Wintry weather dampened few spirits on 18 July as SHAWCO commemorated Mandela Day by helping school children from around the Cape Flats vivify their communities, in keeping with the late Madiba's example of paying it forward.
More than 600 UCT staff and students joined the non-profit organisation in offering 67 altruistic minutes '“ or more '“ at SHAWCO's community centres in Kensington, Khayelitsha, Manenberg and Nyanga.
And the day's activities were "a fun-filled success", reported Julia Norrish, president of SHAWCO Education.
Embracing the idea of making a lasting difference, some volunteers planted large trees and a vegetable garden in Kensington for the community to enjoy. The atmosphere became even more lively as local youngsters teamed up with the volunteers to deck the walls with colourful murals (this happened in Khayelitsha and Manenberg, too).
In addition to playing rain-soaked soccer and netball games, reading, painting faces, and practising yoga and meditation with children at some of the centres, volunteers also arranged books at the Khayelitsha centre's library and cheered up the Nyanga Public Library's Children's Corner with beanbag chairs and wall stickers.
One activity that particularly pleased Dr Max Price, UCT's Vice-Chancellor, was the recycle "swap-shop" run in Manenberg. Local youngsters were encouraged to bring as many recyclable odds and ends as they could find in exchange for coupons, which they could use to "buy" a range of goodies, from comic books and skipping ropes, to stationery and essential toiletries.
"The idea that recycling material has value, can be used again and is worth something, is a good thing, and that in itself is educational for the kids," said Price.
"Another, of course, is that it's really a point for the students who are not regular SHAWCO members. The good thing about this SHAWCO event is that obviously there are maybe 1 000 students who come into the townships every week; they do classes, clinics and play with youngsters. But there are a whole lot of students who never come in, and if they can be encouraged even for one hour, they are the ones who will benefit because they get to see, firstly, how people live, but they also get to see that this kind of activity is very rewarding.
"Hopefully they will continue being involved in the future."
Open your mind
Frank Panaou, a first-year music student, was manning the swap-shop.
"It's obviously incredible for me to open my mind a bit," Panaou said. "It's good for anyone to get involved in charity projects because what happens is that you get to know what's actually going on in the world, and you get a chance to really make a difference and just realise people need our support and assistance."
Cyril Pelston, who manages SHAWCO's Manenberg centre, said that the Madiba Day activities benefited both the local community and the volunteers.
"The kids have fun, the students engage with the kids and some of the young people from the community, so I think it's good for the profile of SHAWCO, it's good for the kids and it's good for the student volunteers," Pelston said.
"We want to give young children and youth an opportunity to express themselves, and channel their energy in a positive way. In a community like Manenberg, there are lots of challenges: there's high unemployment, there's the issue of substance abuse, of gangsterism, so we want to create a positive space for our kids through our student volunteers from the university."
VIDEO: Catch some memorable moments from SHAWCO's Mandela Day programme
Story by Yusuf Omar. Image by Je'nine May.
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