A visit by students in UKZN’s Discipline of Construction Studies to the Lakehaven Child and Youth Care Centre in Durban elicited smiles, gratitude and hope for 60 children living there.

It also proved to be a memorable experience for the six teams of third year students in the Discipline’s Project Management module.

The Centre caters for the needs of abused, neglected and abandoned children.

Dr Nishani Harinarain of Construction Studies led the initiative, allocating students to teams to handle the unique management-focused outreach project.

Their task, according to Harinarain, was to actively assist the local community, giving practical expression to UKZN’s community outreach aspirations. ‘Students were required to execute a charitable initiative of their choice,’ she said.

‘The aim was to impart some soft skills to the students to help them become better, more compassionate leaders.’

Activities included the collection of non-perishable food, stationery and sports equipment, fund-raising, ecologically themed drama performances, and “Zumba” dance team activities.

‘The students’ dedication and commitment surpassed all my expectations,’ said Harinarain. ‘We could not fit all the items collected in the bus hired to take us to the Centre, and had to use private vehicles as well.

‘Seeing my students interact with the children and everyone laughing and smiling brought tears to my eyes – this was one of the highlights of my teaching career,’ she added.

Group leaders Mr Isharlan Pillay, Mr Shaylin Rambridge, Mr Shamren Santhcoomar, Ms Zanele Ngcobo and Mr Mohamed Armoed said the experience was a highlight of their degrees. Pillay said that giving back to the community was paramount, and he hoped their contributions would enable the Centre to carry out its daily functions and support its residents.

Rambridge said the experience taught teamwork skills, while Santhcoomar said the effort required was well worth seeing the children’s joy. Ngcobo added that they took the opportunity to share fun water-saving tips with the children and left them with something educational.  Armoed said education was one of the most valuable contributions the team could leave the children with.

Harinarain said the experience brought to mind a quote from English statesman Winston Churchill: ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.’

Words: Nishani Harinarain and Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Nishani Harinarain