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FMHS community makes great strides towards sustainability in 2022
Author: DACES Student Representative - Matlatse Mosibudi
Published: 14/12/2022

Environmental sustainability is one of the core components of Stellenbosch University's (SU) strategic initiatives and the university includes it as a focus area across all aspects of its operational management, training, and research, as articulated in Vision 2040.

In August this year, the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS), based at the university's Tygerberg Campus, collaborated with non-profit organisation, Greenpop and fundraising partner, GivenGain, to help establish a garden at Helderberg Hospital in Somerset West, which is one of the sites where FMHS students receive clinical training. Professor Bob Mash, executive head of the Department of Family and Emergency Medicine and the chairperson of the Dean's Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability (DACES), said Greenpop and the FMHS managed to raise R70 000 through GivenGain. Most of the donations were made by doctors, medical interns, hospital staff and the public. Mash, who is also an artist, sold some of his paintings to raise funds for this initiative.

Indigenous fynbos used to be part of the natural ecosystem in the Helderberg area where the hospital is situated, and the region formed part of the 'fynbos corridor' linking the Helderberg Nature Reserve and Table Mountain. However, urbanisation and the proliferate growth of eucalyptus trees – which is an invasive species – negatively affected the Helderberg ecosystem, leading to loss of biodiversity. The initiative to repopulate the area with fynbos is a three-year project between the FMHS, Greenpop and Helderberg Hospital. “The hospital also signed a memorandum of understanding which was an agreement for the hospital to take care of the fynbos," said Mash.

Rebecca Mohlahlo, a second-year nursing student and one of the project volunteers said it was therapeutic for her to get away from campus, get her hands dirty and relieve stress whilst contributing to a good cause. The garden was divided into two parts which were planted on two separate days.

Volunteers included university and hospital staff, students, high school learners and members of Greenpop and other organisations. “We have finished the first phase of our Helderberg Hospital fynbos planting, not just the planting, but also raising the funds. Now we need to start raising funds for the next phase, which will include the area around the university's Ukwanda Student Learning Centre on the premises," said Christine Groenewald, who is the DACES coordinator and part of Facilities Management's Environmental Sustainability team.

Meerhoff wins 2022 Campus Green Award

Meerhoff residence won the highly contested Campus Green Award, cementing their place in the history of the awards as the residence on the Tygerberg Campus with the highest number of wins. The Campus Green Award is awarded to the residence that does the most to promote sustainable living amongst its residents. To be in the running for the award, each residence has to submit a report that is assessed by a panel and scored based on the following: participation during Earth Week and campus wide sustainability events, waste and energy consumption in their respective residences and environmental stewardship.

Matthew Blows, a former Meerhoff green house committee member and the current student coordinator for DACES, attributes this win to teamwork among house members and good leadership.

Mash said that instead of awarding only one award next year, they plan on awarding three in the following categories: energy and leadership, water and leadership, and waste and leadership. The faculty also intends offering a 'Green Living Award' which covers a broader spectrum.

First environmental stewardship workshop with new MBChB curriculum

Environmental stewardship was embedded in the renewed MBChB curriculum that was introduced in 2022, and formed part of the 'Being and Becoming' module.

Mash said this module introduces first-year students to being and becoming healthcare professionals whilst studying or living on this campus for the duration of the degree. “We want to embed environmental stewardship into the identity of future health-care professionals," said Mash.

For the module, students attend workshops on campus where topics such as water, waste, energy and carbon footprint are discussed. It also includes a lecture on environmental sustainability at Tygerberg Campus and a campus tour to the different facilities such as the state-of-the-art air conditioning system at the Biomedical Research Institute (BMRI), the water treatment and waste management plants and others.

After the workshops, “students' commitments and ideas are integrated into a list of key behaviours that people felt were feasible to do on campus. We hope that they will incorporate that into the way they live, study and work on campus," said Mash.