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UJ Community Engagement awards showcase leading projects for social impact and sustainable change

A golden thread of ‘service with the aim of building sustainable humanity’ ran through the presentation of the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) 2023 Community Engagement Service Excellence Awards.

The ceremony held 21 November 2023 at the UJ Bunting Road Campus highlighted the impressive contributions by Faculties/Divisions in their flagship community engagement projects.

Organised under the theme ‘Universities as agents for social transformation and advancement of sustainable communities’, the awards provided plenty of examples of how community engagement programmes can be done for the benefit of the communities.

In his welcome remarks, Mr. Lebogang Seale, Senior Manager: UJ Strategic Communications shared that it had been a beautiful challenge selecting the winning projects as there were good contenders.

“As you can imagine, this University has eight Faculties and a Business school. And in these awards, we can only award the top three-this tells us that the competition is tough! As the selection committee, we had our work cut out for us. It’s important to highlight that for projects that don’t win today, do not feel disheartened or demoralized. Your work was good and is important-there could only be three winners. Congratulations to the winners of the day!

Seale added that these projects fulfill the very important task that universities have-to share knowledge to the most disadvantaged members of our society as well.

“South Africa is a complex country, full of contrasts and contradictions. Where the gap between the rich and poor keeps widening. This is where universities, as the reservoir of knowledge, are important. We need to be responsive to the needs of the communities we work in. We need to give them access to this academic capital. It’s heartening that we do this out of free will, and that this is what identifies us, as a university,” he said.

Ms. Mary Izobo is an International Human Rights Lawyer that is currently the Advocacy Programme Manager for The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) , was also one of the speakers on the day.

Dr Sadi Seyama, Senior Lecturer: Education Leadership and Management gave a keynote address which paid homage to her years at UJ, and how the institution itself provided a place for her flourish.

She added that it’s in creating spaces that are inclusive, it has also inspired units such as the Community Engagement Unit to create this environment.

“I appreciate the CE office because it was initiated in the foundation of Humanity for All. Thank you to all stakeholders that are here today, your presence serves to enrich us. Universities can be elitist, and having these partnerships reminds us of how to be humane. To the students, I hope you will grow to continue this journey of advancing social change. I want us to think about sustainable humanity. I think this should be the foundation from which we create other sustainable projects.

Dr Seyama added that it is important to maintain these spaces are inclusive.

“As we become agents of social transformation, we should remind ourselves that we are fully human. I am troubled by the hierarchies that we see in humanity. These different levels of importance dehumanize those who are lower. So, there will be those that will remain in poor service, service that is less than ideal. Just enough for them to survive…how about us as agents of transformation creating spaces where people flourish? Spaces that are inclusive,” she said.

Mr. Thabiso Masudubele, Executive Producer of Tyvision Media, who has enjoyed a fruitful relationship with the CE unit, shared that their partnership has been a mutually beneficial one, with the aim of bringing information to the people through a televised financial literacy programme.

“Our engagement with the CE unit has been very refreshing, it’s not just about knowledge production, but also to share it with communities. In as much as people don’t have access to data and university, this doesn’t mean they should remain in the clutches of poverty. All the crimes, including financial scams, are often as the result of lack of information. What UJ CE does, it gives access of academics and intelligentsia, to people who would not necessarily have access to these people. Credible information, that’s free. We look forward to having UJ CE as a partner along our journey and continuing the work we’ve done, to do bigger and better things!” Masudubele said.

The winning three projects were:

  • First Place:

Water Wise Warriors: Hygiene and Sustainable Water Practices project run by the Faculty of Health Sciences

  • Second Place:

Gwakwani Smart Village project run by the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment

  • Third Place:

Eastern Cape Water Provision project run by the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment

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