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Project Making A Difference

Project Making A Difference: Raising Funds To Help Students Focus On Studies

So you have the opportunity to study at university and educate yourself for the future. Maybe you’ve even received a NSFAS loan. But it’s hard to concentrate on your studies when you have to deal with other crises: whether you can afford that bus or train ticket from Atlantis or Worcester to varsity or not; not knowing whether you’ll be able to attend all your classes this month; trying to figure out how to afford a good lunch when you’re low on cash.

The cost of living is rising every day - food prices skyrocket, the petrol price is continually rising, and textbooks aren’t getting any cheaper. In the face of these economic challenges, it becomes more and more difficult for students to adequately sustain the expenditure that student life demands, irrespective of the provision of financial aid.

It all adds to the stress of studying, especially for those who can’t call home for help. But don’t worry - there is hope.

Dr Venicia McGhie, a senior lecturer in the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences (EMS)  started the fundraising initiative Project Making a Difference in April 2012. It is growing steadily and has served 154 students to date. The Project is registered with the Department of Social Services in Pretoria as a non-profit organisation, and has a project team of eight EMS staff members.

The Project aims to lower student stress and anxiety related to concerns about financial issues - whether by assisting with the cost of a monthly bus or train ticket, buying course readers and second-hand textbooks, or supplying a sandwich for lunch or late night studying. Thus, students are empowered to focus on their academic work - and increase their chances of completing their degrees successfully.

Making A Difference assisted six students in its first year, and now assists about 40 students a year - the project has served 154 students to date, providing them with assistance for travelling and the purchasing of course readers and course materials, in addition to food and living expenses’ money. 

What makes this project special is the consistent financial contributions from a dedicated group of EMS faculty staff members who commit to donating a small amount of money each month for student support, and support the Project’s main fundraising events – a raffle in the first semester and Mandela Day Pledges in the second, with a high tea planned as a third fundraising event for November 2017. The Project also has six external sponsors thus far - and growing.

Making A Difference: Into The Future

The rationale behind this project is premised on the overarching finding of Dr McGhie’s PhD study -  and several ongoing research projects in the EMS Faculty – which have investigated students’ agony and stress over their lack of finances to make ends meet, and as a consequence, their failure, disappointment and academic exclusion.

“The need to support students financially has become ever more urgent, especially within the #Fees Must Fall context,” explains Dr McGhie. “The project is trying to help alleviate the negative feelings and stresses that interfere with students’ studies - and we will continue to do so.”

The students are grateful - some have even returned travel money they didn’t need during the closure of the University during FMF protests last year.

“Students give us highly positive feedback - that the travel allowance enabled them to attend classes regularly, and the allowance for course material helped them focus more and be better prepared for tests and exams,” says McGhie.

Here’s one student beneficiary’s experience, expressed in writing: “I want to shout my thanks out loud. It was real bad for me coming on campus without having anything in my stomach. In the meantime I was expected to listen in the lectures while I hold up my stomach from making noise because I did not want to disturb the next student. You really brought light to me - I know it’s a simple thanks but to me it reflect the true feeling of appreciation for your support.”

The project is primarily for EMS undergraduates, but the team would like to see this kind of initiative expand as part of every faculty at the University, Dr McGhie notes.

“We want to express our sincere appreciation and thanks to the Project members who have supported the project faithfully, and urge others who can to lend a hand as well.”

Those who would like to make a contribution or would like more information about the project can visit the Project’s website at or contact Dr McGhie and the project team at (021) 959-3485 / 3041 or

Caption: Students popping in for a sandwich or a quick chat is not an unusual sight for Dr. Venicia McGhie, who doesn’t mind offering her help with making sandwiches herself.