SU medical student completes 1 500 km cycle to help fellow students pay off study debt

Sarah Camp

In a week that South Africans took part in joyous celebrations of the Springboks’ spectacular victory in the Rugby World Cup, another amazing feat was achieved by an unassuming Stellenbosch University (SU) student.

Sarah Camp, 25, a final-year medical student from the campus, arrived in Hillcrest just outside Durban in KwaZulu-Natal on Saturday November 4, after cycling from Worcester across South Africa for ten days – a distance of more than 1 500 km.

Inspired by Professor Thuli Madonsela’s efforts to assist students with university debt, the young doctor-to-be completed this amazing journey to raise funds for #Action4Inclusion, a student debt alleviation initiative by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) at SU.

To put Sarah’s achievement into perspective: At an average of 150 km per day, she has completed a Cape Town Cycle Tour plus, every day for 10 days, without a break.

Or tackled a South African version of the Tour de France, amateur style. “No wonder my bottom feels a little tender!” she laughed after arriving home.

Professor Madonsela, Director of the CSJ, was one of the first people to congratulate Camp on achieving her goal.

“It was heartwarming when we received news of Sarah’s intention to undertake a cycling pilgrimage in support of our Pilgrimage of Hope, which is an extension of our #Action4Inclusion crowdfunding initiative.

“I was moved deeply by her generosity of spirit and immediately indicated to my CSJ team that we must support her.

“Sarah’s cycling will keep the flame of hope burning while our Pilgrimage of Hope awaits resumption from January 20 to February 2 next year.

“In undertaking this journey as her Ubuntu-grounded gesture of human solidarity, Sarah follows in the footsteps of SU’s Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Wim de Villiers, a doctor himself, who cycles, walks and hikes to end student hunger and raise funds to remove student debt as a barrier to completing higher education studies.

“She also follows in the footsteps of Tygerberg medical Prof Karin Baatjes, who raised over R100 000 to help disadvantaged students, through walking, earlier in 2023. We joined her on one of her walks.

“We as the CSJ are proud to be associated with Sarah and inspired by her compassion and selfless service to humanity. We hope she motivates many more within the Matie community and beyond,” Professor Madonsela said.

Sarah is no stranger to physical endurance and pushing the boundaries – she has traversed the 230km Drakensberg Mountain range by foot, paddled the 330km length of England’s River Thames in a canoe, and earlier this year tackled her first Comrades Marathon.

Sarah’s epic cycling journey started with the sunrise at SU’s Ukwanda Medical School Campus in Worcester, Western Cape, on Thursday October 26. It finished as the sun set over Hillcrest in KZN on Saturday November 4.

During the 10 days in between, she traversed the breadth of the country, travelling through the Western Cape winelands and on into South Africa’s dry Karoo heartland, through the rolling hills and rugged mountains of the Eastern Cape and finally down towards the lush green east coast of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).

She experienced and survived all that Mother Nature could throw at her – sunshine, wind and rain – and in the process raised over R20 000 for the alleviation of student debt, through her fundraising platform on GivenGain.

“Graduation is just around the corner,” explained Saray. “But for many of my classmates, there is little cause to celebrate, as this marks the start of a long journey towards overcoming student debt.

“Inspired by my peers and Professor Madonsela’s Pilgrimage of Hope, I decided to undertake a journey of my own – to cycle the 1 500 km from res to my home in KZN and raise funds for student debt relief in the process.”

Sarah feels passionate about supporting students who cannot register for the next academic year because of outstanding student fees, as well as graduates who are unable to access academic records upon graduation owing to student debt.

“Access to education shouldn’t depend on wealth,” said Sarah. “In my small way, I wanted to do my bit to help talented young professionals get the start they deserve.”

Sarah had to tackle numerous hurdles of her own before her adventure could begin: convincing her professors to grant her and her back-up driver, fellow medical student Bianca Tout, leave of absence from hospital; making sure all her academic work was up to date; borrowing a bicycle; arranging sponsorship for fuel and accommodation along the way; and most importantly, persuading her loved ones that she would take all necessary safety precautions during her epic journey (including a lurid safety vest and flashing light to ensure proper visibility on the road).

After a warm reception by proud family members and her dog Spencer, Sarah said it felt surreal to be back home.

“I can’t believe that I don’t have to climb on a bicycle again tomorrow! I am so grateful to everyone who made the trip possible, especially Bianca, for all her support on the road.

“It was definitely a team effort – I couldn’t have done it without her. But also, to my parents, Professor Madonsela and Marna Lourens from CSJ for the petrol money, and all the kind folks across the country who gave us warm beds to sleep in.

“We have a beautiful country with warm hospitable people, and I feel blessed to have been lucky enough to see it by bicycle, and to have made the journey for #Action4Inclusion.

“I hope that the trip has helped raise awareness and funds for student debt relief, so that more deserving young South Africans can access the education they deserve. Everyone, in their own small way, can make a difference,” Saraj concluded.

Professor Wim de Villiers also congratulated Sarah and said her steely resolve embodies the spirit of the SU community.

“We are immensely proud of her determination and commitment to addressing the pressing issue of student debt. Her initiative is a shining example of how students can make a real impact, and it resonates with our university’s core values of inclusivity and access to education for all.

“As a fellow-cyclist and doctor, I applaud her remarkable achievement. We’re inspired by her passion for making a difference.”

Professor Elmi Muller, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, said the Tygerberg and SU community is immensely proud of Sarah.

“Her accomplishment is truly remarkable, not only in terms of the impressive distance she covered but also the incredible dedication it took to cycle 150 km per day for a consecutive ten days.

“What makes her achievement even more inspiring is the fact that she undertook this journey to raise funds for her fellow students. Sarah is a shining example of determination and compassion, and she serves as a true inspiration to all of us.”

After taking a well-deserved rest on the day of her arrival, Sarah had to start preparing for her drive – this time by car – back to Worcester on Sunday November 5, to complete the last week of her final medical exams.

* People can still contribute to Camp’s fundraising efforts by donating money on her online GivenGain profile.

* For more information, call Sarah at 071 899 9565 or email 20749937@sun.ac.za