Stellenbosch University
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Faculties take hands to uplift Bishop Lavis community
Author: Sue Segar
Published: 06/05/2020

​Some challenges are better solved together. This is the belief behind a new inter-faculty collaboration to provide a life-skills programme for high-risk children in the Bishop Lavis community. This initiative, entitled the SLEAK project, builds on an existing project that was started in 2008 by the Division of Occupational Therapy at Stellenbosch University's (SU) Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS).

Partners from three different SU faculties – the Division of Occupational Therapy, Maties Sport and Theology – will now join forces in the expanded multi-faceted programme thanks to funding from the university's Division of Social Impact.

The programme will run three times a week, in four phases of six weeks each, and will address a range of themes using the skills and input of the three faculties. The 24-week programme is split into thematic blocks of six weeks.

Dr Martin Heine at the FMHS' Institute of Sport and Exercise Medicine (ISEM), who is the custodian of the expansion project through his work with the Division of Social Impact, said the expanded programme started in February with about 15 children. “Initial reactions are very positive. The feedback is that the kids are loving it and are enthusiastically embracing the programme. We are fully on track and expecting to grow."

Heine said one of the main goals of the enterprise is for the Division of Social Impact to explore the feasibility of a more interdisciplinary social impact activity. “As an example, a garden project where people grow their own produce as part of occupational therapy, may benefit from input by a dietician on how to use the produce in a healthy way, or the division of agriculture on how to grow produce in space or water-constrained environments," explained Heine. “However, in practice, barriers may exist that limit this type of collaboration. What we are doing is exploring interdisciplinary work that is feasible in Bishop Lavis so that we can evaluate the interfaculty work further for future initiatives."

The programme will address specific themes (i.e. respect, resilience, big dreams, leadership) through the different “lenses" and expertise of the different faculties. Each profession has a specific role in instilling these skills, using their own methodologies. “For instance we will look at each theme through constructive leisure time activities (Occupational Therapy); through sport and games (Maties Sport), and through actively engaging family structures (Theology)," Heine explained. “We believe that having the three different disciplines working together on a specific topic will have a bigger impact on the children, students, and volunteers than we would have achieved otherwise through just one discipline."

“At the end of each theme, we will take children and volunteers to Maties Sport on the Stellenbosch Campus so that they can engage with student athletes. For many, it may be the first time they leave Bishop Lavis and will broaden their perspectives." Heine said the programme came about through his wider involvement in Bishop Lavis, both through his academic work, as well as conversations between the university and the City of Cape Town (CoCT) in relation to the mayoral urban regeneration programme that is set out for Bishop Lavis."

“In our conversations with the City, we discussed their plans to develop a wellness centre in Bishop Lavis. We've had our service-learning platform for students there for quite a while (>25 years) already in the form of the Bishop Lavis Rehabilitation Centre, but wellness is a different concept from health. With 'wellness' being broader, and more focussed on social determinants of health (e.g. poverty) as well. This opened the door to hosting more university stakeholders than just those from the medical health sciences."

The Division of Social Impact commissioned Heine to further explore such an interdisciplinary platform for social impact and to hold conversations with the CoCT, external-, and internal stakeholders.

“That is how this project came about. It is a spin-off and test-case for the idea that in the future there could be a platform to host more disciplines beyond conventional 'health' disciplines… for more catalytic social impact, through different students and professions, and community members working together.

“The idea is that social impact is not something that should happen in silos."

Maatje Kloppers from the Division of Occupational Therapy said the project was initiated by students and community volunteers in 2008. “Up until this partnership was formed, the project was self sustaining in terms of financing – with our children and partners recycling plastic bottle tops for our running costs. The Social Impact project is a pilot for collaboration to strengthen our activities with their profession-specific knowledge".

Juanita Jacobs, who is project coordinator and social impact coordinator for Maties Sports, said she is using soccer to transfer life skills to the children in the programme.

“It is going so well. The children are excited about this programme. You can already see the difference in commitment – in the first week they came in their school clothes, but by the third week they were coming prepared in their sports clothes. Jacobs, who has her provincial colours for various sports, and has a post-graduate diploma in sport development, is involved in a number of schools in Stellenbosch, said there is a buzz of excitement among the children now. “They are showing they want to be involved."

​Rejeanne Louw, one of four students from the Theology department, said she and her fellow students were involved in house visits to the parents and caretakers of the children involved in the programme. “It has been good engaging the parents and hearing reports of how the behaviour of the children has changed – for instance in being more neat and addressing their parents with respect. On the basis of the reports of the parents, I would say this programme is having a good effect and will continue to do so in the future."