In a symbolic gesture of peace and victory, every Nelson Mandela University staff member who overcomes COVID-19 will receive an olive tree sapling from the institution.
Additionally, the University will also recognise the recovery of these staff members through the online sharing of a Virtual Olive Tree on its website. For every “cleared case” a leaf is added to the virtual tree to visually showcase the recoveries.
“We want to acknowledge and give thanks for each person’s recovery,” says Sister Valencia Benjamin, whose Occupational Health Services team has been at the frontline of COVID-19 Screening Surveillance at the University.
As of today, 18 August, 74 University staff members have contracted the virus, 68 of whom have recovered. Sadly, five staff members, including the University’s own COVID-19 champion Professor Lungile Pepeta, have succumbed to the virus. All 120 on-campus contacts related to these cases have been cleared.
The fruit-bearing Mission Olive saplings originally derived from the indigenous olive Olea europaea subsp. africana, are provided by the University’s own Horticulture Department.
These “Trees of Victory” are presented to staff members when they are officially declared fit to return to work. Many staff members, however, are still working remotely, as this is the preferred institutional approach, where this is possible.
Those who have received their victory trees, suitable for either pots or gardens, have welcomed the gesture, and more especially the support provided throughout their recovery journey.
“Everyone was beyond professional, but more importantly, everyone was so kind and gentle and caring through every step and every process, I was required to go through,” says Skye Cronje, a Visual Art Laboratory Technician, of the support she received from the healthcare professionals from Occupational Health.
COVID-19 survivor Skye Cronje, a Lab Technician with the School of Visual and Performing Arts, has nothing but praise for the University’s support system, especially the Occupational Health Services team.
The Faculty of Humanities staff member and Arts Master’s Arts student described the team as “superheroes”, acknowledging the key role they played during her self-isolation and journey to recovery.
Skye, 25, was one of the first staff members to receive a “Tree of Victory” – an olive tree sapling, as a symbolic reminder of her experiences and her present good health.
“From the day I went into self-isolation, to the day I got my positive test result for COVID-19, and then all the way up to the very last day of my isolation, I felt nothing but support from this team of “superheroes”.
“It was scary … But I was contacted daily.”
Skye says that at no point did she ever feel forgotten. Her eight work colleagues and other friends brought her meals.
“I had complete support the whole time, which, when you live alone and you’re sick, plays a much bigger role than anyone could possibly imagine.”
She says she knew she could contact the healthcare professional at any time on any matter. They checked up on me each day and fortunately her symptoms had not been too serious – headaches, a loss of appetite, a sore throat and fatigue.
“They were phenomenal,everyone was beyond professional.”
“But more importantly, everyone was so kind, gentle and caring through every step and every process I was required to go through.”
Fortunately, none of her colleagues contracted the virus, which she believes was due to everyone’s diligence in practising all the prevention measures.
The day she returned to work and was screened at the North Campus COVID-19 Screening Station, she was immediately introduced to a Counsellor.
“This is so important because the emotional baggage you carry, worrying, for example, about whether you might have inadvertently infected another.
“I will forever be thankful for all that was done for me and for all that is being done to help others who desperately need support during this incredibly scary time.”
She says she is working “flat out again” preparing for the return of the University’s next group of students under Level 2.
But each evening as she sits on her balcony with her potted olive tree, she is reminded of the support she received on her journey of recovery.