Above: Naledi and Nala Shologu (left to right) at a recent NUI-Galway graduation ceremony during which they were awarded their Master’s degrees in Biomedical Science. Both young women are currently PhD candidates at the school

By Julie Costello

Even during their years at Errigal College in Letterkenny it was clear that twins Nala and Naledi Shologu were no ordinary students.

     The girls, who moved to Ireland from South Africa as 9-year-olds, had enrolled in the school after enjoying a visit to it with other members of their primary school class at Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál.

     While at Errigal College both Nala and Naledi developed a love of science and an interest in studying the subject at university. Learning that to do this they’d need to sit their Leaving Cert in two science subjects -- but that the school offered only one, Biology -- they were undaunted.

     “We told the school what we wanted to do,” explained Naledi, “and they brought in Chemistry especially for us and provided a teacher to teach it to us. There were only five of us in the class that year.”

     “After that Chemistry was kept on, so a lot of students have taken it,” Nala seamlessly continued. “At the time there were only two of us asking for the course but the school added it anyway, which I think pushed us forward to loving science. At any other school they’d say, ‘There’s only two of you’, and they wouldn’t care. But at Errigal College they do care.”

     This Autumn Errigal College’s support for Nala and Naledi came to fruition at NUI-Galway, where both received their Master’s degrees in Biomedical Science and are currently working on cutting-edge medical research projects for their PhDs.

     The twins, who are now 23, completed their undergraduate degrees in Biomedical Science at Sligo IT in 2012.

     They spoke about their academic accomplishments during a recent visit from Galway to the family home in Old Town, where they sat side by side on a sitting room sofa, similar in their confidence and poise yet distinctive in their interests and perspectives.

     Nala’s research for her PhD in Medicine involves investigating ways in which human stem cells can be used for the treatment of acute lung injuries and diseases. “From secondary school I always loved science and thought I’d want to do medicine,” she said. “I never really wanted to work with patients, though, so this is perfect for me because I’m quite happy in the lab. I wasn’t quite sure what being a medical scientist would involve, but becoming one I realise it was actually the best choice.”

     Naledi’s research for her PhD in Biomedical Engineering is focussed on creating a three-dimensional model of a cancer cell which can be used in the testing of anti-cancer drugs. “It was either science or art for me,” she said. “I really liked my art classes, and for the CAO I chose art or science. Art is still a hobby; I love both of them. Science is actually similar to art…you have the freedom of doing anything, designing something from very little or nothing and modifying it as you go along. Creativity applies in both.”

     The twins’ life in Ireland began in 2001 when they arrived here with their widowed mum, Nolunga, and two sisters. The family spent eight months in a Kerry accommodation centre before being granted asylum and moving to Letterkenny.

     “Only God did this, I won’t take any credit!” Nolunga said of the twins’ accomplishments, which their younger sister, Ziyanda, a fourth-year student in Biomedical Science at Sligo IT who also attended Errigal College, appears to be on track to duplicate. “I was always praying for them to do the right things and very much encouraging and supporting them in everything.”

     In the years since arriving in Letterkenny Nolunga has herself had a number of outstanding accomplishments, including earning an Honours degree in Community Development at Letterkenny Institute of Technology and serving as Intercultural Community Development Officer at Letterkenny Community Development Project.

     “I love Letterkenny because it’s a really nice town that I feel very comfortable in,” she said.

     While she is not scientifically-inclined herself, Nolunga said, her husband, Richard, who died in 1994 when the twins were just three years old, “was very brilliant in mathematics. I’m always telling them their father’s spirit is watching them and he is very proud of them.”

     Also very proud of Nala and Naledi is Charlie Cannon, Acting Principal of Errigal College. The school, which operates under the patronage of Donegal ETB, is currently celebrating its one hundredth anniversary and plans to include the twins’ story in a commemorative book marking the occasion.

     “I’d like to congratulate them on their achievement and their continued studies,” Mr. Cannon said. “They’re one of our success stories. We knew from the word go that these students were committed and dedicated, which shows clearly in their progress. They faced challenges…it wasn’t easy for them due to the fact that they were moving to a new culture.

     “Anything they’ve achieved they’ve worked very hard for, but no challenge has been too big. And the support their mum has given them has been tremendous.”

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