Sharing is caring

Emeka Okeke
Nurturing and caring are two qualities that students on the Tygerberg campus embrace – not only as part of their studies, but also in their daily human interaction.
A project which entails the establishment of communal pantry where needy students can get food and other basic necessities has received dedicated support from students and staff, but more help is needed to ensure the sustainability of the project. 
The first pantry was established at the Tygerberg Student Council (TSC) office when the administrative head, Adri Brits, realised that there were needy students at the Tygerberg Campus but that it wasn’t always possible to get assistance from main campus straight away. “So we started keeping some non-perishable food items in the office to give to students,” says Brits.
The idea caught on and soon another pantry started at one of the residences on the Tygerberg Campus, home of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.
“The Kerkenberg pantry started in my room,” says Emeka Okeke, a final-year MB,ChB student and Kerkenberg resident who himself went without food during difficult times in his third and fourth years. “I didn’t know who to ask for help, but my friends noticed that I was distancing myself and losing weight, so I told them what was going on and they pulled together to help me.
“I realised that there were other students like me and since then my room has become a collection and distribution point for food and other items,” says Okeke.
The project has grown and in addition to the two collection and distribution points (the TSR office in the Tygerberg Student Centre (TSC) and the Kerkenberg residence), ‘drop boxes’ have also been placed around campus where staff and students can make donations, and ‘in-house’ pantries are being planned for other residences at the campus.
“Tygerberg students need a place on their own campus where they can get immediate help, and that’s what we are trying to do,” says Brits.
Initially only non-perishable food items such as canned and dried foods were collected, but recently toiletries, including sanitary products, have also been included. The project leaders are also calling for donations of used text books, scrubs and white coats that can be passed on to students who can’t afford to buy these items. Financial donations have also been channelled to needy students.
“You don’t expect this level of poverty among university students because you think that either their parents are looking after them or they have bursaries,” says Okeke. “But some students with bursaries are actually the breadwinners in their homes.”
Many students have never been taught how to work with money and struggle to make their allowances last the whole month. “We are looking at ways to help students manage their money better and are planning to provide students with financial advice to help them plan their budgets,” says Okeke.
Access to the pantry at Kerkenberg is largely based on trust and during the three years it has been running there has only been one incident where someone took food unnecessarily. “The point is not to police it, otherwise the people who really need it won’t have access to it,” says Okeke. In fact, people who contribute to the pantry at Kerkenberg are also encouraged to take from it so that the needy students don’t get singled out or treated differently.
“So I sometimes go to the pantry and take things and other times I go and add items, and I encourage others to do the same. That way, apart from me, nobody knows who is needy,” says Okeke.
In order to keep the project going after he graduates at the end of the year, Okeke is handing the reigns of the Kerkenberg pantry over to younger students. The Department of Paediatrics and Child Health have launched a project through which Kerkenberg residents can earn grocery vouchers from Pick ‘n Pay by reading to patients in the Tygerberg Children’s Hospital. “We are very grateful to Paediatrics for the support they have given to students, and we challenging other departments to do the same,” says Okeke.
He also gave special thanks to everyone that supports the project, in particular Adri Brits, Dr Karin Baatjes (Department of Surgical Sciences), Dr Lizel Smit (Department of Paediatrics and Child Health) and Prof Andrew Levin (Department of Anaesthesiology and Critical Care).
“This is a symptom of the bigger issue of poverty, but the problem we are faced with is that students need to study, but they are hungry and they need food. A packet of two-minute noodles is so much more than that for a hungry students – it is a meal that keeps them going for the whole day. And we are very grateful for every donation we receive, however big or small,” says Okeke.
This year the theme of “giving” is part of the FMHS’s 60th celebrations. “This is a wonderful example of Ubuntu on our campus where students and staff are pulling together to help each other,” says Ms Ronel Bester, Strategic Relations Manager of the FMHS. “As part of the faculty’s 60th celebrations this year we hope to further nurture a culture of caring and giving between everyone on the Tygerberg campus. We encourage staff members to bring whatever items they can manage on a monthly basis to help our students who are sometimes in dire need.”
Donations of non-perishable food and toiletries can be dropped off at the TSC office in room 2005 in the Tygerberg Student Centre (TSS), or placed in the collection boxes in the Clinical Building (in front of room 1038) or the TSS (in front of Fedics). Used textbooks and clothes can also be dropped off at the TSC office. Call Adri Brits at 021 931 1921 for more information.
Wilma Stassen