SHAWCO, success and student leadership

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Simon Mendelsohn (Vice Chancellor's Student Leader Award) and Dr Max Price (Vice Chancellor of UCT) Photography: Lenore

Final year medical student Simon Mendelsohn was recently awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Student Leader Award at the University of Cape Town.

UCT Vice chancellor Max Price presents Simon Mendelsohn with the award.

Simon is the 2011 president of SHAWCO (the Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation). In addition to a superior academic record, invitations to and awards from a clutch of conferences, and his work with SHAWCO, Simon is also a member of the organising committee for the 2012 People’s Health Movement’s People’s Health Assembly, and started the Faculty of Health Sciences’ Inter-Societies Forum. And somehow he’s made time for the Mountain and Ski Club, the UCT Surgical Society, the Faculty of Health Sciences Student Mentoring Programme, and the UCT Ballroom Dancing Society.

How does Simon feel about receiving the award? “It’s very gratifying to be recognised for 6 years of volunteering for SHAWCO. But the award is more a reflection on our fantastic SHAWCO team. This year we had over 800 students volunteering at over 250 of our student-run free clinics, providing free primary healthcare services to over 5000 patients in the Cape Town area. You can’t be a good leader without a super team — and that’s where I was very lucky!”

He adds that “I come from a family where community service, tzedakah and gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness) are highly valued, and I have had truly remarkable role models: My late grandmother, Enid Mendelsohn, also a doctor, devoted in excess of 30 years of her life to working with intellectually disabled people; and my mother, who volunteered for the Black Sash, co-founded the Sunflower Fund, taught at a night school for many years, and is currently a Nechama counsellor. They are both truly remarkable role models, and I’m proud to follow in their footsteps.”

What advice can Simon offer other students who want to succeed at varsity and be involved in student leadership?” Most of the learning takes place outside the lecture theatres,” he says. “Get involved with student societies and development agencies. I have gained as much knowledge from SHAWCO over the past 6 years as I have from my medical degree. As our informal SHAWCO motto says, quoting Margaret Mead: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world. “Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”‘