43 000, so she can receive her latest results and start applying for jobs. 

Lorraine is half-way through her final year of studies, pursuing a Bachelor of Technology degree in Quality Engineering at the University of Johannesburg. Next year she is certain she will graduate after acing her two remaining subjects.

However, her main obstacle was the outstanding fees that are meant to cover this year's studies. Like many South Africans, Lorraine had accumulated a mountain of student debt while attempting to earn a tertiary qualification. 

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As year-end approaches, she wants to start her job applications for 2021. However, because of her outstanding fees, she was unable to receive her latest academic results to attach to her job applications.

In her long struggle with student debt, she’s thought of multiple plans to get assistance, including calling into radio stations and approaching parliamentarians.

Early this year, a top parliamentarian had an interview on a radio station where Lorraine phoned in to ask for assistance. "I spoke to her about my situation and she [said], ‘leave your number with the producers’. I was thinking the lady was going to call me but she didn’t. Even now I’m waiting for that call,” Lorraine says. 

While this attempt did not result in assistance, Lorraine persisted. She was hoping to register for this academic year and complete her final year of studies, so she kept reaching out for assistance.

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Her first breakthrough came after asking for help on LinkedIn. She couldn’t register because she had outstanding fees from the previous year and didn’t have the funds for this year’s registration fee. She reached out to a well known CEO via direct messages on LinkedIn regarding the dilemma with her university fees and received a donation towards her registration. 

“She just paid off the R12 000 that was needed in order for me to register,” says Lorraine. “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have registered and I wouldn’t have even put up the post on BrownSense requesting for the rest of my fees to be paid up.”

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When the month of July started she was thinking of ways to see if Nelson Mandela month would present an opportunity to help with her student fees, because she believes that "this is a month where people are more generous”.

She managed to come up with an idea, once again using social media hoping to appeal to the generous spirit of the month of Madiba. This time she reached out on Facebook through the  BrownSense, a private group that works to advance Black-owned businesses.

“On the morning of the eighteenth of July, I thought to myself why not write a post? Because I was thinking of the little money that I could ask for from people,” says Lorraine. So, I thought, R67 will do for 67 minutes of Mandela Day.

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“I sat down and calculated. I thought to myself if only 650 people out of the 195 000 that we have on the group could contribute R67 into my student account that would be enough to cover all my fees. I put up the post in the morning. At around 12 [I thought] they probably didn’t approve it but it’s okay, I understand, so I went on with my day," she says.

screenshot
Screenshot via Facebook

"At about 15:30 I started getting notifications, a lot of notifications on Facebook, and when I went on I saw people were commenting on my post. I was in shock," Lorraine says.

“It was not easy putting up that post, I’m a very private person. I should’ve done this a long time ago but going on a public platform to put out my problems, I didn’t want to do that … I felt like I was stripped walking in the street naked, it’s not a nice feeling. But once everything is done, the fulfilment I feel right now is beyond explaining. I’m very happy with how everything has turned out, I wasn’t even expecting a response.”

Of her total outstanding fees of R43 693, about R30 000 has been paid into her student account by the group members. She is now waiting for Wednesday to see the rest of the donations that will reflect on her account. 

“I’m out of words but I’m grateful to them, I’m really happy. I’d like to thank everyone who helped so much,” she says.

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