Over the past weeks, purposeful partnerships between Stellenbosch University (SU) and several others have brought relief to thousands of people who are experiencing need due to the national lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic.
During this time, which has been characterised by compassion to help people, SU has had to react swiftly to adapt the institution's processes in order to continue making an impact on society. With the realisation that although not everyone is in the same boat, we have been hit by the same storm, various relief efforts have been actioned.
Some people are experiencing a food shortage, or do not have shelter or mattresses and blankets, while volunteers are needed at health care facilities and new research on COVID-19 is welcomed.
The SU's Division for Social Impact, which strives to forge relationships with the community through cooperation, usually interacts and networks directly with the community but this has been hampered by the current state of lockdown.
Dr Leslie van Rooi, Senior Director: Social Impact and Transformation at SU, says his division had to overcome several new challenges in order to continue their work during the lockdown period. “All our work has to comply with the requirements of social distancing and mitigating the spreading of the virus. But we remain in contact with all our partners," he says.
When the national lockdown was announced, the division immediately joined forces with StellenboschUnite, an aid action group that was founded when the COVID-19 pandemic started, to assist people affected by the situation.
“A food crisis developed among people in different socio-economic classes. This made us realise that 'although we might not all be in the same boat, we are weathering the same storm'," says Ms Jeanneret Momberg, manager at the VisitStellenbosch tourism organisation. StellenboschUnite is created in collaboration with Visit Stellenbosch because many people lost their income and needed help for the first time.
These people include home workers, tradesmen, businesses owners and other workers.
So far, StellenboschUnite has received R1,6 million in financial donations from SU, individuals and businesses. This money was used to buy 61 367 kg of food, while volunteers worked 1 729 hours to pack 5 622 food parcels that were distributed among 3 500 people (families of four). An estimated 16 000 people are being fed with these food parcels.
Except for SU, the other StellenboschUnite partners are Stellenbosch Municipality, Visit Stellenbosch (tourism organisation), SCAN (Stellenbosch Civil Advocacy Network that represents the non-profit organisations) and the Greater Stellenbosch Development Trust (administrators).
SU has also cemented its ties with the campus radio station, MatieFM (MFM). Van Rooi expressed his appreciation for the role MFM played to improve communication with the community, students and staff.
According to Mr Tim Zunckel, acting station manager at MFM, the station broadcasts relevant information about health care, important contact numbers and lifestyle tips to control the coronavirus. MFM, which is licensed at the University, also broadcasts communication received from the national government, the Western Cape Health Department, SU and Stellenbosch Municipality to keep communities in and around Stellenbosch informed.
“In times of need, radio remains an important source of news and information. Radio is a reliable medium, it is easy to activate and it can reach people wherever they are. It also has an immediate impact," says Zunckel.
Some of the operations that SU is involved in include:
- Some 60 mattresses and 40 blankets were donated to the temporary shelter for the homeless which has been set up in the Van der Stel hall in Stellenbosch. Security guards from Stellenbosch Municipality protect the residents daily, while the Department of Community Development provides meals on a daily basis. The department of Social Services and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) provide additional assistance when needed.
- A group of 360 Matie students from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) on the Tygerberg campus are working as volunteers at Tygerberg Hospital to assist in the battle against COVID-19. Seventy students are working in the hospital's triage area; 20 students are guarding the entrance to the hospital and provide hand sanitiser to visitors, and 15 students are assisting to locate positive COVID-19 cases telephonically. Approximately 115 students are volunteering at the national COVID-19 helpline and 70 students assist with day-to-day functions in hospital wards. Students are also collecting data and processing statistics for the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, while other data is being collected for the Division of Medical Virology.
- SU also forms part of Stellenbosch Municipality's Joint Operational Centre (JOC). Partnerships and cooperation between various public and private stakeholders in the areas of health, security and disaster manager form part of JOC.
- The Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences collaborated with Spier Wine Estate to donate food parcels to 450 farmworker families. The faculty also provided solar power to residents of Enkanini, an informal settlement. Click here for more information.
- SU's Facilities Management Division is collaborating with provincial authorities and will provide quarantine and isolation facilities if necessary.
- The department of Food Science at the Faculty of AgriSciences has turned bread into hand sanitiser to help curb the spreading of COVID-19.
- FMHS researchers are part of the CrowdFight COVID-19 initiative, which comprises a diverse team of researchers worldwide who is analysing the COVID-19 virus to try and alleviate the suffering caused by the virus.
- FMHS and a local biotech company are working together to test a synthetic pharmaceutical as a supportive agent for the treatment of Acute/Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), which has been cited as one of the major reasons that COVID-19 patients become critically ill and/or die.