Dr Amile Olwethu Mavundla, is a social worker by profession with a passion for working with young people, which propelled her into academia.
The mother of three boys, who is originally from Port Shepstone, graduated with her Doctor of Philosophy (PHD) in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the 2022 Spring Graduation ceremony, held at the Durban Exhibition Centre, Durban on Thursday morning, 29 September 2022.
“I am filled with so much gratitude to the Lord, who heard my desire and walked the journey with me. Furthermore, the results of my PhD would not have been at all possible if it had not been for my two supervisors, Prof Tennyson Mgutshini (primary supervisor) and Prof Thembelihle Ngxongo (co-supervisor). There were times when I felt unfit for the journey, but they would collaboratively manage to encourage me to continue and today I enjoy the benefits of great results. They have made a journey known as monstrous be a pleasant one and instilled a culture of ‘hard work to achieve the desired outcome’ in me that I am forever grateful for,” she said elatedly.
Dr Mavundla is currently working at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) as the Extended Curriculum Programmes (ECP) Coordinator/Lecturer in the Nursing Department.
Having had explored other universities as possible options to take on her PhD journey- the supportive nature of DUT in postgraduate studies struck a chord with her. in 2019, she attended the Pre-Doctoral programme which guided her well into the completion of her research proposal.
“This fortunately coincided with the SOTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) workshops that the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) had invited the ECP coordinators- both these programmes helped me advance in my knowledge of research methods which I had to apply to my research proposal. In 2020 I registered for my first year towards the PhD in Health Sciences and submitted my final research thesis in April 2022,” she commented.
Dr Mavundla indicated that DUT contributed largely to her obtaining this PHD, not only by fully subsidising her studies as a staff member but by also providing her with the capacity development grant (degree completion grant) in 2022 in which she was able to take three-month sabbatical leave to complete her write up.
Her thesis is titled: A heterophenomenological exploration of the mother-daughter relationship in the adoption of positive sexual-health behaviours: A study of adolescent girls in the eThekwini district, KwaZulu-Natal.
The reason why she chose such a topic is because adolescent girls have always had a special place in her heart, to a point of opening a foundation for adolescent girls called Watch Her Grow- to guide young ladies in their development into adulthood.
“Being aware of the various sexual health challenges that face young girls, specifically with teenage pregnancies and the disproportionately high rates of HIV/AIDS infections, I was triggered to exploring the various interventions that existed to reduce the prevalence. Preliminary research revealed a number of interventions and investments being implemented but none were completely successful to aid the sexual health dilemma. Inspired by the close-knit relationship I had (as an adolescent) with my mother I was prompted to explore how this relationship could help in the adoption of positive sexual health behaviours,” she said.
From the outset, Dr Mavundla knew she wanted a PhD without any distractions to her family life, that meant for her sacrificing her sleep in order to still function as a wife, a mother, an employee and an active church member.
“This in some seasons worked very well but in others, took its toll on my body where I struggled with headaches, lower back pains etc. These seasons of course meant me putting my books aside and just attending to my health needs,” she expressed.
With regards to the academic journey itself, her Chapter 2 (literature review) and Chapter 5 (write up and interpretation of findings), had her questioning if the entire journey was even worth it but the satisfaction of knowing the struggle made her appreciate these two chapters all the more.
“Based on the literature searches in the study, it was evident that a large amount of time and money has been spent in the development of interventions to assist adolescents in the adoption of health promoting sexual behaviours. The study makes recommendations that call for the involvement of mothers as the most influential figure in the adolescent girls’ life, to be actively involved in adolescent sexual health decision making,” she added.
She further relayed that the findings revealed that mothers and daughters had difficulty in communicating about sexual health matters. In response to this challenge that study recommends the use of the MASHD framework as a guide to opening up to matters of a sexual nature.
“Participants reported several barriers to accessing sexual reproductive health information. The use of the MASHD framework is recommended for the identification of these barriers, including, interpersonal, intrapersonal and systemic barriers to limit the barriers and increase motivating factors that assist adolescents with adopting more adaptive sexual health behaviours,” she conveyed.
In terms of her career path, Dr Mavundla said aims to embark on more supervision, more publications and more knowledge sharing with the country and the world at large.
Her advice to future PHD students is that PhD is painful, whether one takes five years or 10 years the pain is the same.
“Set a timeframe, communicate it with yourself, your family and your surroundings, keep to it and you will do it. It’s not the monster we’ve all been told it is, it just needs a game plan and a good relationship with your supervisors,” she said.
Pictured: Dr Amile Olwethu Mavundla