The University of Johannesburg’s Community Engagement (UJCE) Imbizo Awards 2021 were held on Tuesday October 12, 2021 under the theme ‘Student volunteerism and mental health during Covid-19: An intricate balancing act’.
During her welcome remarks, Senior Executive Director: University Relations, Student Affairs and UJ Sport, Dr Nolitha Vukuza commended the volunteers that were being honoured for their selfless work.
“Volunteering does give us a sense of purpose because you make a contribution to the other and also it heightens the sense of satisfaction. It fills one’s mind with direction and there is a sense of being in control. All of us have been imbalanced by Covid-19.”
She said as a university, UJ has witnessed a rise in distressed situations (attempted suicides, fear, depression, anxiety) with students during the pandemic period. Dr Vukuza added that UJ was committed to making the institution a home and not just a university for its students.
Speaker Divine Kapay, a UJCE Student Volunteer Ambassador, reflected on her own journey with volunteerism.
“At UJ Community Engagement, it involves partnership initiatives that utilise the knowledge, capital resources at the university in order to address the development of the community at no cost. We practice moving the community towards a better chance through empowerment. Most of our projects focus on gender equality and empowerment of women, environmental sustainability, poverty and hunger, primary education and health. What we do for ourselves dies with us but what we do for others remains immortal.”
Kapay said volunteering came with benefits like helping students learn more about the university, time management, opportunities to meet people and a satisfaction that comes from helping others.
Ms Cathy Seefort, City of Joburg: Corporate and Shared Services, said the sudden lockdown left so many questions and created a time for people to reflect and ponder on what they could do. Adding that UJCE had made an impact with communities before and during Covid, she said it was important to understand how that community engagement would be steered through the pandemic.
“UJCE worked hard to ensure there were feeding schemes and grocery parcels and took care of their own students who needed assistance. Community Engagement has reached out through its faculties, and one would only want to continue building so that this becomes a much stronger pillar within the university.”
Guest speaker Ms Ida Achiume Shiaka, a mental health advocate, discussed key points from the theme of the event.
“Student volunteerism and mental health is very important and choosing to do it above everything in your life can come with strain. We are all still trying to navigate through Covid and it has amplified everything including our mental health.”
“You as an individual have the tools to make yourself well and keep yourself well. You need to constantly ask yourself how you are. We were living in a different world before the pandemic came about, even volunteering was different then. If your mental health is suffering, you need to try something different. Take care of yourself. There’s no way you can volunteer and help people if you aren’t helping yourself. Be the best possible version of yourself now,” she concluded.
The Top 100 Student Volunteers Champions and Showcase winners were acknowledged at the event for all the hard work they have put in to help those in need.