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Dephney Kabini profile

Dephney Kabini

2018 WWF Prince Bernhard Scholar

For Dephney Kabini, the well-being of people and nature cannot be separated from each other because the health of a society depends on a healthy environment.

Dephney grew up in Moloto, a small village in KwaNdebele in Mpumalanga, about 45km from Pretoria. Like many children in rural areas, access to tertiary education was a struggle but she was determined to do whatever was needed to get an education. Today, she works as a Scientific Technician at the Department of Water and Sanitation in the Free State. She is also doing her Master’s degree in Environmental Management through the University of Free State.

We asked Dephney to share her career journey with us and how the WWF Prince Bernhard Scholarship (PBS) has contributed to her professional development. 

Tell us about your education journey.
I started schooling in my home village of Moloto, but my mother suggested that I relocate to Ekangala in Gauteng to stay with my relatives and attend school there for a better education. I did this from Grade 7 and completed Grade 12 in Ekangala too.

When I was younger my wish was to become a microbiologist so I could study and find a cure for HIV/AIDS as this is one of the biggest issues our county is facing. But, the water challenges that we faced in my home village led to a change of mind as I started to become more interested in water care.

I remember how my community used to struggle for water. There was one tap for more than 30 households – and sometimes there was no water for months! There were also times when the water would come out unclean. It was unpleasant to witness and experience and I used to worry that it would affect our health.
This made me curious to find out the process that water goes through before it gets to the people, but I did not know what to study at university to do this.

Luckily, in 2008, when I was accompanying a friend to register at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, I came across a brochure where I learnt about Water Care as a qualification. Even though I knew my parents did not have money to pay for my university education, I applied to do an undergraduate diploma any way, and I was successful. It was hard, because my parents had to take a loan to finance the first six months of my studies, while I also had a part-time job, until I received a bursary from the Department of Water and Sanitation, to complete my diploma in record time.

My studies in Water Care were an eye opener for me, and the foundation of my success. It made me understand the importance of water in our lives and the role it plays in the world and the natural environment as a whole. I learnt a lot about the treatment of water for industrial and potable use, and all other important aspects of water including biomonitoring of rivers, legal aspects and hydraulics.

In 2013 I did my Bachelor of Technology in Water Care, followed by a postgraduate Diploma in Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) through the University of Free State, which was partly funded by the WWF Prince Bernhard Scholarship.

Why did you choose to follow your career path?
Throughout my studies I developed an interest in knowing more about the natural environment, because I realised that everything is connected – the rivers, the animals that live and depend on water, and people are all part of nature.

What inspired you to apply for the PBS?
When I read the scholarship advertisement, it stated, “By supporting environmental education, WWF hopes to foster local conservation leadership and enhance local involvement in work to conserve nature”. This statement inspired me, because I felt it was talking to me.

I was not only studying towards a diploma that would contribute to the conservation of nature, but my full time job at the Department of Water and Sanitation in Free State was, and still is, about the protection of water resources and ensuring the good health of a vital part of the Vaal River.

How has the PBS contributed to your professional development?
Through the support of the WWF scholarship, I was able to pay the remainder of the fees for my postgraduate diploma, which I am really grateful for.

The course broadened my knowledge in terms of the global and national aspects concerned with the implementation of the integrated water management approach.
I am applying all what I earnt from the studies to my work in the Middle Vaal Management Area which is crucial because the Vaal River is one of the most utilised catchments in the country and needs an integrated approach to function properly.

What do you consider to be your greatest career-related achievement?
I was very proud when I obtained professional registration with the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions as a Water Resource Scientist because this means I am a certified natural scientist in my field.
I am also proud to have pushed myself this far, despite all the difficulties in building my career. Coming from a small village where many do not make it to a tertiary level, I feel that this is one of my greatest accomplishments.

What role do you think your generation can play in creating a better world?
My generation is a free generation that fights for its rights and benefits. It has the power to influence policies where there are shortfalls. The sharing of resources in an equitable manner is still a challenge that our generation needs to solve in order to create a better life for all.

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