Posted on June 19, 2020
Showing respect and compassion are principles that should be at the heart of any society, says Bhaviskha Ramouthar (26), project co-ordinator in the office of Deputy Director of Student Affairs at the University of Pretoria (UP).
“We have to get into the habit of seeing through labels, and focus on the inherent goodness in every person,” she says. “It is important uphold the notion that no individual is above or beneath another.”
Ramouthar, who holds a Bachelor of Administration degree in International Relations from UP, is responsible for planning, executing and overseeing projects for the Student Nutrition and Progress Programme (SNAPP), which caters to students who are in need of financial support.
“UP has seen a growing diversity of students in terms of race, gender, age, religion and financial status,” Ramouthar explains. “There is a significant increase in the number of students who come from low- or no-income households. These students rely either on loans, bursaries or part-time jobs to support themselves financially.”
SNAPP was initiated to provide students with food and psychological support. It runs the Food Pantry, which relies on donations, in the Student Affairs Building on Hatfield Campus. “The Food Pantry has been operating for four years, and stocks canned items such as fish, meat, beans, vegetables, spaghetti, cereals and other non-perishables, among others,” says Ramouthar.
The programme also equips students with knowledge and skills to develop and sustain themselves and complete their qualifications. “SNAPP aims to reduce the university dropout rate of students, who abandon their academic studies in order to seek income to support themselves,” explains Ramouthar. “It plays a role in transformation and inclusivity.”
Students who require assistance have to apply every semester. Applications open during the first week of formal academic lectures within each semester; students then undergo a vetting process to assess whether they qualify for assistance.
“I did not chose my career path – it chose me,” Ramouthar says. “Through all the twists and turns in my career, I landed on a path that has yielded the greatest fulfilment.” For her, being in an environment where she can have a direct impact on the lives of students “is extremely rewarding despite how stressful, demanding and emotionally taxing it can be at times. Working with students who are less advantaged has made me reflect on my individual privilege. This has made me appreciate and value the little luxuries I often take for granted.”
She is astounded by the determination shown by almost every student who has knocked on her door for assistance. “Even in the face of adversity they are determined to succeed. As Nelson Mandela famously said: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world.’” It is vital that every person is given the opportunity to access high-quality education despite their socio-economic background, race and gender, Ramouthar adds.
She urges society to invest in young people and quotes former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, who echoed this sentiment when he said: “Young people should be at the forefront of global change and innovation. Empowered, they can be key agents for development and peace. If, however, they are left on society’s margins, all of us will be impoverished. Let us ensure that all young people have every opportunity to participate fully in the lives of their societies.”
For Ramouthar, it is important that people realise that a sustainable future depends on having resilient populations, which cannot be achieved without investing in young people.
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