British High Commissioner boards South Africa Healthcare Trains of Hope

05 August 2015

High Commissioner to South Africa with GCU students

High Commissioner to South Africa with GCU students

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) vision sciences students volunteering on South Africa’s Phelophepa Healthcare Trains met the British High Commissioner to South Africa, Judith Macgregor.

Three students, Sarah Stevenson, Duncan Preston and Haleigh Gillan, who are studying BSc (Hons) Optometry, are part of a team of around 30 GCU students delivering primary healthcare to remote areas of the country this summer.

The School of Health and Life Sciences students are working alongside Phelophepa’s full-time professional staff, who care for an average of 45,000 patients a year, travelling more than 117,000 miles aboard the “Trains of Hope”.

During two-week placements, the student volunteers will carry out eye examinations and give eye-care advice to children and adults from the country’s neediest and most remote communities.

The fourth-year students were working on the trains as the High Commissioner to South Africa, Judith Macgregor, visited during one of the trains’ stops at Polokwane in the Province of Limpopo.

The visit is part of the British High Commission’s ongoing support for UK institutions and companies partnering with South African counterparts.

She said: “I am delighted to see the partnership between Glasgow Caledonian University and Transnet Foundation come to life aboard the Phelophepa Train of Hope. It’s heartening to see the excellent work of GCU’s students on the train and in the community. This experience is opening their eyes to the transformative possibilities of innovation in health care. Their partnership to bring much-needed eye care to communities is also a great illustration of what’s possible when the UK and South Africa work together toward a more prosperous, healthy and sustainable future.”

Helen Brown, GCU’s School of Health and Life Sciences Associate Dean International, said: “GCU’s School of Health and Life Sciences is delighted to be involved in the Phelophepa initiative and is honoured that our students’ contribution to its life-changing work was recognised during a visit by the High Commissioner.

“This volunteering project gives our students a unique international opportunity and invaluable experience of working with communities as they care for up to 100 patients every day, supported by local clinical staff.”

GCU’s five-year partnership with Phelophepa was established with the first 32 students volunteering on the train in 2014.

The trains are operated by Transnet Foundation, the Corporate Social Investment (CSI) arm of Transnet (SOC) Limited, the largest freight logistics company in South Africa, with which Fiona Stewart-Knight, Director of GCU’s School for Work-Based Education has been working for several years.

Shamona Kandia, Senior Portfolio Manager at the Transnet Foundation, said: “Transnet remains committed to promoting an ethos of quality care through a vibrant learning platform providing students with a unique opportunity to experience diverse cultures while bringing the promise of primary healthcare to thousands of people across South Africa each year.”

The relationship demonstrates GCU’s mission as a University for the Common Good and highlights its commitment to ‌enhancing the personal, professional and employability skills of its students by expanding opportunities for work placements and internships, research, volunteering and mentoring, and international study and cultural experiences through GCU’s international campuses and global networks.