Every year on July 18, South Africa and the world mark Nelson Mandela’s birthday by heeding his call to take action to help change the world for the better.

K-RITH staff and students got behind several projects in the Durban area, giving 67 minutes (and more!) of their time to make positive change.

The Ndung’u Lab partnered with the UKZN HIV Pathogenesis Programme (HPP) and the Bahle Old Age Centre in Umlazi. They headed out to the centre on Friday, where HPP clinical staff did health screenings and referrals, residents were treated to footbaths and foot massages and lunch was served to them.

“We sang songs together and each group prepared a dramatic presentation for the entertainment of the others. We all enjoyed chats and a chance to learn about each other’s backgrounds,” said Ndung’u lab Research Associate Emily Wong. K-RITH and HPP staff raised R6 700 in donations and with this money bought gifts for the residents – including warm winter blankets. Emily says it’s hoped their efforts extend beyond Mandela Day and that this is the beginning of an ongoing relationship with the Bahle Old Age Centre.

The Leslie Lab collected winter clothing and blankets for pupils at Faithway College in Himeville. “It’s really cold there at the moment, below freezing in the evenings, and a lot of the kids don’t have jerseys, jackets or even sometimes shoes to keep them warm,” explained MA student Amanda Wellmann.

Staff donated cash to the collection effort, as well as new and used clothing and blankets. The jerseys, jackets, blankets, beanies and gloves were handed over to the school on Tuesday.

Many K-RITH staff meanwhile got involved in supporting the Hlope Educare and Pre-School’s veggie garden initiative.

The pre-school, which is in the St Wendolins area in Mariannhill, accommodates 98 children. Registered as an NPO, it depends on intermittent grants from the Department of Social Development to keep running, as many parents can’t afford to pay fees. The school provides breakfast and lunch for the kids and has its own vegetable garden to help supplement the meals. In consultation with the school’s management and gardener, K-RITH staff donated much needed shade cloth to help protect the vegetables, as well as compost, a hosepipe, garden tools and seeds. Staff also donated craft materials, toys and books.

K-RITH also took part in the South African Medical Students Association’s Mandela Week activities. K-RITH erected a stand on the medical campus on Monday and staff and students shared information about K-RITH’s work and research with medical students.