Ukwanda is a Xhosa word meaning to grow and develop. It is also the name of a rural health project run from the Tygerberg Medical Campus of Stellenbosch University in Cape Town. CFHI, with a generous grant from the Dickler Family Foundation, has helped to fund part of this project to bring more healthcare to Avian Park, an underserved community near Woster in the rural area well north of Cape Town.
Long story short, they are building on the success of a TB clinic, which was the only healthcare in this community. Once people saw their neighbors responding to TB treatment, the numbers of patients willing to come for treatment began to climb. Now they are increasing visits to homes in the community and beginning distribution of antiretroviral medication (ARVs) for the treatment of HIV/AIDS. The hope is to add more regular visits by a doctor and bring primary care to this community.
While it is still a work in progress and well on its way to success, the story behind the story is fascinating. Stellenbosch University was a bastion of Apartheid. Among its graduates are a number of the country’s prime ministers during the Apartheid regime. It still has a majority white student population but the diversity of its student body is increasing. Even for years after the change to majority rule, to think that Stellenbosch University would be successful leading an initiative to build strong relationships with multiracial rural communities would simply not have made any sense. It is wonderful to see the progress that has been made here. The university has hired a diverse team and has supported their efforts to build the relationships necessary for successful collaboration at the grassroots level. Working to earn the support of the local Rotary Club, local politicians, community leaders, and even seeking out the strongest voices block to block, the university has committed its time, talent, and funding to truly engage the community.
I met with Lindsay Meyer, who is coordinating the community engagement on this project for the university, and it is easy to see that her heart and soul are completely committed to its success. By building the support that she has, she managed to find the creative solutions when road block after road block surfaced along the way. She has taken her guidance from the leadership of the university as all the resources of the university have been made available to this project. From agriculture, to education to law and even theater, the various parts of the university have had a hand in this project. The process of acquiring land for the project has been assisted by the legal faculty; the soil was tested and found suitable for a community garden by the agriculture faculty and students; education programs have been set up and educational storytelling through drama has engaged the community even more.
Lindsay sees her work as cutting edge and it truly is. We congratulate Lindsay, her team and Stellenbosch University for doing what it takes to make this project a real part of the community and not just a satellite office of the university.