News / South Africa / Education

Sandisiwe Mbhele
Lifestyle Journalist
2 minute read
10 Jun 2021
11:19 am

UWC professor extends helping hand to needy students

Sandisiwe Mbhele

Venicia McGhie of UWC wants their story to be told and to help more students out of their financial struggles.

Professor Venicia McGhie with two students as they make sandwiches.

Student hunger remains a pressing matter and this is where a university professor has stepped in instead of waiting for other organisations or the government.

Venicia McGhie a professor at the University of Western Cape (UWC) in the faculty of Economic and Management Sciences (EMS), found in her PhD findings in 2010 that many students study under difficult circumstances.

Despite some being funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) they still go hungry, are unable to purchase textbooks or have enough for transport. For McGhie that was eye opening.

“The overarching challenges was not having enough finances, it was not just about the fees but their every day challenges. Not having money for transport, food and stationery is what I found in my research. So I decided that my thesis was not going to sit on a shelf and I was going to do something,” McGhie said

Project Making a Difference

She decided to take her findings to her faculty and colleagues, to be proactive and practical by helping students. In April 2012 her non-profit organisation, Project Making a Difference, began.

She asked faculty staff to pledge at least R10 or whatever amount from their salary to fund the project. From 40 employees initially donating and helping eight students, McGhie realised she needed more funders and successfully found two sponsors.

The project assists financially needy students with monthly funds to buy food, study materials and travel to and from campus.

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She said most of the funds come from the university.

“Our regular staff donate something once a month or once a year. We also have two fundraisers, raffles and funding proposals,” she said.

Students can approach any lecturer of the faculty, writing to them about their needs, financial struggles and what they would like assistance with.

“Once you become part of the programme, the students specify their needs. Students can get up to R800 a month,” McGhie said.

McGhie says the reason students who are funded by the NSFAS are struggle day to day is because of the way the payment packages are structure. Students get R2,000 vouchers that should last them three months.

This changed in 2019 with the Fees Must Fall movement. NSFAS now pays around R1,800 per month for student travel, food and books.

Project Making a Difference also increased its monthly disbursements to R900 a month because of the added pressures brought on by Covid-19. It is committed to seeing students helped month to month, not just for a small period.

It is an NPO that is close to her heart. McGhie wants its story to be told and to help many more students, reaching the entire university and not just the EMS faculty.