6 Belgian Students Make A Difference in Qgeberha

Students present SA Projects to Belgian examiners
Belgian Students Making Their SA Project Presentations

These photos don’t do justice to the 6 exceptional young women it was my privilege to provide with informal support during their four-month stay in Gqeberha. Pictured here presenting their South African projects before their examiners, their presentations took place in June 2022 at their university in Kortrijk, Belgium. I was glued to my laptop screen following their Q & A session and quickly snapped a couple of images to remember this special occasion.

These young women were all final-year Bachelor’s students – two studying applied psychology and the other four social educational care. VIVES University has an International Relations division, offering opportunities to do project work outside Belgium. Of course this had not been possible during the pandemic, but early in 2022 it was made possible again, thanks to the cooperation between VIVES and the Ready4Life NGO, based in Gqeberha.

Being 3rd-year students (with two long years of studying at home), each had independently opted to come to South Africa for their project. When they boarded the plane in Brussels together, they had not even met each other! But over the course of their 4-month stay here in Gqeberha, they bonded and supported each other to achieve their goals. Being able to function as a team meant successfully negotiating the many challenges of a pretty daunting undertaking!

This was their first contact with South Africa, so all was very new – and very different. Hats off to them for their enterprising spirit.  But even more so for the dedication and competence they brought to their assignments. After initial visits to local child and youth care organizations, David Livingstone High School in Schauderville welcomed them for their final-year projects.

One group of 3 students worked with 15 to 18-year-old learners in a substance abuse programme. A former drug addict was invited to share his story and this made a deep impact.

The other 3 created an empowerment programme for vocational (special-needs) learners. These activities resulted in a talent show at the school. Parents, teachers, visitors and even old pupils were emotionally overwhelmed when they saw these children performing on stage in song, dance and drama. A day of integration and celebration for the whole school community!

For both these projects, the students wrote manuals so that their educational material can continue to be used and implemented at interested schools.

Following the adaptation process of these young women, I was impressed by their commitment and how they opened their hearts to the children and young adolescents. While exploring the many cultural differences, they tackled the lack of classroom resources and low levels of literacy with energy and creative solutions. Belgian life seemed far away! Experiencing life in our city, with its loadshedding and water problems, they often remarked how much is taken for granted in 1st world countries.

The abyss between rich and poor distressed them, but even more so the shortage of resources to give children the tools for a chance at a better life.

Yet, towards their departure, they all told me they’d love to come back.

The Easter school holiday gave them time for a 2-week road trip along the Garden Route to Cape Town. The day they reached destination Table Mountain, the cableway had just closed for the day. No problem — they then just climbed the mountain to the top! The way I got to know them, this was typical!

News has just rolled in that all 6 of them have passed their final assessment. Well done! How I wish many more students could have such intercultural learning opportunities and experience the joy of building good teams!