Sibongumenzi Mtshali is a fourth-year medical student at the FMHS and is the student coordinator for the Dean’s Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability.
In an extremely competitive academic environment with long hours spent in class, poring over course material and in hospital trying to apply all the knowledge acquired over the years, it is little wonder that medicine and health sciences students can lose sight of what’s happening around them.
Stellenbosch University’s (SU) Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) has introduced a Vegetable Garden Club, offering students some ‘green time’ in the sun and therapy in the form of gardening.
The Vegetable Garden Club was founded in 2018 by the Dean’s Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability (DACES) in an effort to introduce even more green spaces at the university’s Tygerberg Campus, where the FMHS is based. Over the course of the past year, the Vegetable Garden Club has come to stand for more than just a green space on campus. It is a space students can use to cope with stress, form and strengthen relationships and play a role in fulfilling other students’ basic needs, all while interacting with the natural surroundings.
Being at university is a very stressful time in one’s life, there are so many obstacles to navigate and it begins to be even more difficult when you don’t have coping mechanisms in place.
This is especially important as the statistics for mental health problems among university students are alarming: according to 2018 South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) statistics, 1 in 4 university students have been diagnosed with depression, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported in 2017 that suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst university students.
The Vegetable Garden Club provides an outlet for stress. Spending time in the garden – be it planting or watering your vegetable patch is a great way to end off a taxing day or start the week on a positive note. This is in tune with the current movement in mental health spaces to improve individuals’ wellbeing through ‘green therapy’ and gardening forms a part of this.
This is also a great networking space and it not only means one more familiar face to greet on campus but also that you are able to connect with people outside of the garden and form good working and social relationships. For example, I joined the Vegetable Garden Club with one of my close friends last year and it has fortified our friendship. It also really helps to recognise someone you met in the garden when you walk around the sometimes daunting corridors of the hospital.
By far the most important aspect of the Vegetable Garden Club is our partnership with the Tygerberg Pantry Project to ensure food security for students on campus. For me, it is of little sense to dedicate our lives to saving patients in hospital when we cannot make a difference to our colleagues on campus. For this reason, I am most excited about the aforementioned collaboration.
A portion of the vegetables we harvest will be donated to the Tygerberg Pantry Project and from there on distributed to the various residences’ pantries so that those students who are in need may be able to access the food within their residences.
Whatever is not donated to other students is kept by the members of the Vegetable Garden Club and they will use it as they see fit. This is also helpful because those members who are in need have direct access to their own produce or if they know of someone in need they will be able to share with that individual.
The Vegetable Garden Club is very close to my heart because it is exactly the type of initiative that our campus needs. It addresses an array of issues that our students often struggle with and also helps to develop skills that we’ll need in the workplace in future.
The Tygerberg Campus Vegetable Garden is situated at the back of the sports fields on the side of Tygerberg Hospital. The Vegetable Garden Club is virtual group subscribing to a Whatsapp group where information is shared. Meeting times for specific activities like bed preparation and planting are discussed on the group as the need arises.
Currently all the areas are occupied. People interested to join the group for the next planting season in September can contact Christine Groenewald email@example.com,