Shawco: 80 years of helping the needy

The Shawco team at the 80th anniversary lecture at UCT.

The Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (Shawco) is celebrating 80 years of providing health services and education to the poor.

The history of the non-profit, which is led by UCT student volunteers, dates back to 1943, when medical student Andrew Kinnear, who was driving an ambulance to fund his studies, found himself appalled by the poverty and lack of medical facilities in Kensington. Together he and Dr Golda Selzer, of Groote Schuur Hospital’s pathology department, established a clinic in the area.

In the 1960s, Shawco added night schools to its services, and its student-run clinics expanded to Langa, Nyanga, Crossroads and Khayelitsha.

Today there are also Shawco clinics in Gugulethu, Philippi, Masiphumelele, Imizamo Yethu, Hangberg, Retreat and Wynberg, and Shawco’s education arm, Shawco Education, offers digital-literacy training for Grades 10 and 11 pupils and violence-prevention workshops while law students volunteering for Shawco Law run workshops on the country’s legal system.

Sixth-year medical student Christian Tereze, of Rondebosch, is the president of Shawco Health. “Shawco has played a big part in my studies and how I conduct myself as a student. As I am working towards being a health-care professional, I am lucky to be part of their journey,” he said.

Third-year BSc student Amahle Gantsho, of Khayelitsha, is Shawco Education’s president, and she recalls how, as a Grade 11 Table View High School pupil, she benefited from extra maths and science lessons run at UCT on Saturdays through the Shawco Shine programme.

“The teachers were helpful and the textbooks and materials they provided helped break down the content from high school to make the work understandable.

“As soon as I started at UCT, I joined Shawco and wanted an opportunity to give back as I had received help from the organisation as a scholar.”

Shawco volunteers visited schools in Khayelitsha and Kensington to help run an after-school online learning programme, she said.

Fourth-year LLB student Yumna Ederies, of Kenwyn, is head of Shawco Law, which works with pupils in Grade 8 and 9 to teach them about their rights and the consequences of breaking the law.

“There is a lot of love and passion that goes into working with Shawco. When I see the kids’ faces and how eager they are to learn, it warms my heart.”

UCT alumna Irmgard Haacke, a retired teacher from Blouberg, was part of Shawco in 1971 and recalls how students took a bus to the Windermere clinic where they would play the piano and run education programmes for the children there. They also put on concerts for the children and took them to the beach.

“The children were so happy to see us when we came to the clinic, and this programme would help keep the children off the street.”

Shawco had set her on the path to a career in education, she said.

“It was hard work, though I am so glad to hear that Shawco is thriving,” she said.

Referring to Shawco’s 80-year-milestone, during the anniversary lecture held on Saturday January 14 at UCT’s Kramer Building, the organisation’s executive director, Dr Jackie Stewart, said: “We are standing on the shoulders of giants who started it in 1943, so it’s a lot of responsibility that we are following in the footsteps of Andrew Kinnear and Dr Golda Selzer and all the alumni that have done incredible work.”

For more information, visit

The student-led leadership, from left, are president of Shawco Education Amahle Gantsho, president of Shawco Health Christian Tereze and head of Shawco Law Yumna Ederies.
The Shawco Retreat students clinic committee of 1970 to 1971.