Each year, SAADP never stops celebrating the great achievement as more of our Alumni qualify as Fellow Actuaries. The number has now grown to a total of 68 qualified Fellow Actuaries produced since inception. In our quest to understand the difficult academic journey they have travelled; we were able to capture the story of Jose Benjamin Vattakunnel.
Jose completed his primary education at Kokstad Junior School and moved to Kokstad College where he matriculated. He considers his schooling years as a foundation of not only who he is today, but who he will be in future. He expresses gratitude to his teachers for the education and life lessons that they taught him. “They always pushed me to do better both academically as well as an individual,” he says.
Jose was born and raised in Kokstad, a small-town at the border of KwaZulu Natal and Eastern Cape provinces. His parents are both high school educators in the rural Mt. Ayliff in the Eastern Cape. He is proud of his parents who would travel 30km every day not only to do their job but to positively change the lives of rural communities. He says many of the learners that his parents taught lacked access to basic resources such as electricity and running water.
Moved by parents’ love for education
“On a daily basis, I saw the great determination in my parents to change their disadvantaged learners’ lives. This triggered a desire in me to also make a difference in the world,” he says. Jose says his parents taught him and his two younger brothers the importance of making the most of the opportunities that one is afforded with, and that hard work and attitude has no substitute. His parents’ passion for education gave him confirmation that education is the key to unlocking one’s true potential. He learnt that with the right tools, skills, and attitude; nothing is impossible. “Everything I am today, everything I ever will be in future is because of my parents,” says Jose.
Getting to know SAADP
He recalls that during his matric year in 2009, a group of top learners in the grade were invited to attend a talk held in Harding – about 70km away from Kokstad College. The talk was about Actuarial Science and was hosted by SAADP representatives. “At this point, I had very little knowledge about Actuarial Science, as I was satisfied with the Medicine career which I had already chosen. I went to the Actuarial Science talk just to keep my career options open,” he remarks.
He recalls the presenter asking 4 questions which were: ‘Are you good at Maths and Science? Do you want to make a difference? Do you want to be among a very select group of elite professionals? Do you enjoy a challenge? “My answer to each of the questions was YES, and I was then keenly listening to the rest of the presentation. I took the information pack and scholarship application form home. I then started doing a lot of research into Actuarial Science and decided that this was the right choice for me and that I wanted to study at the University of Cape Town,” he says emphatically.
Jose applied to SAADP for the bursary. Unfortunately; he did not get awarded the bursary then. Fortunately, he had received a partial scholarship from an alternative source. This reduced his parents’ financial burden to a certain extent. His parents encouraged him to continue with university and not to worry about financial constraints. They promised to come up with a plan.
Accessing the SAADP support
At university, he became friends with other Actuarial Science students and realised that some were part of the SAADP support programme. They introduced him to Mrs Billy Enderstein, who was the SAADP Programme Manager at UCT. Jose says, Billy always had an open-door policy which extended to anyone even those that were not part of the SAADP support programme. He says Billy would provide advice and was someone that anyone could speak to at any time. She helped students deal with the trials and tribulations of not only studying Actuarial Science but also how to adjust to university life. Billy was a real ‘mother’ away from home to many of the students.
“SAADP offered additional tutorials to students in some of the more difficult courses and even though, at the time that I wasn’t part of their support programme, they allowed me to attend. Without those additional resources and help, I do not think I would have been able to pass those courses,” he remarks thankfully.
Jose became part of the SAADP team in his final year. “This eased the financial burden on my parents so tremendously. I would really like to thank all the SAADP tutors, Billy, Nokwanda Mkhize (SAADP Executive Head) and all the donors that made such resources available to us to make this journey a success. Many of us would not be where we are today without all your continued support and contributions made by SAADP, he says.
“The Google scholar has the motto, ‘stand on the shoulders of giants.’ This is exactly what my family, friends, teachers, lecturers, SAADP family, SAADP donors, and colleagues have enabled me to do. Others in future will stand on our shoulders and together we will be stronger as a nation!” he says emphatically.
Motivational advice for current Actuarial Science students
“My advice to the current Actuarial Science students is that; hard work does pay off! The journey is tough, extremely tough; but nothing that is worth something comes easy in life.
· Keep your head down,
· Prioritise the important things and take it each day at a time.
· Set small targets that you can measure frequently and be honest about your progress.
· Understand why you are doing this and have the motivation and courage to keep at it.
The journey can be indeed long, but it is worth all the effort and sacrifice. It is important to have a balance. Find constructive ways to manage your stress, whether it is playing sports or having a hobby. The time that you use to break away is as important as the time you put in.”
A word of advice for Grade 12 learners
“Actuarial Science is an incredible career choice. It is one of the few areas that blends mathematics, statistics, finance, and probability theory into one area. Actuarial Science enables you to understand the big picture of the economy but also understand the very technical details of how a single product works. You learn to identify risks, measure, and quantify them as well as methods to mitigate them. This enables you to not only work in traditional actuarial areas (insurance, pensions); but you can use the skills in any area really.
Actuaries can work both in the private sector as well as the public sector. Actuaries in the private sector can do various things such as:
· Valuing the risks and financing of capital projects,
· Modelling catastrophes and epidemics,
· Influencing the development of regulations to protect the public,
· Understanding demographic trends and implications of global warming,
· Developing and maintaining social security schemes and many more areas.
The journey to becoming a qualified Actuary is not an easy one and needs to be carefully considered. There is a lot of sacrifices that will be required but if done for the right reasons; it is very rewarding. There are easier ways to make a lot more money; so, do not do it for the money, do it for knowledge, skill set and the opportunities that it may open for you.”