‘Follow your dreams’, says Cape mother (41) heading for Harvard

From the Cape Flats to Harvard, that’s the success story of Soraya Mohideen. But there are still hurdles to cross, writes Al Qalam Reporter Nabeelah Shaikh.

When Soraya Mohideen completed her schooling on the Cape Flats in her early years, she had never imagined that one day – at 41 years of age – she would be jetting off to pursue for her Master’s Degree at Harvard University, one of the most prestigious learning institutions in the world.

The mother of two was accepted into the Mid-Career Master’s in Public Administration programme. With strict entry requirements, she was the cream of the crop.

Mohideen is the sole recipient of the competitive Harvard South Africa Fellowship.

While the institution is renowned for its elite wealth pool, Soraya’s story is a striking contrast. Being exposed to the hardship and struggles of the Cape Flats growing up, Mohideen came from humble beginnings. She was determined to uplift those living below the poverty line who are largely impacted by inequality.

Her journey took her from a low wage earning position to a woman who is at the forefront of change, as an expert in local government.

Giving back to the community, and empowering others, has been close to her heart.

“This inequality trap is one I know well as I grew up being exposed to it. The day I finished my final high school exam, I took the bus to a warehouse and collected a black duffel bag filled with plastic toys to sell door-to-door. My family thought I was crazy to do this, but it was my way of trying to make things better for us financially,” said Mohideen.

Three years later, a call centre job propelled her into the digital workplace.

Through technology and the internet, Mohideen began to flourish in her career.

She holds an Honours Degree in Information Systems. Now, she works in economic development with a focus on trade and destination promotion.

She is also passionate about working with young people, and invests much of her time in empowering the youth.

Mohideen says many people have questioned her about whether she was certain that she was making the right decision.

“Being a mother of two young girls, some asked me whether I was sure that this is what I should be doing at this stage in my life. My daughters are three and six-years-old. I felt it was so critical for them to see me doing this, at this stage in my life,” said Mohideen.

She said it was important to see Muslim women take on such opportunities.

“There’s a perception about where we should be as Muslim women, and what we should be doing at certain stages in our lives. I’m 41. It’s the perfect time for me to do this irrespective of my age,” said Mohideen.


Mohideen called on Muslim women to never doubt themselves and their capabilities. And to always follow their dreams.

“I recommend that our sisters find ways to contribute to society, no matter what that looks like. All of us have different stories and different paths, but we should take on opportunities and set goals for ourselves. Our age and circumstances should not be a constraint. We are raising the next generation and we need to take whatever opportunities we are presented with in order to raise well-rounded children and be role-models to them,” said Mohideen.

She will leave for the U.S in July where she will spend 11 months in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

She intends on taking her family along, and while her tuition is covered, she has a shortfall to cover her living expenses. Mohideen has started a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign, to assist with this shortfall which includes housing, health insurance, books, supplies and her dependent costs for the year.

After graduation, she plans to return to the City of Cape Town’s Enterprise and Investment unit to build policy experience while stimulating innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation.

“Adding this degree to my life history and professional experience in youth employment acceleration, both as a practitioner and as a civil servant, makes me the best person to take on this challenge. A public service career serves my purpose to help young people who remind me of me. I am optimistic about the opportunities this will create,” said Mohideen.

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