SHAWCO (Cape Town)

Started in 1943 by a UCT medical student, SHAWCO has grown into one of South Africa’s largest student volunteer organizations focused on youth education.  During the Apartheid era SHAWCO ran health and welfare projects. With the dawn of democracy in 1994 there was a shift from welfare to a development model.  While still providing primary health care clinics until 2003, SHAWCO found its niche in skills development and education programs.  Today SHAWCO’s stated mission is to “create a supportive space for experiential learning and teaching, addressing inequality through innovative and sustainable approaches to community engagement.”

Visit to Shawco

Our visit with Shawco took place at the Manenburg primary school, located in the township surrounding Cape Town. Our bus arrived during recess and outdoor activities, and a few students left their activities on their own to come say hello to us as we exited the bus! We were then greeted by the Shawco staff, one of whom actually went through the program itself, and noticed a friendly flag in the main office area; the flag of Grand Valley State University which is located in Allendale, Michigan.


Shawco operates across Cape Town through a partnership with the University of Cape Town. Students from UCT are able to volunteer their time with Shawco that not only helps the primary students, but also provides practical experience for those who are volunteering. There is also a health component of Shawco, which we did not visit. Shawco exists as an after-school program where educational opportunities are enriched and expanded upon. There is an emphasis on promoting the holistic student, not just academic enrichment, but personal growth and development as well.


While our time was limited with Shawco, we were able to visit primary classrooms and interact with some of the students. These interactions included asking the students what they were learning and showing them where on the world map Michigan was located. The students greeted us with smiles, and lots of questions! Their class sizes varied; from the small intervention class of seven students, to the older students who were in classes of 35 or more. There was lots of information packed into our short visit, but we left with an understanding of how universities are partnering with community organizations to create more opportunities for students in the surrounding Cape Town area.


–Tobias Hutchins, master’s student