Last week, we learned about the environmental factors that contribute to health. South Durban is home to many industrial developments, such as paper mills, oil refineries, and pipelines that leak underneath communities where people stay. The stench of toxins fill the air in Wentworth where we met with a representative of an NGO. Under apartheid, Wentworth was designated as a coloured community and racist environmental planning drove industrial companies and their toxins to Wentworth. About 50% of students at a certain primary school in Wentworth are diagnosed with asthma and/or tuberculosis. In addition to these environmental factors, education in South Africa is one of the worst in the world, almost entirely due to the unequal distribution of resources during apartheid that still occurs today. The lack of quality teachers and government corruption makes matters even worse. It is devastating that we can still see the damaging effects of apartheid long after it has ended.
We also learned about the HIVAIDS epidemic in South Africa and how community mobilization has allowed free antiretroviral treatments to all infected people. South Africa has one of the best programs in rolling out antiretroviral treatments in the world. However, access to these medications is still a problem as many that live in rural areas do not have easy access to doctors or pharmacies. We are learning about South Africa’s strategic plan to alleviate the epidemic. There are plans for preventative care, education, and more.
For the last month of the semester, SIT has us do either an internship or an independent study project (ISP). We are just beginning to think about what we might want to do (and it can be anything within a South African context!). I am thinking about doing an internship in a rural hospital where I will be able to shadow ER docs and help restock shelves with supplies. I have been doing some reading about how “mob justice” is so prevalent, especially in townships. Communities will take matters into their own hands and take care of criminals themselves using weapons. Stab wounds and gunshot wounds are relatively common, depending on area. Medical services can be inaccessible due to cost, location, and/or waiting times and people usually will avoid seeking out medical services unless they are dying. More than half of the population depends on public healthcare, which is often underfunded and/or overcrowded. Disclaimer for mom: I am safe.
Every day, I am shocked at how little I know. It’s an exciting position to be in. I feel like I am learning something new every day and it is more rewarding because I am meeting people in the community that I have come to care about. South Africa isn’t a problem to fix; it’s a place where people care deeply about tradition and their families and their country. I’m so thankful to be able to experience it as an outsider but also as a temporary member of the community. My host mama and family are wonderful. I seriously considered coming up with an ISP topic that would allow me to stay in her home. Also just fyi I am the best host student ever. I made my famous chili for dinner on Thursday and my mama got seconds!!! I am currently researching ways in which I can watch Skeem Saam, Isidingo (Trevor Noah was on this!!), Generations the Legacy, and Uzalo when I get back to America. I am hooked to these soap operas that we watch over dinner every night. Another disclaimer for mom: I am studying.
On Friday, it was one of my classmate’s birthdays and we all went to a club. It was an experience. This isn’t Walla Walla anymore! I am thankful that all of the students are getting along and we don’t hate each other yet. There is also this restaurant downstairs from the program office that sells amazing toasted sandwiches (toasties) and I have made “toastie fridays” a tradition during lunch. All are welcome although only 3 participated this week :(. I will definitely be hyping it up for this week.
PS Trevor Noah’s book, Born a Crime is a MUST READ. Even better when you get to visit South Africa.