Giving students food for thought

Zandile Mbabela

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HOLISTIC CARE: Project coordinator Nomatemba Pongwa hands over a food parcel to a student. The campus clinic assists 900 students with hampers each month. Picture: FREDLIN ADRIAAN
HOLISTIC CARE: Project coordinator Nomatemba Pongwa hands over a food parcel to a student. The campus clinic assists 900 students with hampers each month. Picture: FREDLIN ADRIAAN

WHAT started out as a little help to one or two malnourished students more than a decade ago has evolved into a major feeding initiative, with 900 Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) students reliant on the campus clinic for a regular balanced meal.

Having noticed 10 years ago that some students were not getting the necessary daily nutrients, head of campus health services Sister Antoinette Goosen went on a mission to ensure no students had to attend lectures on an empty stomach.

Today Goosen and her staff ensure about 900 students get food parcels – including rice, mielie meal, samp and beans, tinned foods and cereal – to take home.

“These students are expected to sit in class and concentrate, study and pass, but how on earth can they do that on an empty stomach?” Goosen asked.

She said the food clinic was started on a small scale in the early 2000s when staff noticedstudents were undernourished. She and her staff decided to help out and started off by giving malnourished students Morvite porridge.

“We would have students coming in for something and we would see that they were not eating well. Upon interviewing them, we’d realise there was not enough money for food at home.

“We never had financial support in the form of a designated budget. After seeing that students could not live on Morvite alone, we approached the NMMU Trust – which does outreach programmes to source funding or support for certain projects – and shortly after that Tiger Brands came on board.

“They gave us monthly food donations and through their support, along with a few supermarkets and the community at large, we were able to put together parcels that would make up a balanced meal.”

Goosen said the need for feeding had vastly increased over the years.

The annual delay in the payment of National Student Financial Aid Scheme food allocations meant students reliant on the loan would flock to the clinic just to be able to get by.

“The university’s various academic faculties collect canned food from students and donate it to us, and the Agriculture Department helped us start a small vegetable garden on campus.”

Students are usually referred to the clinic by lecturers or student counselling officers.

“Unfortunately poverty is a reality in our society,” Goosen said. “[The food] is often not enough to last a whole month. For our off-campus students, particularly, there is a greater need because the food is shared with families. As much as we are about helping students, we are also aware they are part of a bigger community.”

The commitment of Goosen and her staff to students’ holistic wellbeing has not gone unnoticed.

University spokeswoman Roslyn Baatjies said Goosen’s dedication to students’ health and welfare was a reflection of one of NMMU’s core values, ubuntu.

“She goes the extra mile and the NMMU community recognises her efforts.”


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