Group of students do their bit for SU’s HOPE Project

“We ran almost 1900km, visited 40 towns, gave 39 performances, of which five were at prisons. We also planted about 20 indigenous trees. For all involved it was really a life-enhancing experience.” This is how Hentie Smith, leader of a group of students who recently participated in a jogging tour of South Africa, described their experiences.

The group of athletes in Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal.

Athletes for Christ, a group of 23 Stellenbosch University (SU) students associated with the NG Moederkerk in Stellenbosch, usually undertake the annual tour in the June holidays during which they run, perform and talk to raise money for Bible Study Guides to be used in prisons.

This year the group joined hands with SU and the organisation Green for Life in an effort to plant trees in each of the towns they visited. “By planting trees we wanted to show that Maties care and want to help create new life. Trees symbolise life and we planted them in honour of God. This is also how we try to reduce our human impact on the environment and make a  contribution to a cleaner and greener planet,” explained Smith. “We wanted to set an example to other sport teams that represent Maties and at the same time do our bit for the University’s HOPE Project.”

The HOPE Project is an SU initiative through which the institution uses its knowledge and research to find sustainable solutions to some of South Africa and Africa’s greatest challenges. Sustainability forms a core element of this initiative.

According to Smith, indigineous trees were sponsored by nurseries in the various towns they visited and planted with the help of the youth and communities in the respective communities. “The communities welcomed us with open arms and were eager to help us with the project,” Smit said.

Ten athletes covered the daily route between towns on a relay basis. The group started on 1 July in Pongola in KwaZulu-Natal, ran West and stopped in among others Vryheid and Newcastle after which they went to the Free State and stopped in Senekal and Bloemfontein. They followed a route to Kimberley in the Northern Cape and ended up in Calvinia on 19 July where the tour came to an end. A total distance of 1900km was covered, with every athlete doing about 11km a day.

“We’ve had a successful tour. It was a wonderful privilege for us to spread, together with the HOPE Project , the social and sustainable initiatives in the various communities of our country. It was also a wonderful opportunity to show our Matie identity and give back to SU.  The University has supported us tremendously and we are very grateful, honoured and proud to be Maties,” Smit said.

The group had a warm welcome in Petrusburg in the Free State.

Dr Leslie van Rooi, Head of the Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert Institute for Student Leadership Development (FVZS Institute), one of the initiatives of the HOPE Project, said this group shows that students can be involved and convey the key message of the HOPE Project in small, but remarkable ways.

“Their pride and passion for their university and our strategic goals stand out. One of the core activities of the FVZS Institute is to let students think and do and therefore develop and that is exactly what happened here. Students inspire me and my colleagues at the FVZS Institute on a daily basis and this group is proof that we could confidently support and further build on the initiatives of our students,” Dr Van Rooi added.

According to Smith, new team leaders will be elected soon and they’ll immediately start planning next year’s tour route. “I’m confident that they will make sure that there are more people involved in this initiative in order to make an even bigger difference.”