UCT reaches out

09 June 2008

As foreign nationals fled violence-stricken areas, UCT staff and students were doing their bit to help out. Leading the university's efforts were the Students' Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO) and the UCT Law Clinic.

Over that first dramatic weekend when violence first broke out in the Western Cape, SHAWCO marshalled scores of student volunteers to collect food, clothing and other supplies from residences and departments, channelling this to camps and safe havens via the Treatment Action Campaign. Similarly, bands of medical students were called in to help Médecins Sans Frontières, aka Doctors Without Borders, going out to over 33 refugee centres to conduct an audit of facilities, services and needs.

"This was invaluable to developing an integrated health response," says SHAWCO's Jonathan Hoffenberg. SHAWCO continued discussions with officials from both the province and the City of Cape Town to find the best way to help.

The Faculty of Health Sciences was also rallying other medical students with clinical experience to offer their services to SHAWCO.

In turn, staff at the Law Clinic have counselled and continue to counsel and give legal support to refugees, seeing some 500 people at the offices on Monday alone.

UCT has also given of its other resources. The Jammie Shuttles bussed close on 2 000 people to refugee centres and other places of safety. The university has also set up an online site, through the Centre for Educational Technology's Vula system, for debate and discussion, already thriving on other forums. Last week, discussions continued on all these sources, with regular updates.

Scores of other initiatives are also under way to help staff and students who fear for their safety or need help as exams loom. In addition, the university has published numerous statements condemning the violence and attacks on foreign nationals.

And last week, the vice-chancellor's Crisis Response Task Team called for marks of visible solidarity - white ribbons - with the victims of xenophobic violence, at the same time making a commitment to contributing to interventions and informed policy positions that address the causes of the crisis.

"Such visible solidarity will also signify our recognition of the contribution that nationals of other countries make to UCT as a university of, and in, Africa," said a release.

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