DUT STAFF MEMBER, PROF FIROZA HAFFEJEE, CHAMPIONS PUBLIC HEALTH COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT INITIATIVE FOR WARWICK INFORMAL TRADERS

The Durban University of Technology’s [DUT] Professor Firoza Haffejee is an associate professor in the Department of Basic Medical Sciences. Prof Haffejee also has a keen passion for community engagement and was a finalist in the 2021 Community Engagement Showcasing and Pitching Awards for her project, “Using Photovoice to improve Teaching and Learning in an Undergraduate Curriculum”, where she was placed tied for first place and received a cash prize of R25000 to use toward her community engagement project.

Prof Haffejee’s work is intricately linked with activities including community engagement within university curricula. Haffejee aims to introduce and incorporate creative methods in teaching and learning. This work was featured in the undergraduate module, Epidemiology: Public Health. In 2021, community engagement was made a compulsory component in the module’s core assignment. In 2022, students were encouraged to work to improve the environments of their communities and to better the health of these communities. The students were encouraged to specifically focus on informal traders within the Warwick Market, which is a stone’s throw away from the central DUT campuses.

Reflecting on the project’s award and her current work, Prof Haffejee states, “Using the funds from this award, the project was enhanced by providing funding to students to work in the Warwick Ave market on specific projects. The second-year students registered for the Epidemiology: Public Health module were required to work in the Warwick Ave market. Students were taken on a tour of the market by myself and staff members of Asiye eTafuleni [a local non-profit organisation that assists informal traders in the Warwick Market]. During this tour, students were shown all areas of the market and had to identify environmental issues in the market.”

As a part of this activity, students were asked to engage with the community of informal traders at Warwick Market and determine the best ways to improve environmental factors within certain areas of the market. The students then had to demonstrate how the improved health of the traders and those who frequented the market in the area where the project was conducted. The students worked in groups, with each group working on a separate project. These projects included actions that would significantly change the lives of the informal traders, such as, cleaning up litter in the area; providing traders with insecticides and rodent control pellets; providing traders with containers to store their food and valuables; and most notably providing the traders with mattresses and gazebos, as most have to face adverse weather conditions whilst working and have sleep at their stalls, due to the high costs of daily commuting to their primary residences.

The informal traders were incredibly grateful for their interactions with the students and Prof Haffejee. Informal traders represent a marginalised group of individuals who face a barrage of constant issues, such as having to initiate and sustain businesses on little to no capital, harsh weather conditions, and harassment and extortion from law enforcement. Speaking on the importance of such a programme, one of the informal traders tearfully stated, “My children thank you; we sleep here [in the] market we know the importance of peaceful sleep at best comfortability. My medical condition and age doesn’t allow me to sleep [in] uncomfortable place, this will make a huge difference, thank you DUT Students.”

These life-changing interventions by Prof Haffejee and her students highlight the importance of being an engaged university and supporting the many vibrant communities that exist around DUT. Haffejee’s inclusion of community engagement within university curricula should not only be celebrated but encouraged across all disciplines.

Speaking on the future of the project, Haffejee states, “I would like to continue with this work. As funds were limited, we were unable to reach as many traders as required. I would like to provide mattresses to all those who need these as there are still many who sleep on the hard concrete floor. Many more gazebos are also required to provide shelter.” She expresses gratitude for the money that she received in her winnings in the Community Engagement Showcasing and Pitching Awards, as this was the primary source of funding for the project.

Picture: Prof Haffejee with students when handing over the gazebo to the traders

Tracy Khuzwayo

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