The University Social Responsibility Network (USRN) was inaugurated on 9 October 2015 in Hong Kong. It places emphasis on collaboration, coalition and networking among its members and with other networks and allies. The University of Pretoria is one of 14 university members worldwide and the only one in Africa.
On 11 April 2017, the steering committee of the USRN visited the Faculty of Veterinary Science as part of an in-depth fact-finding mission to the University of Pretoria, which kicked off on Sunday, 9 April, when the group arrived in Pretoria. Their visit provided the Faculty with the opportunity to showcase its excellent Community Engagement (CEn) programme, the core of which is part of the Faculty's curricula.
About 20 representatives attended a session during which the Dean of the Faculty, Prof Darrell Abernethy, gave a welcoming presentation. This was followed by a joint presentation by Dr Eugene Machimana and Dr Quixi Sonntag, both of whom are members of the Faculty's community engagement committee, which is responsible for coordinating and managing all CEn activities in the Faculty.
In his welcoming presentation, Prof Abernethy explained the way the Faculty operates within the community engagement framework, a programme aimed at collaboration and cooperation, which forms part of the Faculty's curricula for the BVSc and Diploma in Veterinary Nursing. Prof Abernethy emphasised the One Health concept to which the Faculty strongly subscribes and which is central to its community engagement activities and projects. 'At their core, the Faculty's projects are based on the concept that we are living in a dynamic environment. Wildlife, farming and the ecosystem are interrelated, which we take cognisance of and which enables us as veterinarians and researchers to do our work optimally,' he said. Research, collaboration and cooperation do not only apply locally, but extend across South Africa's borders into Africa and the rest of the world.
Dr Sonntag and Dr Machimana gave a comprehensive overview of the Faculty's CEn projects and pointed out that CEn is embedded in teaching, learning and research at the Faculty. They highlighted the Faculty's clinical- and research-based CEn projects, such as the Mnisi Community Programme, where final year students annually spend time doing clinical rotations; the Hluvukani Animal Health Clinic; Mamelodi Animal Health Clinic; and Makapanstad, which is a rural area served by the Faculty's mobile clinics and managed by its Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital.
It is the responsibility of the CEn committee, chaired by Dr Rebone Moerane (Head of the Department of Production Animal Studies), to oversee the more than 60 projects, to be aware of those activities and to see that they are properly integrated into the curriculum programme of the Faculty. This integration is underlined by modules such as Veterinary Professional Life, in which students are taught the so-called 'soft skills' necessary to be a successful veterinarian, such as communication skills, conflict management and project management. These skills are applied by about 30 groups to plan their own projects and identify problems in communities in conjunction with CEn partners which includes farmers, welfare organisations, schools and the community itself. Another aim of such a modules is to enable students to be leaders in their communities after graduation. In essence, the skills taught are aimed at enhancing graduates' ability to work and communicate with communities that are often resource-poor and are not always aware of the work done by veterinarians.
Through the Veterinary Core Practice and Veterinary Elective Practice modules, final-year BVSc students work with people who have never been exposed to veterinary services. This enables the students to work in a variety of circumstances after completing their community outreach. It also gives them exposure to animals and animal production, as well as establishing a community engagement and development approach to these communities.
The Rust de Winter project was also mentioned. It is run by the Department of Paraclinical Sciences in collaboration with the Veterinary Services of the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and supported by VETSCO, a student initiative. Within the One Health framework, the project provides training for students who lack experience with bovines and small stock. The One Health concept is also manifested in the poverty-stricken Zama-Zama informal settlement, where the Faculty's students have partnered with students from the University's faculties of Health Sciences, Engineering and Education. In turn, the community identifies their own needs and guides the CEn committee. In this regard, students and lecturers must sometimes improvise as working conditions are often challenging.
The USRN visit was concluded with a video about the Faculty's community engagement projects, after which Prof Abernethy and Dr Moerane took two groups on a tour of the Faculty. Judging by the questions received from the delegation, they seem to have found the information provided to be extremely interesting and insightful, and perhaps had the notion to take some of these ideas back to their own universities.