By TERESA MPHO WILLOUGHBY
Siphesihle Mvula, a 21-year student, activist and wellness leader centres her academic career around sexual and mental health. For all her work for the student body and the community of Makhanda, she was awarded the Rhodes University top 100 award for Health and Wellness for 2022.
Throughout her years of activism in the wellness space, Mvula observed that wellness leaders tend to be viewed as if they have everything together, that they were ‘well’ themselves. This is not true.
“Wellness leaders have dark days too,” she said, and they need people as well. This was her main objective as a wellness leader: “To be for someone who and what I needed in my most vulnerable state”.
During her time working with the youth of Makhanda she realised that one of the biggest mental health and wellness issues in the town is because it is a small population and a fairly traditional one. As a result, sexual health is seen as a taboo topic. She said that coming from the more progressive community of Johannesburg, she was privileged to have been exposed to information that explains that sexual health is more than just about sex.
She learned that there is a link between sexual health and mental health. “All the elements of your health – sexual and mental – line up to how you see yourself,” she said. Thus, she believes that understanding both will help create balance.
However, explaining this balance and setting up the programmes teaching awareness of sexual health and wellness was challenging – not only in the community but in the university as well. This was because there are so many interpretations of what sexual health is, she explained, and most of them are negative and misunderstandings.
However, with perseverance and passion, Mvula managed to destigmatise the link between mental health and sexual health for some and she was recognised accordingly.
She attended the award event dressed in traditional umXhosa attire, despite being discouraged by her Zulu father. She explained that the attire, although not her culture, was a consensus choice she made to represent the idea of Ubuntu noThando. She wanted to embody the ideals of the people she was reaching out to, and respect their traditions well, at the same time bringing about positive change.
See also: https://resasreals.wordpress.com