03 August 2020 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Supplied
Aina Mupupa: Housing and Residence Affairs Senior Officer. Photo below: Elizabeth Maritz, Mathematics and Applied Mathematics Lecturer.

It has been more than a month since the ‘I Am’ Wellness programme was launched on 24 June 2020 . Being the first of its kind at the University of the Free State (UFS) and in South Africa, the online short learning course has received a positive response from participants. 

Elizabeth Maritz, a Mathematics and Applied Mathematics lecturer, as well as Aina Mupupa, who is a Senior Officer at the UFS Housing and Residence Affairs, shared their experiences of the programme thus far.

The programme was designed to alleviate the stress that comes with working from home during the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-9) national lockdown. Carmine Nieman, who coordinates the programme in her capacity as Organisational Development Specialist at the UFS Department of Human Resources, explained that it was developed to increase the wellbeing of employees and to enable them to reach their optimal potential in their working and personal lives. 

Waging war on boundaries to wellbeing

Maritz said she has found the programme to add to her wellbeing during this time. It is “incredibly well-designed and it is clear how much thought, effort and specialist knowledge has gone into it”.

The objective at the core of any course is to educate and empower. Maritz’s experience proves this to be true. “One of the units deals with self-acceptance, describing it as the ability to accept yourself regardless of whether or not you behave correctly or intelligently, or whether others love, approve or respect you as a person. 
“This was useful and reassuring and served as a reminder to be more accepting of your flaws or unmet expectations during this time,” Maritz said.

Has the programme impacted her work-life balance? She said taking the programme has given her renewed energy. “I was worried about how it would affect my already overloaded schedule, but so far the units are manageable and the activities are of such a nature that I feel refreshed and more capable of doing my other tasks after completing them,” she added.

As a young academic and a parent, Maritz has come to value the effect of health and wellness on her everyday life. She believes that “mental health can often be neglected, albeit unintentionally, in the pursuit of personal and professional development, but it is actually vital for both”.

Learning while living in lockdown

Mupupa said the ‘I Am’ Wellness programme could not have come at a better time. In addition to being motivating, she found the first module to be upskilling and a resourceful precursor to the second module, which she anticipates will support her continued growth. 

One of her most notable takeaway points is the practice of keeping a journal as a way to ensure fit mental health. “Journalling has really been a great tool with regards to dealing with the new normal. I learned a new way of journalling in which I intentionally write down the positives,” said Mupupa. 

In spite of having to work extra hard and always being on standby for emergencies during the pandemic, she said, “the programme has equipped me with some ideas on how to handle stressful situations, how to identify when I really need to take a break, and the importance of exercise”.

Learning to adjust to the changes and challenges of the lockdown led Mupupa to read motivational books in order to keep her spirits up. She highly recommends the ‘I Am’ Wellness programme, particularly as an opportunity to gain coping skills in these trying times.

Mental health remains a huge concern for institutions during the pandemic. For this reason, staff members as well as external participants are invited to join the ‘programme. Click here for the application forms and more details.

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