Did you ever answer one of those mind game questions (Will Peters, an inspirational lecturer, was always using them) where you were asked if you could meet one person in the world who would it be.
I met one of those people today and it was like sitting down with the friend you wish you always knew. Credential’s aside, I was given a small insight of what it was like to run a University in South Africa during and after Apartheid. How Academic ‘s came together in a time of turmoil to make their University inclusive, welcome all the community, teach, care, provide and negotiate in order that Colour was not a reason for non admission. Background did not mean that students could not achieve, conflict within the community and within the college was resolved.
The Dream was that every student can make a difference. Students were encouraged, by example, to volunteer within the community with staff working in community services, bring their expertise in education, healthcare and seeing where the University could find out what new programmes were needed to fulfil the community’s needs. These became apparent while volunteering.
She told Catherine and myself about going into a rural district where a local farmer described the University as ‘Our’ University underlying the achievement of ‘Community Ownership’ of the University.
Another story was about one of her friend who was a keen gardener . One day her housekeeper expressed an interest in the garden and wished that she too could have a garden. As she lived in the poorer part of the area, she felt that this was unachievable. Unexpectedly, her employer asked if she had any land around her house and on finding out that she did, plants were dug up and seeds produced and an excursion made. The garden bloomed through their joint venture and even neighbours started to tend their gardens. A whole new green area was the result.
These personal tales were interchanged with her achievements, her passion for her community and a resulting passion in the fight against AIDS. The University of Natal, South Africa became aware of the problems and started an awareness campaign which included pack with information, a condom, and a pair of surgical gloves. Why the gloves? Because whole family’s were being diagnosed and it was always necessary to have a pair of surgical gloves in case you were in contact with someone who had a cut etc,. A great discussion persued which ended with her telling us that the University had over 150 programs related to HIV aids with many successes over the years.