Eighty years ago, a UCT student named Andrew Kinnear was moved by the dire conditions he witnessed in a local community. Determined to make a difference, he took action and in 1943, he founded the Kensington Students' Clinic to address the squalor and poverty he encountered in the area. His efforts were supported by Dr Golda Selzer from the Groote Schuur Pathology Department, and this clinic, along with two others in Retreat and Elsies River, formed the foundation of what would become the Students' Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO). Through this initiative, Andrew and Dr. Selzer aimed to provide healthcare services and support to communities in need, setting the stage for SHAWCO's ongoing mission of service and empowerment.
In 1954, SHAWCO was officially recognised by the University Council and registered as a welfare organisation. Since its inception, the organisation has mirrored the evolution of both the UCT community and that of Cape Town at large. According to Jonathan Hoffenberg, SHAWCO’s former education coordinator, the organisation's history can be divided into three distinct phases: pre-apartheid, during apartheid, and post-apartheid. Each of these phases has been characterised by different challenges and opportunities, but throughout it all, SHAWCO has remained committed to serving and empowering communities in need.
During the pre-apartheid era, SHAWCO's efforts were focused on providing assistance to marginalised communities through the outreach efforts of privileged students. The organisation established day clinics, welfare programmes (including the first meals on wheels service), sports projects, and night schools in so-called slum villages with the goal of alleviating poverty. With the implementation of apartheid, SHAWCO faced significant challenges, but despite these tensions, the organisation continued to innovate and pilot community engagement programmes such as the Peninsula School Feeding Scheme. Despite the difficulties, SHAWCO remained committed to serving and empowering the communities it served.
In post-apartheid Cape Town, SHAWCO faced new challenges as well as new opportunities. The organisation adapted to the changing nature of UCT, and now reflects a diverse volunteer student core, which is more inclusive and representative of the community it serves. The focus of the organisation shifted from statutory and welfare work to development and support. The organisation's health clinics are now mobile, enabling them to reach more communities and provide better care. The education projects also changed, with UCT students travelling into townships on a regular basis, not just to provide assistance, but also to engage in mutually beneficial development and support. This approach allows for a more holistic and sustainable impact and empowers communities to take ownership of their own development.
SHAWCO's emphasis on development and sustainability is evident in the organisation's current projects. One of the organisation's flagship projects from 1962, the Family Health Promotion Clinic, exemplifies this approach. In this programmes, twenty-five fourth-year medical students were assigned to families living in need in the Windermere (now Kensington) area. These students acted as family doctors and conducted home visits, providing medical care and advice to families who otherwise would not have access to it. In addition, they were required to leave their telephone numbers so that families could contact them in case of an emergency.
Beyond providing medical care, the Family Health Promotion Clinic also aimed to address the broader needs of families living in poverty. Through the SHAWCO welfare service, students helped with clothing and blankets, and used their influence to find employment for those who were unemployed. This holistic approach is a fundamental part of SHAWCO's mission, recognising that true development and sustainability requires addressing a wide range of issues, not just healthcare.
Co-founder Dr Golda Selzer played a vital role in the establishment and growth of SHAWCO, serving as the organisation's honorary life president until her passing in 1999. Her legacy lives on through the continued efforts of SHAWCO.
SHAWCO's history is a testament to the unwavering dedication and commitment of its founders and volunteers. Through its 80 years of service, it has faced many challenges and changes, but it has always remained true to its mission of serving and empowering communities in need. As we look to the future, SHAWCO will continue to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of the communities it serves, but it will always be guided by the principles of its founders and the unwavering commitment of its volunteers. With your support, we can continue to make a difference and improve the lives of those we serve.