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Celebrating Women in Community Engagement – Nosi Ngqwala

Date Released: Fri, 31 August 2018 14:47 +0200

Words by Anima McBrown

Dr Nosiphiwe ‘Nosi’ Ngqwala has charted an inspiring personal, professional and academic journey at Rhodes University thus far. Dr Ngqwala has a PhD in Pharmaceutical chemistry. She is also a Hall Fellow at Hobson House and a Faculty advisor for Enactus Society. In 2014, Dr Ngqwala founded Children of the Soil (COTS) – a Non-Profit Organisation – as a directsolution to some of the challenges she has identified in Grahamstown.

he art of wearing different hats is no novelty to her. She has fulfilled many rewarding roles: as a student, a volunteer, a tutor, a mentor, a faculty advisor, a director, a board member, and of course a senior lecturer in the Department of Pharmacy. Her vast experience working with university students, primary-and-high school learners, teachers, and Grahamstown community members has revealed that more can still be done to address the need for teaching and learning around environmental awareness in our immediate local setting.

This young academic has centred her research and community involvements on teaching, learning and innovating in the areas of: (i) health, (ii) food and water security, (iii) minimising negative impacts on our economy caused by environmental neglect, (iv) climate change, (v) better management of environmental waste, (vi) preserving our natural habitats, and (vii) community-strengthening. At the heart of all her projects is a passion for community building, youth upliftment and environmental education.

What makes her research, and the research of other pioneering academics like her, so important is that it is combined with critical engagement in action, aiming to make tangible differences in the lives of the people of Grahamstown. “I am a community builder and a committed citizen,” says Dr Ngqwala, “my academic titles and my other positions come after that”. She believes that her work, her PhD and her achievements should not be celebrated if they cannot be used to effect real changes in the lives and experiences of locals in the communities.

In 2014, Dr Ngqwala founded Children of the Soil (COTS) – a Non-Profit Organisation – as a direct solution to some of the challenges she has identified in Grahamstown. COTS aims to engage students and community members on important issues of climate change and food security. Dr Ngqwala’s intention is for COTS to become an enabling space for people – considered as the real “change-drivers” – to empower themselves with the knowledge, skills and expertise needed for sustainable development at a grassroots level. Her focus on children and young people is catalysed by the potential she sees in school curricula to incorporate critical environmental education at the earlier schooling stages. Her well-known slogan, “catch them young”, speaks to her belief in developing environmental awareness in children from a young age.

For learners, COTS has contributed towards skills and ideas development for major schooling events such as the Science Expo, during Grahamstown’s annual Science Festival.

For community members and local organisations, a lot of work has been done in teaching people how to grow and sustain their own food gardens. This includes projects on water purification filters, water testing kits and grey water treatment systems in the townships.

Dr Ngqwala also works with a number of Rhodes University societies and residences. COTS community partners include: RU’s Community Engagement office (RUCE), the Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC), Grahamstown’s local schools, and Rhini’s Assumption Development Centre (ADC).

Community engagement is already a major part of teaching, learning and research in universities, but funding issues still persist. Despite the challenges these initiatives, projects and platforms are overcoming there are still serious socioeconomic gaps that exist. If community engagement is going to leave lasting impacts on the people and in the places it locates itself in, then more practical application (dynamic theory in action) is needed to further lift and uphold the good work that is already being done through various enriched community activities.

Going beyond the formal and academic roles assumed in the university space, and integrating one’s work into the lives of everyday people: that is what Dr Ngqwala embodies. About when, where and who should be expected to fill the gaps in the province’s current education market, she asked and answered those questions in herself first. She has never doubted that the goal to see the Eastern Cape’s education system truly transformed begins with her, right now and right here – in this special town where she has been placed to make real contributions towards the public good. “Every day I learn and am humbled to realise that the little you can do truly does go a long way,” she says.

Dr Ngqwala’s highly informed and constructive research, together with her community engagement, reminds us that over and above who you are, where you come from, and where you are planning on going – it is fundamental to be able to give and share with meaning in your community. “Anyone can do it” remarks Dr Ngqwala.

Source:Community Engagement Directorate