A year after my 2020 message for REAP’s annual report, COVID-19 still is a huge threat to a world that is struggling to overcome the effects of this particular virus. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has forced changes in the way we live, times of hardship also remind us of what is really important in our lives. In the latter half of 2020, Pope Francis released the encyclical Fratelli Tutti on fraternity and social friendship. With reference to the parable of the Good Samaritan, Pope Francis calls all people once again to consider the common good and to strive for unity based on fraternal charity. In doing so, he reminds all of us of a key truth: that we belong to one another and that we need to care for each other.
“True, a worldwide tragedy like the COVID-19 pandemic momentarily revived the sense that we are a global community, all in the same boat, where one person’s problems are the problems of all. Once more we realized that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together” (FT, 32).
In a webinar held earlier this year, researchers and university leaders confirmed that COVID-19 has magnified and exacerbated weaknesses in higher education across the world. The impacts of national lockdowns and other restrictions have disproportionately harmed poorer students and vulnerable tertiary institutions. The shift to online education in the face of the closure of campuses has disadvantaged poorer students.
As outlined in the Director’s annual report, REAP has moved to a new strategic direction, in part, because of the changing patterns in donor funding. However, students that were recruited in pre-COVID times need ongoing support under the old system. Sadly, they continue to be disadvantaged by the huge inequality that still exists in South Africa. Their situation is aggravated by the added challenges posed by the pandemic. It is not surprising that COVID-19 has also had a knock-on effect on the dedicated staff of REAP who have had to adapt to the changing circumstances of their lives and of the REAP students on our books. Researchers have reported extremely high levels of psychological stress among employees in South Africa with the forced changes brought about to their normal lives. REAP staff has risen to the ongoing challenges and the tribute paid by the Director to the REAP staff in these difficult times is well deserved.
REAP’s new strategic direction and the changes to its general programming will continue to benefit rural students who are on the margins and are less advantaged. May existing and new donors continue to support this option for the poor and the vulnerable to bring about transformation in our society. Gratitude is extended to all donors, past and present.
In conclusion, I also wish to offer a word of thanks to our Director as well as the committed Board members of REAP that have had to adapt to virtual Board meetings for more than a year. It is hoped that we will be able to have a face-to-face meeting before the end of this year.
Let us remember that practising gratitude is an essential part of thriving in times of suffering and privation. Pope Francis reminds us that setbacks such as COVID-19 can bring humanity together in a common bond of fellowship. Let us continue to turn outward during this time and use our time, talents and resources to bring joy, peace, love, and hope to others.
Brother Michael de Klerk