Occupational Therapy Students Learn Importance of Community Liaison in Mamelodi to Enhance Service Delivery

Posted on March 31, 2022

Fourth-year Occupational Therapy students work with different communities in the City of Tshwane. Four students recently spent six weeks immersed in Mamelodi as part of their work-integrated learning in the community (also referred to in the UP Policy curricular as community engagement).

The students are currently running group therapy sessions with learners in a school, with clients from the Community Oriented Substance Use Programme (COSUP), and with children who have severe and multiple disabilities and the staff at a non-government organization.

Being able to embed oneself within an unfamiliar community can be difficult, as there are language and cultural barriers. Building relationships takes time and requires trust. This has provided a great opportunity for a Community Liaison Officer to become an integral member of the community health team.

According to an excerpt from the UP CE Policy, “The Community Engagement Office is in the Department for Education Innovation. It comprises a manager, a facilitator and an education consultant as well as an administrative assistant. The office is responsible for training and liaising with faculties and other UP parties and communities to integrate community engagement in order to optimize academic outcomes and the developmental impact on communities and to sustain and maintain community partners for community engagement purposes.”

In Mamelodi, students have been working with Ms Judith Mahlangu, a long-term Community Worker. She was appointed in the first semester in 2022, to assist with the curricular community engagement work in Mamelodi. This includes block 1 and 2 occupational therapy students in their fourth-year work-integrated learning period (the second group of students will be working in May and June), as well as integrating the projects of the three IHL310 groups, three IHL210 groups, a group of engineering students in their JPC module and a master’s in architecture student, into the existing long-term initiatives in Mamelodi.

Ms Mahlangu worked in Hammanskraal as a community liaison for the Occupational Therapy Department at the University of Pretoria from 2004 to 2011, where she helped the students integrate into the community. When the University withdrew from Hammanskraal in 2011, Ms Mahlangu was no longer employed. She continued working and volunteering for NGOs and was a research assistant at another university.

Her passion and love for communities opened the door for her to receive a bursary from a private company to pursue a Bachelor of Social Science degree in Development Studies at Northwest University. She completed this in 2021.

Ms Mahlangu has been so helpful in assisting students with the transition into new communities with different cultures and languages. She has also assisted students in with translation to Sepedi when clients did not understand the students.

Ms Mahlangu has been a most valuable team member and asset to the students, the University, and community members. The following quotes by the students:

“At the COSUP site, I have learned from Judith that it is so important to engage with the group members on a more personal and deeper level and to create scenarios within their context to facilitate understanding and meaningful engagement. I will really take that with me in the future.” - Jani.

“Judith has this extremely calming presence, in a way where people feel comfortable talking to her almost immediately. She has been helpful to us in our sessions in Mamelodi where she bridges the gaps in cultural and contextual differences.” - Megan.

At the University of Pretoria, students make a significant difference in their work across the city. More feet on the ground will provide the much-needed human resource to support the integration of our work across disciplines and professions, years of study and thus support us in effective service delivery and engagement. Community liaisons, like Judith, will be able to assist students in all fields of study during curricular community engagement, because they have a holistic view of the community and can thus identify and respond to the real needs of the community being served. In this way, we will continue to implement our University’s long-term strategy, UP 2025, namely to become, “Africa’s leading research-intensive university, recognised internationally for its quality, relevance and impact, developing people, creating knowledge and making a difference locally and globally.” (8) This difference is truly tangible.


  1. Stewart, T and Alrutz, M. Meaningful Relationships: Cruxes of University-Community Partnerships for Sustainable and Happy Engagement. Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship; 2012; 5(1):Article 6. [Accessed on 22 March 2022]. Available from: https://digitalcommons.northgeorgia.edu/jces/vol5/iss1/6
  2. Sweatman, M, Warner, A. A Model for Understanding the Processes, Characteristics, and the Community-valued Development Outcomes of Community-University Partnerships. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning. 2020; 26(1):265-288
  3. Kullenberg, J. Community Liaison Assistants: a bridge between peacekeepers and local populations. Forced Migration Review. 2016; 53:44-7
  4. Zippia. What does a community liaison do? [Internet]. 2020. [cited 22 Mar 2022]. Available from: https://www.zippia.com/community-liaison-jobs/what-does-a-community-liaison-do/
  5. The Colorado Education Initiative, Designing community partnerships to expand student learning: a toolkit. 2020. [Accessed 22 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.cde.state.co.us/fedprograms/communitypartnershiptoolkit
  6. Department for Education Innovation. Community Engagement Policy.   Document number: UP_reg_1001 e. 2019. [Accessed 22 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.up.ac.za/education-innovation/article/257709/community-engagement
  7. Mahlangu JN, Lister HE, Janse van Rensburg MNS. My experiences in health science education and research: a community worker’s autoethnographic account. In: Moeti T, Padarath A, editors. South African Health Review 2019. Durban: Health Systems Trust; 2019. Available from: https://www.hst.org.za/publications/South%20African%20Health%20Reviews/18%20SAHR_2019_A%20community%20workers%20autoethnographic%20account.pdf
  8. University of Pretoria. Strategic Plan - The vision, mission and plan of the University for 2025. 2011:1–21. [Accessed 22 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.up.ac.za/article/2749459/strategic-plan-2025
Published by Samantha Hodgson

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