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Creating Hope For Students In Uncertain Times

  • 7 min read

Becoming resilient in the face of a global or personal crisis can help you deal with stress, cope with adversity, and reach new heights. Many sectors of our society face hardship and uncertainty and are crying out for signs of hope and for organisations that can lend a hand.

One such sector is our students – our future Software Developers, Civil Engineers, Medical Scientists and more. They, too, have seen that it is tough to be resilient on your own. This is where the value of a strong community proves instrumental. You just need to know where to look.

Creating Hope, by Reaching Out

As the pandemic rages on and the light at the end of the tunnel seems faint and far off in the distance, it is important to remember, that as a country, we have been through crises before and that students have it within themselves to support one another and get through these hard times.

As a final-year psychology student Shayen Gomis said, “As a student faced with study-debt, a multitude of other academic costs, and the uncertainty of the pandemic, I did not think I would be able to finish my studies. I am truly grateful for the support I received from my family, friends, and peers for believing in me and giving me the motivation and reassurance that I would be able to get through it. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Universities have also been working hard to help. Stellenbosch University, in partnership with crowdfunding organisation Feenix, recently launched the 2021 leg of the #Action4Inclusion campaign, which will assist SU students at risk of academic exclusion.

Through the campaign, spearheaded by the University, members of the public, businesses, and leaders in a variety of industries aim to ensure that no student is left behind due to financial hardship.

Creating Hope, by Bridging the Digital Divide

An underlying challenge which has been exacerbated by the pandemic, is that many students lack access to reliable and affordably priced data, an essential element of a good education.

In the past, low-income students relied upon on-campus resources like libraries, computer labs, and campus Wi-Fi to study, but lost these essential tools when campuses closed. Many of these students had to rely on their phones to support their education.

One such example is that of Dean Kleinbooi, a fifth-year medical student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal who explains how the full impact of the lockdown hit him when he was not able to access the university’s resources for his practicals during the lockdown. “I didn’t own a computer, so this made it incredibly difficult for me to continue my studies.”

Kleinbooi was able to push through to ensure that he finished the year strong thanks to the donation of a laptop through Feenix’s 2020 #CapTheGap campaign that helped provide students with access to data and laptops to continue their studies.

The University of the Western Cape has also done its part by providing thousands of students with laptop computers. The cost of the computer is added to the students’ account that they pay off in instalments throughout their studies. To offset the costs of a device, the University is actively fundraising so that the students will end up paying back a reduced cost for the device. UWC is also providing data bundles to students and staff, and their online learning management system has been zero-rated by mobile networks.

Creating Hope, through Access to Mental Health Support

From a psychological perspective, students are taking more and more strain at a time of their lives that should normally be filled with the joy and excitement of being a student.

The stamina normally needed for knowledge and learning is now to a great extent swallowed up by the psychological stress of surviving in the age of the pandemic. The resultant mental health impact on students is as real as with any other group – it is a sign of the times we live in now.

“The COVID‑19 crisis has significantly affected the lives of young people, and early evidence points to an alarming surge in mental health issues among this age group (15 -24-year-olds),” says Cassandra Govender, a clinical psychologist with the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).

“Supporting students to remain in schools, universities and learning institutions is of utmost importance as they face increased pressures in coping with daily life. This means having increased accessible support which the young people of South Africa are aware of and can access in their time of need which will allow them to reach out and get help when they are feeling overwhelmed.

Students can be encouraged to use some self-help strategies to start actively engaging with stressors they may face. These include limiting social media and information overload, getting more fresh air, exercise and most importantly staying in contact with friends and family, and reaching out for help when they need it,” says Govender.

She believes that lecturers can also play a vital role in this arena through simple acts such as:

  • Take an “emotional reading” after the physical cover screening, asking students to reflect on how they are coping emotionally at present and making sure to check in or refer any students they recognise as struggling.
  • Talk about the pandemic and acknowledge the ways it impacts learning so that together problem-solving around these impacts can occur.
  • Implement a small mindfulness activity weekly which can teach learners a very important distress tolerance skill.
  • Look after your own well-being so that you can be present for the emotional well-being of your students.

Creating Hope, through Financial Support

Considering the drastically changed tertiary study environment and the impact of lockdown, financial support is now more important than ever before.

There is a bigger need for corporate and private donors to find ways in which they can support students, to help them survive this increasingly complex academic environment.

It is also the time of year where the tertiary sector and its students are focused on how they will make do for the coming year and where they will get the necessary funds they need. It is a harsh reality that most students are now being turned down by formal channels, leaving them to search for other avenues of funding to survive.

“Education is a powerful tool that helps to advance societies, driving innovation and birthing new industries that boost economies,” says Leana de Beer, CEO of Feenix.

“But for many young South Africans, tertiary education is restricted – often seen to be expensive or out of reach for those who can’t get funding through NSFAS, bursaries or student loans. Feenix, who together with the students registered on their platform, has managed to raise R80.08 million to date, is a safe and transparent platform that allows students to legitimize their fundraising efforts and a channel for donors to help students with expensive costs for tertiary education.”

While government funding and private donors certainly will make a huge difference in easing the worries and anxieties that students are experiencing, it’s often through communicating with their peers, community, or institutions like Feenix, where solutions and ultimately, hope, can be found.

Cara-Jean Petersen, Student Engagement Manager at Feenix, believes that our South African spirit of “Ubuntu” is now more needed than ever before.

“Crowdfunding in and of itself is not the traditional way for students to fund their studies, but the community and support of all our Feenix students being in this together can provide them with a sense of security and hope, that is certainly lacking during these uncertain times,” she says.