4 Avans Schools partnering for project in South African township

One of them is completing a multidisciplinary project, another is graduating: 10 students from 4 different Schools are joining forces for a project in South Africa. Under the supervision of project manager Ad Schenkels, they are contributing to setting up a shared service centre in Dunoon Township. Punt talked to them.

One of them is completing a multidisciplinary project, another is graduating: 10 students from 4 different Schools are joining forces for a project in South Africa. Under the supervision of project manager Ad Schenkels, they are contributing to setting up a shared service centre in Dunoon Township. Punt talked to them.

Avans’ project manager Ad Schenkels set up “Project Dunoon” in a township in Cape Town, South Africa, under the auspices of Avans Centre for Entrepreneurship and International Business, employing around 10 students from 4 different schools: the School of Security and Public Administration, the School of Social Studies ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the School of Social Studies Breda, and the School of Built Environment and Infrastructure. In collaboration with partners from the city of Cape Town, he and the Avans students are working on the development of a shared service centre. This will be a physical place in Dunoon, an area of Cape Town with slum-like living conditions, where social services such as child day-care will be housed.

Doing a work placement in a foreign country didn’t appeal to Social Work student Yesse Kaïn at first because of homesickness, she told Punt. Project Dunoon nonetheless caught her attention. “I saw Ad Schenkels’ announcement on Blackboard and decided to send him an email saying I was interested in the project”, Yesse told us. “Ad told me his plans and put me at ease by saying that we would only be in South Africa for two weeks.”

The fourth-year student decided to volunteer for the project and secretly even started looking forward to getting on a flight heading to Dunoon Township. “But Covid-19 threw a wrench into our plans”, she laments. “We are doing everything online. From talking to local people and the city of Cape Town to guest lectures on criminality. It’s going well, but it would be easier  to put ourselves in the shoes of people living there if we could actually travel to South Africa.”

False hope

“The problem is, you can’t ask people in person  what kind of needs residents have. You might be creating expectations that you can’t really fulfil. Even if we had been there, our involvement would still be mediated through local contacts”, Yesse explains. “But I would rather have gone there in person to see the people, how they live, and get the feel of the place.”

Third-year Civil Engineering student Vincent Boele also would have liked to go to South Africa to see what it’s like in Dunoon Township. “Actually I’m glad that it didn’t go ahead because of a negative travel advisory. Healthcare isn’t as good as it is here in the Netherlands, and I don’t want to catch coronavirus there.”

He is finding it challenging to work for the city of Cape Town while located in the Netherlands. It’s especially difficult being unable to really feel the cultural differences, according to Vincent. “It’s hard to do from a distance. Luckily we have some contact time every week on Skype with local people who provide us with information.”

In collaboration with five other students, Vincent is designing the shared service centre and the set-up of public services in so-called courtyards — open squares in the district. “We are making a layout for the design. The students who pick up the project after us will work it out further.”

Trash problem

Because of the problems with trash affecting Dunoon, Vincent got the idea of incorporating waste materials into the construction of the shared service centre. “This will help residents learn to see waste as something with value that they can re-use. That way you can challenge them to learn to think differently. I was also really inspired by the library that was built there a few years ago. It’s a modern building that was well-received by the residents. That’s my point of reference.”

In addition to a physical building and social services, student Maarten Oostveen is occupied with how to reduce crime in Dunoon. This year he will be receiving his Bachelor’s degree in Applied Safety & Security Studies. “The township is unsafe”, Maarten told us. “The nearest police station is 12 kilometres away. That means when there’s an incident they can’t get there fast enough. Police officers are not safe there either.”

Creating a safe, liveable environment

Maarten wants to help increase the safety of Dunoon through the design and development of services in the courtyards. He also wants to contribute ideas that will help reduce crime by creating job opportunities, providing education in the township and increasing the food supply. “It should be a safe, liveable environment. I’m thinking of proposing to put a mobile police unit in place in the township that could guarantee more safety. But that will only work if there is a reduction in crime.”

Multi-year plan

This group of students — all at different stages of their study programmes — will be working on project Dunoon for 20 weeks. Then they will be replaced by a new group. The goal is to complete the project in 4 to 5 years.