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26 February 2020 | Story Leonie Bolleurs
Vegetable tunnels
Two vegetable tunnels were recently established on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus to contribute to the fight against food insecurity.

Food insecurity is a problem on university campuses worldwide. The three campuses of the University of the Free State (UFS) are not exempt from this plight. Research findings indicate that more than 64% of students at the university go through periods of hunger.

Annelize Visagie, , from the Division of Student Affairs who is heading the Food Environment Office at the UFS, confirms that food insecurity at higher education institutions is not a new phenomenon.

In a study with first-year students as focus, Visagie found that academic performance declines and coping mechanisms increase as the severity of food insecurity increases.

“Students use different coping mechanisms, with an alarming percentage of students (40,6%) using fasting as an excuse to friends for not having food, 60% of students skipping meals because they do not have enough money, and 43,2% of students being too embarrassed to ask for help.”

Visagie states that various factors contribute to this alarming scenario, with the main reason being that the majority of students come from impoverished economic and social circumstances. This suggests that although students receive NSFAS funding or any other bursary, it is not a guarantee that they are food secure.

Focus on student wellbeing
Aligning with the UFS strategic goal of improving student success and wellbeing, UFS staff is working hard to implement initiatives and obtain sponsorships and food donations to ensure that students do not go hungry.

Members of the university’s Food Environment Project, Drs Johan van Niekerk and JW Swanepoel from the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Development and Extension (CENSARDE), and Karen Scheepers from the Division of Student Affairs who is heading KovsieAct partnered to move the existing vegetable tunnels on the UFS experimental farm to the Bloemfontein Campus.

The construction of the tunnels and boxes was financed by Tiger Brands. Professor Michael Rudolph and Dr Evans Muchesa who are involved with the Siyakhana Food Gardens, assisted with the training of students and consultation throughout the project.

The two tunnels (30 m x 10 m each) are covered with netting, and two water tanks with pumps are fitted to provide the necessary irrigation.

Vegetables add value
Dr Swanepoel explains: “In each tunnel there are 20 raised wooden boxes. Each residence received one box where they planted one type of vegetable crop, including Swiss chard, cabbage, carrots, beet, kale, and broccoli.”

Residence Committee members from all on- and off-campus student communities in civic and social-responsibility portfolios, as well as civic and social-responsibility student associations, received the necessary training to plant vegetables.

The vegetables were planted in mid-February and the first harvest is expected around mid-April.

This initiative, which will help students in the near future to keep the hunger pangs at bay in a healthy way, adds to the existing No Student Hungry programme. Visagie says it is important for the university to assist students in making healthy choices and to educate them on decisions to secure nutritional food for themselves.

In addition, the university also received food parcels from Rise Against Hunger, together with donations from organisations such as Gift of the Givers – providing 200 food parcels to students on the Qwaqwa Campus, and the recent donation from Tiger Brands – providing 500 food parcels to students.

News Archive

Victory lies beyond the moment
2017-12-25


 Description: 2017 Victory lies beyond the moment Tags: 2017 Victory lies beyond the moment 

Mokoena learns a new skill at the Learning Festival arranged
by the Centre for Community Engagement.
Photo: Igno van Niekerk

For Mokoena it was just a regular day. Another day. Another rush. As a taxi driver you get used to the adrenaline, taking gaps, foot on the accelerator. Alert. Honking hooters. Angry drivers.

Then it came out of nowhere. A stroke. The one side of his body was going numb. What was happening? What about his job? His income? His life?

Fast-forward a few years.

I meet Mokoena at the Learning Festival arranged by the Centre for Community Engagement, in association with Bloemshelter on the University of the Free State’s Bloemfontein Campus. A reserved young man, Mokoena is busy at one of the stands where a range of people from rural communities come to learn new skills. At no cost. They then go back to teach the skills they learnt in their communities. Job creation, that’s the philosophy: as you develop, you need to develop others. 

When I talk to Karen Venter, Head of Service Learning at the Centre for Community Engagement, the stories are overwhelming. “There was the lady who attended 19 workshops in two days. She went back to her community, shared her knowledge and became an entrepreneur helping others take care of themselves.”

New skills
Mokoena is also here to acquire new skills. After his stroke he was told by occupational therapy students about a project that teaches you to build your own house with raw materials. He takes out his cellphone with a sense of pride. Scrolls through some pictures: “This is my house. I built it from all kinds of things, cow manure, bottles, clay, other people’s rubbish.” The pictures show a house in a neat environment. Solid. Proud. A lot of healing came with building the house. Karen explains: “The physical work he was doing, pushing a wheelbarrow and working, but more than that – the knowledge that he could take charge, make a difference, work on a dream – the healing power of a sense of purpose. He became stronger and more confident.”

Victory 
Mokoena walks back to the sewing workshop he was attending before sharing his story. The buzz continues inside the Equitas Building where artisans, entrepreneurs and UFS staff are sharing their skills. Sewing machines hum away and infrequent beeps sound from a table where an excited group of non-scientists have just completed the building of circuits. Faces light up with every beep. Hands raised. Fists clenched. Victory!

But the victory lies beyond the moment. It’s in the confidence, the learning, and the sharing that will be taking place when these people go back to their communities. Some will participate in research projects; others will benefit from curricular requirements leading students into distant communities, and others will be hosting workshops at the next Learning Festival. 

And there will be more great stories. Like Mokoena’s.

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