Celebrating women in community engagementDate Released: Fri, 31 August 2018 12:54 +0200
By Adrienne Carlisle, contributing writer
Rhodes University master’s student, Thandiswa Nqowana, is tackling the Grahamstown water issue and uplifting the community at the same time.
Water scarcity and quality in the Makana Municipal area have represented a major issue bedevilling residents for more than a decade. When municipal water is available, it is often discoloured or foul-smelling, leaving residents insecure about whether or not it is safe to drink.
This is the reality Nqowana grew up with and one she was determined to help Grahamstown residents confront. According to Nqowana: “Water scarcity is indirectly influenced by the quality of water available to people. Polluted water can’t be used for drinking, bathing, industrial or agricultural purposes, and reduces the amount of useable water available.”
Nqowana, together with senior Pharmacy lecturer Professor Roman Tandlich and Dr Sharli Paphitis from the Community Engagement Division at Rhodes University, became part of an ambitious water quality science engagement programme between the University and the Grahamstown community to monitor water quality in the area. It became the subject of her master’s thesis. Nqowana said: “Grahamstown is my community. I want to give back. And in doing so I too am benefitted as we work together to find solutions for problems and to make our spaces better and safer.”
The programme involved 90 Grade 9 pupils from three local schools who were introduced to Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) water testing kits. The kits test for microbial contamination in water which make it unsafe for human consumption.
The first part of the programme involved training third-year Pharmacy student volunteers in basic facilitation skills so that they could assist in workshops at schools. Together with Nqowana, the student volunteers offered workshops to students at the schools on water conservation and the importance of water quality on health and wellbeing.
Learners were supplied with the H2S water testing kits with English, IsiXhosa and Afrikaans manuals. Nqowana explained that following this: “Over the next three weeks, the learners tested the tap water at home using the kit. They then reported back to us and we recorded their results.”
This was followed up by a fun competition with learners producing posters on water conservation and the importance of water quality. The learners had also contributed to making the kits – which had initially looked similar to urine testing kits – more colourful and appealing and less intimidating. Some of the water quality results reported by learners had been alarming, leading to further research and engagement with the municipality on the reasons behind the poor water quality. The results were also communicated to parents, learners and teachers via SMS as was the need to boil the water before using it.
Nqowana said the relationship between the schools, Rhodes University, the volunteers and the learners was a dynamic, fun and interesting one. “They learnt from us and we learnt so much from them.”
The intention is to take what was learnt from the pilot and educate the community more widely on using the kits and obtaining vital, regular results. She is also using the results to map the problem areas.
Nqowana is adamant about the importance of research and teaching having a community engagement or service-learning aspect. According to her, “Every course we offer should have a service learning aspect where every senior student has the opportunity to go out and share information and interact with the community to see how we can benefit from each other. We need to build a relationship between the community and the courses offered at the University and the research it undertakes.”