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Hand-up, not handout

- Wits University

Voices of affirmation encourage students as Wits celebrates partnership with Tiger Brands.

Calvin Ubisi

“I remember when I left home to start my studies, I only had R60 tied to a handkerchief. I did not know anyone where I was going or what I would stay,” said Mary Jane Morifi.

This is the memory of Mary Jane Morifi, of her financial situation as she embarked on her studies. Morifi made the long bus drive from Pretoria to Cape Town with fear and hope that she would be okay. However, upon reaching her destination, terror gripped her as she spent two days at the bus station. Lucky for her, a stranger with good intentions finally took notice and assisted her.

Her experience, although it happened in 1982, is still a reality for many South Africans who are first in their family to go to University and venturing into unknown territory.

Morifi, the Chief of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at Tiger Brands, shared her story with students who are beneficiaries of the Wits Food Bank managed by the Wits Citizenship and Community Outreach Office.

Attuned to the stigma associated with receiving support and being regarded as poor, Morifi called on the student not to look at the support as handout but as a “hand-up” on their way to becoming.

(l-r) Karuna Singh (WCCO: Senior Student Dev Proj Officer), Tshegofatso Mogaladi (Deputy Dean of Student Affairs), Mary Jane Morifi (Chief of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability, Tiger Brand) and Peter Bezuidenhoudt (Director: Wits Development Office)

Tiger Brands is one of the anchor sponsors of the Wits Food Bank which supports more than 3000 students with a range of food hampers and provides a daily hot meal.

Morifi spent the day on campus along with teams from Tiger Brands. The teams consisting of professionals from various departments also interacted with students sharing practical advice about the working world and career paths. The day also included packing food hampers for the Food Bank.

Masters student Emma MbedziEmma Mbedzi, a Masters student in Biological Medicine says the Wits Food Bank is a lifeline to her. Mbedzi was without financial support when she started her honours degree as there are only a few sponsors who fund postgraduate studies. As a result, many students with aspirations to study beyond the first degree find themselves in predicament.

Having lost her mother at a young age, Mbedzi knew that her grandfather’s pension was not an option, as it was barely enough to sustain the family. So, she turned to the Wits Food Bank.

After seeing the need, Mbedzi is now a volunteer and is up early to open the doors of the Bank and to serve students coming in to grab bread before going to class.

“I know the struggle, so I am happy to be here even on cold winter days when it’s hard to get out of bed,” she says.

Another student volunteer Cavin Ubisi was introduced to the Food Bank by a friend who was using the bank in 2019.

“At the time I was an outsider and did not fully appreciate what’s going on here,” he says.

In his third year he moved out of Res and no longer had sufficient funds to afford all the necessities and turned to the Food Bank.

For him, volunteering is a way of giving back and believes this is now his way of life.

“Most people think you need to make it big in order to give. You don’t need much, just time,” says Ubisi who is pursuing his honours in quantity surveying.

The Food Bank seeks to provide support with dignity to students in need and entrench the spirit of kindness.

A hand-up, not a hand out is a mindset that is propelling students forward as they transition to a better future, shaping others in the process.