When representatives from the Mandela Foundation heard at a meeting earlier this year how Rhodes University Community Engagement (RUCE) operates, they quietly slid their business cards across the table and said to Di Hornby and Nosipho Mngomezulu, 'We need to talk."
A few days later, they did. Director Hornby and student volunteer programme co-ordinator Mngomezulu were in Cape Town, meeting members of the Foundation and others about the Human Chain. The nationwide project was carried out earlier this year in honour of Nelson Mandela. In Grahamstown it was led by Rhodes Community Engagement (RUCE).
What the Mandela Foundation liked was RUCE's emphasis on what they term asset-based engagement.
“We've done development in South Africa in welfare-ish ways - ways that have done more harm than good," Hornby told Grocott's Mail this week. "In the past, we've deepened dependency and messed with people's confidence.
"Now we're undoing what we've learnt in the past."
Last week Rhodes ran its community engagement awareness week, where RUCE was at pains to explain its shift towards partnerships in which both benefit and learn from each other.
"During that week, (Vice-Chancellor) Dr Saleem Badat emphasised that community engagement is not only about experiential learning for students, but how communities benefit from partnerships.
"He was emphatic that Rhodes needs to contribute to transforming society;' Hornby said.
"It's got to be more than just that warm, fuzzy feeling," Mngomezulu said. "It's important that Rhodes graduates know how to develop relationships with communities and are socially conscious."
This approach has guided the RUCE's Mandela Day plans over the past two years: they invented a concept called Trading Live, in which individuals and organisations exchanged skills for that day.
It proved so popular that this year, the project will for over a week and Hornby and Mngomezulu expect more than 200 participants.
"What we've shown is that people are really keen to do something," Hornby said. "They just want to be pointed in the right direction."
In addition, this year, the Mandela Foundation has asked Rhodes University Community Engagement to guide the rollout of similar projects nationwide.
Another shift this year, said Mngomezulu, was that they sought to thread together efforts for more impact.
"It's fine that someone gives a ballet class, or organises some games for kids. But what we're trying to do now is get them to do that in a way that fits with an overall theme of wellness."
Mandela Week this year is from Friday 18 to Friday 25 July. Mngomezulu said the unit's offices had T-shirts in stock.
By Sue Maclennan
Source: Grocott’s MailSource: Grocott's Mail
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