Volunteers see need through new eyes

09 May 2018 | Story Supplied. Photo Supplied. Read time 3 min.
Eye-opener: To celebrate their 75th anniversary, SHAWCO launched a 750 km journey to provide health services to four rural communities in May.
Eye-opener: To celebrate their 75th anniversary, SHAWCO launched a 750 km journey to provide health services to four rural communities in May.

The Students Health and Welfare Centres Organisation’s (SHAWCO) 750 km health tour to celebrate the organisation’s 75th anniversary was an unforgettable experience for the volunteers – and the communities they treated.

The #750kmforSHAWCO initiative is the brainchild of medical student Liam Devenish, head of SHAWCO Clinics. It was an experience that the 50 SHAWCO volunteers, the volunteer doctors, nurses, dentist and occupational therapists will not forget soon, he says.

HIV tests, diabetes tests, vaccinations, breastfeeding assistance for mothers, health promotion and training community health leaders were just some of the services offered along their route.

On the final night of the outreach to bring free healthcare services to farmworkers and rural communities in Clanwilliam, Swellendam, Zoar and Slanghoek, James van Duuren, SHAWCO health president, thanked the volunteers and shared the “glorying reviews” from the communities that they visited.

Taxing conditions

Conditions were often taxing on the road. They had to scramble to their campsite in the dark on the first night, hold down gazebos in treacherous winds, and function as red sand blew through a space where their mobile clinic was set up. They were also confronted by the dire poverty, lack of resources and level of need of the hundreds of people who visited the clinics during the outreach.

But the outcome was eye-opening; different from anything they had imagined, says Van Duuren. Having travelled more than 1 000 km, many of the students returned with a greater appreciation, not only of what they have, but of their vocation.

Many shared a vision to make health more accessible, speaking of SHAWCO’s value as a vehicle and an opportunity to enhance their learning and understanding – and to equip them for the future. It was also about working together, starting with offloading their equipment and supplies along a human chain at each stop.

This SHAWCO partnership with the Trust for Community Outreach and Education touched the hearts and lives many. At one of the sites, the children got together and shouted: “SHAWCO! SHAWCO! SHAWCO!”

As one of the community members in Slanghoek commented, “Ek’s gelukkig ek het die dokter kom sien [I am happy I came to see the doctor].”

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Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO)


The Students' Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO) runs various health and education programmes. Approximately 2 000 UCT students are involved.

The community partnership and social entrepreneurship programmes, that address inequality, are managed by 32 full-time and 5 part-time professional staff.

Operating in the Western and Eastern Cape, the health programme provides primary healthcare to 5 000 adults and children (annually) close to their homes, with fully equipped mobile clinics.

The education programme gives academic support and homework assistance to 1 300 learners weekly with structured education projects that help improve the academic ability of learners.


In the news

Support SHAWCO’s 750 km birthday health drive To celebrate their 75th anniversary, the Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO) has launched a 750 km health drive in the province from 3 to 7 May. 24 Apr 2018
SHAWCO: 75 years of giving back SHAWCO is celebrating its 75th anniversary with a fundraising drive to secure future efforts to promote healthcare and education in the community. 28 Feb 2018
A start that is more than a beginning SHAWCO’s Saturday School aims to improve matric results and assist youngsters from under-resourced schools to gain entrance to the tertiary education system. 02 Feb 2018
SHAWCO: celebrating 75 years of service SHAWCO is turning 75 and aims to raise R75 million to ensure the continued provision of healthcare, education and development services to the community. 23 Nov 2017
SHAWCO Health’s new president Fifth-year medical student James van Duuren is the newly appointed president of SHAWCO Health for 2018. 19 Oct 2017