Celebrating 70 years: SHAWCO then and now

7 Oct 2013 - 13:00

Shawco clinic in the 50's

Then: Community members congregate outside the SHAWCO clinic in the late 1950s, in the area known as Kensington-Windermere, now Kensington and Factreton.

Seventy years ago a UCT student saw a community in need and decided to do something about it.

Andrew Kinnear, a UCT medical student, supported by Dr Golda Selzer from the Groote Schuur Pathology Department, established the Kensington Students' Clinic in 1943 to address the health issues encountered in the area.

The Kensington clinic, together with two others established later in Retreat and Elsies River, would form the backbone of what would become the Students' Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO). SHAWCO was formally approved by the University Council and was registered as a welfare organisation in 1954.

Today SHAWCO Health coordinates six clinics per week, which operate at night, and see an average of 5 000 patients per year. SHAWCO Education manages 11 projects that cater to over a thousand children. In order to remain sustainable, SHAWCO Social Enterprises (Pty) Ltd was created, and currently contributes half of SHAWCO's income. The revenue generated through the social enterprise projects is reinvested into the communities SHAWCO serves.

According to Jonathan Hoffenberg, SHAWCO education coordinator, since its establishment the organisation has reflected the changing nature of the UCT community as well as that of broader Cape Town.

"Post-apartheid Cape Town presented SHAWCO with a new mixture of adversity and opportunity. Along with the changing nature of UCT, SHAWCO now reflects a diverse volunteer student core. Gone is the statutory and welfare work, health clinics are now mobile, and education projects see UCT students travelling into townships Monday to Saturday in an engagement that is more about mutual development and support," concludes Hoffenberg.

Emphasis on development and sustainability

This shift from statutory social and welfare work to development is evident in the type of projects undertaken by SHAWCO today.

One of SHAWCO's current projects is the Saturday School. First piloted in 2008 in the townships of Khayelitsha and Nyanga, its purpose is to provide previously disadvantaged learners with curriculum support in mathematics, physical science, English, life science and accounting.

To help fund the Saturday School, the SHINE programme was developed in 2010. Grade 10 to 12 learners from more privileged backgrounds pay tuition fees to improve their academic achievements in subjects such as pure mathematics, physical science, accounting, English and Afrikaans. The payment received from these SHINE learners partly subsidises the Saturday School programme, which in turn supports more than 200 low-income learners.

As much as communities are impacted by SHAWCO's interventions, the student volunteers are not left unchanged by their interaction with community members. Former SHAWCO volunteer, Lesley Connolly, who now works for the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), maintains the experience of working with SHAWCO allows students to really grasp South African "reality".

"SHAWCO exposes an otherwise sheltered student life to a different side of Cape Town. It provides opportunities for students to learn and help society and gives the learners it works with a fighting chance at making something of their lives," Connolly maintains.

Share your SHAWCO memories on facebook, tweet us @SHAWCO_uct or email shawcomemories@shawco.org