From volunteer to passionate advocate for community education

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The Vice-Chancellor's 2020 Distinguished Community Engagement winner, Mapula Maponya flanked by Rhodes University's leadership and her fiance Jarmo Kalinski.
The Vice-Chancellor's 2020 Distinguished Community Engagement winner, Mapula Maponya flanked by Rhodes University's leadership and her fiance Jarmo Kalinski.

By Lindeka Namba, School of Journalism and Media Studies student


On Wednesday, 20 October, the 2020 Vice Chancellor's Distinguished Community Engagement Award public lecture was held at the Amazwi Museum of Literature and virtually by the award recipient Ms Mapula Maponya.

Maponya's award was first announced at the Rhodes University virtual Graduation in April 2021. Maponya is a lecturer at the Allan Gray Centre for Leadership Ethics (AGCLE) and coordinator for the Centres flagship engaged ethics course, 'IiNtetho zoBomi'.

The Award is a prestigious and competitive annual award that recognises meaningful and committed community-university partnerships between the members of the University and community in the areas of teaching, learning and research.

The Award is given annually to an individual who has demonstrated to a panel of peers that their community engagement work is truly distinguished. It is awarded in instances where human and material resources of Rhodes University have been combined with assets found in local communities to contribute to sustainable human and community development.

Rhodes University Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs, Dr ‘Mabokang Monnapula-Mapesela, explained that the award recognises and celebrates excellence and dedication to community engagement. She described Maponya as someone who has shown how service-learning can catalyse significant transformation within the Department of Philosophy, meaningfully contributing to the discipline's knowledge production and dissemination process. "Her passion for education and commitment to community engagement with a decade of experience shines through her work," said Monnapula-Mapesela.

Maponya gave her lecture on the power of good community partnership in service-learning programmes. She began her address by thanking her family, friends and community members who have been instrumental in her journey, giving special thanks to Mam’ Lungi, who taught her the value of good community partnerships on her first volunteering experience at Little Flower Day Care Centre. "I remember the first day I went to the daycare; I was so nervous. I did not know what to expect. But I was excited to learn from the teachers and assist with classroom activities," said Maponya. "When I arrived, I opened the gate, and this beautiful woman walked towards me with a huge smile on her face," she fondly recalled.

Maponya briefly chronicled how she began as a student leader at the Rhodes University Community Engagement (RUCE) Division and then as a service-learning coordinator at the AGCLE. She then described the work she does at the AGCLE and how it contributes to community development. She also described the work she does in her community partner school, Archie Mbolekwa Primary School, in detail and acknowledged some of the challenges they faced in the project during the national lockdown period. She spoke about how they tackled and overcame these and maintained good communication and engagement with the learners.

Principal of Archie Mbolekwa Primary School said: "Ms Maponya is a true community leader. She is passionate about the Makhanda community, especially the previously disadvantaged. She aims to use education to end the cycle of poverty as experienced by the learners and their parents." He further described Maponya as an "asset to the community", citing that her dedication and accompanying zeal makes her tackle challenges with great enthusiasm.

In her closing remarks, Maponya thanked the RUCE office, her colleagues, community partners and parents of learners, who all make it easier for her to do her job. She encouraged students to participate in community projects and for academics to implement service-learning components into their courses across the various departments. She is currently completing her PhD at Rhodes University on service-learning using IiNtetho zoBomi as a case study.