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Chev student fund makes dreams a reality

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Saul Singer studied Accounting Science at the University of Johannesburg, and is in his final year of articles. It sounds like a common  path for a nice Jewish boy from Johannesburg, but getting there wasn’t easy. His family did not have the financial means to put him through university.

“I always dreamed of having a degree that would provide stability for me and my family. I felt lost as my family’s financial situation meant that I would be unable to attend university without outside help,” says Singer, reflecting on that time.

It was then that he turned to the Chevrah Kadisha’s (The Chev’s) Jewish Students Education Fund, which offers interest-free student loans that are paid back at a nominal rate.

“The Chev helped me by paying for my tuition annually, allowing me to focus fully without being worried about my tuition not being paid,” says Singer. “The application process was seamless. I provided university documents and agreed to the very fair conditions. I felt supported through the process and continue to feel supported, even after graduating.”

The loan took a huge burden off his family and spared him from needing multiple jobs to cover the cost.

Singer’s ultimate goal was to become a registered CA (SA), which he has achieved. “I have grown to see how finances should never be a reason one is not able to receive an education,” says Singer. “There is too much wasted talent as a result of families being unable to send their children to university. There is no telling what one can achieve with opportunity.”

He hopes to help other students who are in the same position. “We are unbelievably lucky to have an organisation like the Chev. The way in which they go about their student loans differs from other financial institutions. They offer all kinds of support and allow students to focus on their studies, while paying back what they can afford. Your donations enable lives to be changed. I am eternally grateful.”

Chev CEO Saul Tomson says: “The community is not always aware of the extent of the Chev’s services. Our Jewish Students Education Fund assists some 100 students a year, with several thousand graduates since inception. This has been going for many decades, and there are literally thousands of people out there in gainful employment who were assisted by the Chev.

“We are passionate about creating economic independence for those who have the ability. Giving someone the tools to build a career of their own, and support their family, is something we take a lot of pride in,” he adds. “We are looking to reach out to any Jewish student in need, across the country, who wishes to pursue a tertiary education. It would be our pleasure to empower them to build a better future.”

Karen Carpel is the Chev’s student loan administrator for tertiary education and has been in this role for about 12 years. She says her job is incredibly meaningful, “knowing that every day the Chev is making a positive impact on the lives of young people in our community, and giving them an opportunity that they otherwise would not have had”.

“One of the greatest successes was a young lady who did not have a matric. She dropped out of school due to learning difficulties and family issues. She was working as a teacher’s assistant and wanted to qualify as a teacher. It was a long road as she was still working and had to do a certificate prior to enrolling for her teaching degree. The day she called to say she was a qualified teacher will stay with me.”

Regarding the process of applying, “The candidate needs to be Jewish and demonstrate financial need. The process involves the completion of an application form, which can be obtained by email. Thereafter, an interview is conducted. Should the application prove successful, documentation, including a debit order form and acknowledgement of debt, is signed by the student. It is important to note that the student pays off their loan, by debit order, at an amount that is affordable to themr. Once the graduate has found gainful employment, a more substantial debit order is required in order to settle the loan within a four- to five-year period.

“There is a significant timing and cash flow difference between the inception of the loan and full settlement, and it’s not unusual for this time frame to be as long as 10 years.  We are very grateful to donors and external bursars who come forward to fill this gap.”

Gabriella Carzola is a third-year Chemical Engineering student at the University of Pretoria. “With COVID, few people were offering bursaries,” she says. “The Chev gave me the opportunity to take a student loan. They also wanted me to live a well-rounded life and not feel pressured to have my nose in a book every second of every day. The assistance has made it a lot easier for my family to pay off things that have been weighing down on us.” She hopes to work in the biochemical industry, using biochemistry methods for environmental remediation.

Shana Vilensky is another student who has benefitted from the fund. She is working and studying law at the same time. Not knowing if she could fund her studies was “overwhelming. It also made me angry.” It took her some time to feel she could ask for help. “I felt nervous at first because I had to be very open and transparent. But once I began the process, I felt at ease and supported. It wasn’t as intimidating as I thought.

“The Chev has helped me than words can describe, taking the financial burden off my shoulders. By them also helping, it meant I could spend money on rent, food or petrol to get to work.”

Her ultimate goal is to “become a qualified attorney and to provide for my family – to make sure they never have to struggle the way I did. Not only that, but I want to help those in need, like doing pro bono cases.”

She would love to help other students in the same position. “Having come so far because of the Chev, I would want another student to feel that same sense of hope and pride – to feel that if I can do this, so can they. I believe having an education is so important and knowledge is power. I want to give people hope through hearing my story, to believe that things can get better, and that help is available if you have the courage to ask. Sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith.”

Karen Carpel, the Chev’s student loan administrator can be reached on karenc@jhbchev.co.za

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