I had taken my fifth consecutive loss for the week. Nothing was going right, none of the stories I was working on for the week were coming together. This was about four months ago. I was failing to accomplish my deliverables for that week. As I sit here reminiscing, I’m reminded how student life can show you flames. By the second block of your first year you’ve already felt the burn. Now imagine feeling that sting while you are homeless and hungry at the same time. This is a reality confronting many students at Wits.
After realising that nothing was coming together, I decided to take a camera and walk around campus in hope that a good story would miraculously appear and I would be safe for the week. Instead I sat on the stairs near International House under the jacaranda trees, contemplating the decision of why I took this route, questioning whether this path was meant for me or not after my third failed interview for the week. Everyone has a bad week, some more than others. As I sat there deep in thought a young lady approached me, she was very timid and spoke very softly. She asked me if I could please give her something to eat for lunch. I could have said, that I don’t have anything, and walked away like I often do. The truth is that I did not have anything, I had left my wallet and lunch in the newsroom at University Corner. I directed her to the Wits Community Citizenship Outreach (WCCO), at that time I was working on a story about the soon to be launched Masidleni Lunch Meal programme.
Masidleni now provides warm meals for hundreds of students a day. The young woman was not aware of the WCCO offices and services they offered to students in need. When I urged her to collect a food parcel she simply replied “I won’t be able to cook the food because I do not have a place to stay”. On the other hand, she needed something instant because she had not had anything to eat that entire day. She was homeless because she had not received financial aid for this academic year and therefore could not find appropriate accommodation. At this point she was living and sleeping wherever she could.
Sleeping in the libraries and computer labs, washing in the campus toilets and being anxious about where the next meal is going to come from, is an everyday reality for some students. You do not realise that some of the students that you sit next to in lectures and on the bus are actually suffering in silence.
I offered to help her with her laundry however she was reluctant saying she did not want to over burden a stranger. It wasn’t a burden. I told her that it is important for us as students to look after one another. Being a student is not a joyride, we’re confronted by so many personal, academic and financial challenges. We need to assist one another to make this journey less difficult and more bearable.
No student should be without a meal and a place to sleep after a long and taxing day of trying to fulfil their academic expectations. I urge you to help wherever you can, share if you have plenty. Being hungry and homeless is dehumanizing and people are scared to share their stories of suffering. Speak to the person sitting next to you on the bus, you never know how making “small talk” could help someone else or even you.
We all want to realise the dream of becoming successful graduates but we’ve all witnessed that the journey is filled with obstacles – we need one another.