#MakeADifference takes care of students in need

A new wellness campaign is raising awareness around food insecurity among university students.

The office of student success (OSS), under the faculty of health science (FHS) has been running a novel campaign, #MakeADifference, since June, which aims to encourage donations towards basic needs care-kits that include food and toiletry supplies that are given to Wits health science students in need, while simultaneously raising awareness of food insecurity in South African universities.

The #MakeADifference campaign was developed by master’s students in community-based counselling psychology (MACC), in partnership with the OSS, a student wellness department.

Erick Kabongo, a MACC student, says the campaign is intended to, “capture different aspects of a students’ well-being” and this includes ensuring access to basic necessities such as food and toiletries.

“Class issues vary and some students get access to things while others don’t. If we aid students with basics such as food and toiletry, we are allowing them to compete fairly within their academic pursuits,” says Boikhutso Maubane, a counselling psychologist at OSS.

Before the campaign launched, the OSS had a food bank that would receive donations irregularly and only catered to a small pool of students who expressed need. “What was important this year was being able to really provide for students, especially during these trying economic times in South Africa,” Maubane told Wits Vuvuzela.

Despite being disrupted by the covid-19 pandemic, the campaign has increased the visibility of the food bank to potential donors as well as students who may need support.

Since June, OSS has distributed over 70 care-kits and has recently received 74 care-kits valued at R200 through a single donation, which will be distributed to students for the remainder of the year. Care-kits consist of non-perishable foods and basic toiletries.

Anelisa Mofokeng , administrator at the OSS, says an average of 10 students fetch a care-kit when available from the office. Students are identified through the health science course coordinators or they approach the OSS independently. There are roughly 70 students who form part of the campaign’s database and receive an email when care-kits are available.  The office prioritises self-funding students when distributing care-kits but NSFAS students are not excluded from receiving aid.

Due to the pandemic, the campaign has been forced to function largely online, taking away the ability to engage with the Wits community. However, Maubane says the campaign has still managed to make a difference in this difficult time and it still has a lot to accomplish for the benefit of student communities.

FEATURE IMAGE: The #MakeADifference campaign supports health sciences students in need. Photo: Vetiwe Mamba 

RELATED LINKS: Wits Vuvuzela, Students society raises funds for shelters, July 2020.

Wits Vuvuzela, NSFAS students in catered residences to get food allowances, August 2020.

As told to: Medical student Khetho Mayisela in the midst of a pandemic

Khetho Mayisela (22) is a fourth year MBChB student (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) at the University of Pretoria (UP). Mayisela is one of the thousands of medical students who are under lockdown in South Africa and nursing her anxieties of losing time on her course and possibly having to repeat it. Mayisela is back at her home in Eswatini and awaiting communication from her institution on the way forward for the year.

As part of her fourth year activities, Mayisela would attend clinical rotations every day in local hospitals around Pretoria, two of which are now designated for covid-19 patients. When the virus first hit South Africa, Mayisela had to remain on rotation for three weeks before heading home. She talks about the experience of working in a hospital in the early stages of the panic and what her current fears are as universities remain closed.

As told to Vetiwe Mamba.

We, as students, didn’t really take the pandemic seriously when it was still overseas because it felt very distant from us and we didn’t really think it would reach us. Our pediatrics lecturer had begun giving us small bits of information about the virus in our lectures; what it is and how it works but we were all very laid back, cracking jokes about it and all.

When it eventually got to South Africa, we were still casual about it because it was all the way in Durban and it was only one case. I was personally under the impression that it wouldn’t really spread that far, which, in hindsight, was quite an uneducated assumption considering I’ve been taught about this before – I know how a virus works. I suppose it was wishful thinking on my part, thinking South Africa was more likely to get it under control because they had had time to prepare for it, unlike China and other countries that were first affected by covid-19.

In the following days, we started to feel the weight of the pandemic as we entered hospitals for our rotations and we’d see everyone in masks. I was doing my rotations at Tembisa Hospital one day when I walked in to find everyone in masks: the security guards; the doctors, the sisters and even patients were wearing masks. It was very scary, especially because we weren’t given masks; we very quickly began to fear being exposed to the virus and we wouldn’t even know it. There was this one day when we walked out of a ward and found a masked patient sitting in a wheelchair, shaking violently and sweating profusely with a blanket covering them, just in the middle of the corridor – we were all convinced that patient had covid-19. Working in the hospitals was extremely tough, I became very paranoid. Simply getting an itch in your throat would have you thinking “Oh no, I’ve got it now.”

As the virus escalated, I grew quite anxious and I was tossing a lot of worries over in my head. I was torn up about the possibility of an early recess because that would result in an extension of the academic year but at the same time, I didn’t want to stay and risk the borders closing because I am an international student. Then when it was made official that UP was closing and we were given 2-5 days to vacate the residences, I started to worry that I might have contracted the virus during rotations and I’d be bringing it back home and spreading it to my family and the country. Fortunately I am healthy and so is my family. 

Working from home is a bit distracting because we spend quite a lot of time together and that eats up most of my study time but my mom is very supportive. She always asks me if I’ve managed to cover all my lectures and she’ll buy me more data if ever the wifi is being problematic. Staying focused is definitely more difficult, I get caught up watching television or reading a book or I simply get lazy. I am a night owl though so I spend most weekends up late trying to catch up on everything. Surprisingly, being at home has reduced the stress I usually feel because I’m not in an academic environment so there’s less pressure. 

My biggest fear currently is an extension of my degree, fourth year is also one of the hardest years at UP medicine so the possibility of dragging this out is extremely disheartening, especially when I have two and half years left.

We’ve been told that we’ll finish the first semester online and we are yet to hear what the medical faculty has decided with regards to our clinical practice, because as much as we can finish our theory online, our clinicals are still a requirement to pass the year.

While we wait to start online classes, we’ve been receiving daily notes of the new block we’re meant to start like we usually do at school. Our chair of medicine is definitely working his hardest to give us updates and make online learning easier for us, they have attempted to give us access to date free websites and the lecturers save their lessons as zip files so that we use less data. All in all, the faculty has really tried its best to accommodate everyone. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Fourth year MBChB student, Khetho Maysiela who is currently back in Eswatini due to the covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Provided.

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Eswatini university manufactures hand sanitiser for the nation

Head of chemistry department assembles team to produce hand sanitisers to assist in the fight against the covid-19 pandemic in the Kingdom of Eswatini.

The chemistry labs of the University of Eswatini (UNESWA) have been bustling since the announcement of the first covid-19 case in the kingdom on March 13, 2020.

Senior lecturer and head of chemistry, Dr Thabile Ndlovu, had already made the decision to start producing hand sanitisers in the UNESWA chemistry laboratories a week before the announcement due to the scarcity of sanitisers in stores.

“There were no sanitisers in shops anymore. Something was required and we had the equipment to assist the country,” Dr Ndlovu told Wits Vuvuzela.

As an awardee of the Instrumental Access Award from Seeding Labs, a global science organisation that provides scientists with tools and resources for ground-breaking research, Dr Ndlovu was the recipient of lab equipment that was intended to support research and teaching in her department. It is this equipment that helped her start the production of the sanitisers.

In a single day, Dr Ndlovu and her team of 10 lab staff, were able to produce 100 litres of sanitiser using the World Health Organisation recipe, and have since made over 200 litres in total. The sanitiser is then packaged in containers with sizes varying from 150 to 500 ml and sold to members of the Eswatini community.

Hand sanitiser produced at UNESWA, packaged and ready for distribution. Photo: Provided 

Given the rising demand for sanitiser as the pandemic spreads, Dr Ndlovu admits that “supply is an issue”, especially because the key ingredient, ethanol, is usually imported from South Africa, which is now on lockdown.

Dr Ndlovu said, “Our production has been restricted by the lack of ethanol but we are being offered assistance from local companies who are making donations to the department.”

These companies include USA Distillers and Coca-Cola Swaziland, which have been pivotal in the continuation of the production of sanitisers, offering to donate ingredients as well as manufacturing equipment to turn the production into a large-scale operation.

“People are coming together to assist. The country is coming together,” Dr Ndlovu told Wits Vuvuzela.

She also said, while the kingdom’s ministry of health is supportive of this initiative, a solid partnership with it is yet to be finalised. That would facilitate the donation of sanitisers to the rural communites of Eswatini.

FEATURED IMAGE: Lab assistants producing hand sanitiser in the UNESWA chemistry labs. This photo was taken before the lockdown, before masks were mandatory. Photo: Provided

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Homeless students accommodated at Witwaters residence

Witswaters residence will house Wits students that have been squatting in libraries and labs until the end of June. Photo: Vetiwe Mamba.

The Wits SRC scores temporary accommodation for homeless students. 

As many as 36 homeless students were expected to have been granted temporary accommodation at Witswaters residence in Parktown by the end of Friday, March 13.

SRC president Thuto Gabaphethe said, “Yesterday (Thursday) there was a group that was moved in and today we shall be finalising that process… It is confirmed that by the end of today (Friday) all students will have moved in.”

Although, according to deputy SRC president Rebecca Mahaule, the SRC had requested that the building be made available for the entire year, the rooms will only be available until June 30. That is because the rooms are for the use of medical students who are out on rotation, who will be returning to work at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital from July 1.

“Upon the request of the SRC, the [Gauteng] department of health made the building available to house Wits students needing accommodation assistance on a temporary basis until the end of June 2020,” the dean of students, Jerome September, told Wits Vuvuzela. “However, this is not a Wits residence, it will not be set up as such, as it is a temporary relief for students currently in need,” he added.

The deputy director of the academic hospital, Tiny Kubheka, said Witwaters, which is in Block D of the Charlotte Maxeke Residence Complex, currently houses 280 students. These include South African medical students who had studied in Cuba, postgraduate nursing students from Wits, fourth-year medical students, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University students and medical technologist interns.

Sizakele Davani, a 25-year-old master’s student in politics who has been without accommodation since she arrived from Cape Town on January 22, is hopeful that the SRC will help her.

“This psychologically affects me because it’s difficult to focus in lectures and I’m still sleeping in labs. I am on the [Hardship Fund] list but this isn’t helping at all,” she told Wits Vuvuzela. She said she had applied for National Research Foundation funding last year, but her application was “still pending”.

Mahaule said rooms at the residence would be allocated to students who had applied for the Hardship Fund and “squatters who have been identified by the Wits Protection Services in libraries and computer labs”.

FEATURED IMAGE: The Gauteng department of health has made the Witswaters building available to homeless Witsies. Photo: Vetiwe Mamba. 

RELATED ARTICLES: 

Wits Vuvuzela, Wits SRC deliver memorandum to Lesufi. March 1, 2020.

Wits Vuvuzela, Homeless students forced to sleep in 24-hour study area. March 5, 2020.

Wits Vuvuzela, Wits has no emergency accommodation – Dean of Students. January 28, 2019.