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Honorary doctorate praises UWC village

Honorary doctorate praises UWC village

“Value your education, and never forget where you came from, and the values you have been taught to always be yourself; to experience life; to respect others; to lead by example; and to live outwardly and be connected with people.”

These were some of the words of advice delivered by honorary doctorate, Amelia Ruth Jones, founding member of Community Chest South Africa, to graduates at the University of the Western Cape's (UWC) Summer Graduation Ceremony. Speaking at the University's Main Hall on Friday 14 March as she received a Doctorate in Social Work, Jones explained how UWC had changed her life for the better, and how UWC itself had grown from strength to strength.

“When I first came to study here, at that school with the red bricks and the four buildings, nobody thought I could learn to be a social worker here. But from first year, I learned to be a true professional, to always set high standards and be the best that I could be.”

Jones was born the only daughter of Reginald and Annie Nelson. After matriculating from Harold Cressy, she entered UWC, graduating in 1969 with a Diploma in Social Science. She went on to do an Honours at Stellenbosch University, and earned a scholarship from the University of North Carolina before her marriage to struggle activist and black consciousness advocate, Peter Jones.

The Community Chest entered the global philanthropic space through Jones' formal association with United Way Worldwide (UWW), the largest and most respected institution promoting philanthropy and advancing the common good globally. She has represented the Community Chest on numerous global philanthropic platforms. As co-chair of the United Way Worldwide Annual conference, she assisted in the development of global standards, guidelines and frameworks for philanthropic policy and practice.

Jones is most noted for her original thought leadership in her establishment of the Community Chest Capacity Building Programme. This was born out of the urgent need to build a strong skills base within organisations. What started with a handful of community workers in Gugulethu has grown exponentially over the last eighteen years.

“It takes a village to change a life,” she said, thanking a number of people for supporting her in her endeavours: her parents, brothers and daughters; her educators and mentors; her fellow social workers; and UWC's Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Brian O'Connell, for his service to the University.

Jones expressed her appreciation of some of the accomplishments showcased in the March graduations – the capping of 3,311 graduates (including a record total of 67 PhDs and over 200 Masters degrees), celebrating students excelling and researching in every field (including brand new Masters degrees in Nanoscience), work involving the Square Kilometre Array, and a record of excellence that places the University among the very best in South Africa.

“This is indeed an extraordinary moment in time, and a great privilege to receive this honour. UWC, you have done a great thing, and you've inspired a legacy of excellence – you should be proud,” she noted.

But for Jones, the work is never done. “I asked one of my good friends and mentors about the meaning of an honorary doctorate. She told me, 'Amelia, this is a statement of work commitment, honouring the great work you have done. Now go and do some more.'”