A little help from friends

03 June 2013

Master's graduands Teresa Perez and Laura Winterton will graduate this week with distinctions for their dissertations, both rooted in community needs through groups that approached the UCT Knowledge Co-op Pilot Project for some practical help.

The co-op provides a channel for external constituencies to access knowledge, skills, resources and professional expertise within the university. At the same time, it provides an opportunity for students to find dissertation topics that address the needs of community groups - and taps into their expertise.

Community groups submit project ideas and the co-op tries to match ideas and expertise to appropriate research units at the university. Students involved in these projects conduct original research on the topic, or access existing research. In some projects students offer practical support in a service-learning setting. The co-op ensures that all partners involved in a project obtain a useful product.

Perez conducted research on the development practices of The Women's Circle (TWC). A small, local community-based organisation the TWC provides basic developmental skills to low-income residential areas.

Perez came to know about TWC through the UCT Knowledge Co-op. The TWC wanted help to further develop their approach to the facilitation of health and human rights workshops and basic skills training. In a negotiation process facilitated by the UCT Knowledge Co-op, TWC gained a volunteer to support them and Perez gained a research site for her thesis towards her master's in sociology.

"The partnership between Perez and The Women's Circle is a good example of how academia and community development can be integrated," said Barbara Schmid, project manager of the UCT Knowledge Co-op Pilot Project in the Institutional Planning Department.

Winterton, a master's student in Social Anthropology, partnered with the international NGO M̩decins Sans Fronti̬res (MSF РDoctors without Borders) in her dissertation research. Her qualitative ethnographic study looked at the psychosocial issues behind 'default' and 'adherence' among drug-resistant (DR) TB patients seeking treatment in Khayelitsha, to help develop a more nuanced understanding of the factors that affect a patient's ability to complete their treatment. Winterton chose to explore this issue after having done research for her honours degree on the 'responsibilitised' DR-TB patient seeking care in a de-centralised clinic. Her priority was to expand on the public health and social science literature on default and adherence as way to reflect the questions that patients and patients' families were asking.

She has subsequently received a Wellcome Trust studentship at the University of Edinburgh to continue with her work on DR-TB in South Africa for her PhD.

(For more information go to www.knowledgeco-op.uct.ac.za.)

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