This article is part of a series exploring the transformation of African women’s lives through education.
For Francinah Deane, getting a second chance made all the difference. Like with many young, South African women, Francinah’s financial hardships, poor academic preparation, and low marks overshadowed her innate talents and hard work. The female university scholarship program in South Africa, supported by Carnegie Corporation of New York, offered her the second chance she needed to change her life.
Francinah recalls, “For me, being the first born and the brightest one to my father, he had tried to raise money from the word 'go.' We are seven girls and one boy. Because at home you don't get things easily like food and water, I had told him ‘No, Daddy, I will try and find a scholarship.’ I'm sure I'm going to get one, and I did. For him it was just a proud moment. Even today, it is still a proud moment for him.”
Though at first she thought of studying medicine, her mind continually wandered back to a Tswana story about a king whose daughter's speech was restored. “I thought I would be doing something spectacular, giving people back something they had lost, which is communication,” she says.
Francinah began studying audiology and speech therapy at the University of the Witwatersrand. However, her early coursework presented language problems of her own. She struggled not only with lectures in English—her native language is Tswana—but also with the associated Latin anatomy terms. She failed her first year and thought about giving up.
“I told my father this, and he sat me down and gave me the lecture of a lifetime about choices and consequences. He said, ‘Whatever you choose now, it has to be something that you know where it’s going to end up.’ So that’s why I decided to continue with this profession,” she said. “It was a choice from the heart. So I repeated my year, and from then on, things were going well.”
Francinah worked hard to finish her program, but the academic challenges caught up with her once more shortly after finishing her fourth year. The support provided by her scholarship had ended, but she still needed to repeat the few classes that she had failed. Fortunately by then, her father was able to pay for those extra courses.
Through hard work, perseverance, and opportunity, Francinah earned her degree. She is currently employed as an audiologist and speech therapist at Tembisa Hospital, a busy public hospital outside Johannesburg. She treats people with speech complications arising from HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, cerebral palsy, and traumatic brain injuries, and often finds herself bridging the divide between the worlds of traditional and allopathic medicine, due to the large amount of patients she encounters who have delayed medical treatment for various cultural reasons.
Particularly satisfying for her is working with young patients. “Adults will adapt to hearing loss, whereas with kids, we have to help them obtain language,” she says. “The best part for me is dealing with kids on the autism spectrum.” This can be challenging, as she often works with families more comfortable seeking spiritual treatment, or consulting traditional healers, when it comes to treating children with autism. To be effective, she needs to treat the child and deal with the families, who can be more wary of a formal medical approach.
“It's been a beautiful journey,” she continues. “It was difficult, but I think university prepared me for (work) in a very big way. You were given the space to be yourself within the scholarship. They never spoon-fed us. If I wanted to be a speech therapist, if I wanted to get there, I needed to get there by myself.”