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28 November 2023 | Story Michelle Nöthling | Photo Andile Andries Ndlovu
Nelisiwe Vilakazi and Abigail Webb
Nelisiwe Vilakazi (Head of Department for Social Development: KZN) and Abigail Webb during the ASASWEI International Conference and Awards 2023.

In a remarkable feat, Abigail ‘Zinhle’ Webb has clinched the prestigious Best Student Achievement Award from the Association of South African Social Work Education Institutions (ASASWEI), standing out among the nation's top-ranking students. This accolade, beyond acknowledging academic prowess, demands a notable contribution to the community – a criterion Abigail undeniably fulfils.

Elizabeth Msadu, Assistant Director of Student Counselling and Development and Abigail’s supervisor during her final year in Social Work at the University of the Free State (UFS) commends Abigail for  “her passion, integrity, high standards, and perhaps most of all, how selflessly she strives to improve the lives of the students around her.” 

Community engagement: breaking taboos

Abigail's success is not confined to academic excellence; her proactive approach to community issues is equally commendable. Observing the free condom container in her residence bathroom one day, she questioned the absence of support for female students regarding sanitary products. She found that “there is still immense shame around vaginal health.” This led to the initiation of workshops and the #comebleedwithusperiod social media challenge, normalising discussions around women’s menstrual health.

During her tenure on Akasia’s Residence Committee and as Prime this year, Abigail identified a reluctance among female students to assume leadership roles. Questioning this disparity, she launched a project aimed at addressing female apprehension surrounding leadership and failure. Through this initiative, Abigail empowered female students to embrace leadership positions and overcome societal expectations. 

Future plans: a commitment to growth

While Abigail is drawn to child and family services, and adoption work, she plans to gain practical experience before pursuing a Master’s degree. Inspired by the researchers she encountered at the ASASWEI conference and award ceremony, she expresses her newfound interest in research, envisioning a future where she actively contributes to the field.

Time well spent: reflecting on four years

Reflecting on her proudest achievements she said, “I think I’m most proud that I spent my time well. I lived to my fullest during my four years of study.” Recognising the crucial role of belonging in student success, she emphasises the significance of forming connections. From a shy, first-year student with a stutter, Abigail evolved into a dynamic force, dedicated to connecting and serving the community. 

As Abigail approaches the end of her studies, she acknowledges the uncertainty of the next step but asserts with confidence, “It’s going to be okay. I’m going to be okay.”

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