Reflections on Africa

I have been back in America for nearly a month and a half. I have been back at school just about a month. My body is in Montana, though my heart and mind are still in Africa. I have had a lot of time to reflect on my experience and have come to a few conclusions.
America is weird. In coming back I have had a more powerful response to reverse culture shock than I ever had while in Africa. I have realized that Africa is so comfortable. I have lived an incredibly privileged life. I have had supportive parents, friends and community that allowed me to succeed in my chosen activities. I have had enough financial support to send me to college and gain a degree. I have had the security of safety within my community. I have taken a lot of these for granted. After living in Africa for three months, I saw a lot of variety in the quality of life people lived. Some were also very privileged, and others… were not. These stark differences only gave me a slight insight into the world of developing countries.
In my last few years of schooling I have focused on development in Africa with a health lens. One of the concepts we cover in development classes refers to how we measure development. Often times it is in GDP or infrastructural progresses or economic stability, however I have issues with these terms of measurement. If we only encourage communities to grow, they will become yet another society that is unable to support their population as well as increasing the effects of climate change.
I also believe that “development” from a western context does not encourage sustainability or inginuity within a community. If we do not place emphasis on communities developing in their cultural way, then we will soon wipe out all forms of diversity. While visiting the eastern cape, an area known for immense poverty and rural communities, I saw how happy the lives of the villagers were. I believe this is because their communities were small and tangible. People could see where their food comes from, knew who was treating them at the clinic, and were friends with those teaching their children. These small communities are dependent on each other, and thus peace and happiness are emphasized greatly.
It was such a privilege to become part of these communities, and only furthered my passion and curiosity about Africa. I wait with eager anticipation for when I can return to this diverse, untouched, and beautiful land.

Africa In My Heart

I cannot believe how quickly my ten weeks in Africa has been, in less than one week I will get on a plane headed towards home. I know I will miss this gorgeous country and the culture I have been immersed in. However, the only thing the settles me is knowing that my time in Africa is not over, I will come back to this wild and free place again. In fact I plan to in the next five years as part of my Peace Corps requirement, if everything goes as planned.

In the last few weeks I have experienced more than I thought I ever would. I have traveled up to the Eastern Cape to swim with whales, dolphins and sharks. I have eaten traditional Xhosa meals and seen traditional African dance. I have explored the rural and very poor communities of Port St. Johns and Coffee Bay. I have fallen even more in love with this culture and the land.

At work, I have had the opportunity to visit SACLA (South African Christian Leadership Assembly), which is a home based healthcare organization. Working with these Carers has been an incredible experience and I have learned a great deal in only the week and a half that I have been there. Everyone is so friendly and willing to teach me about their work and the clients they see. This organization runs alongside the hospitals and treats clients who are class three, meaning that they are either bed ridden or cannot get to the hospital for some reason. The Carers at SACLA visit these clients and deliver their medication, administer check ups, and facilitate support groups for ARV treatment. Their success is due to the networks they have within their own communities on a personal and professional level. It is so empowering to see how well received this organization is in the community and the connections they make.

In  my days working with these Carers I went on home visits around Site B, Khayelitsha to meet with five different clients and give them health checkups while delivering their medication. I also visited a sort of Wellness center in which elders from the community gather at during the day for social reasons as well as healthcare reasons and the security of having someone else take care of them rather than being alone. SACLA comes once or twice a week and gives them exercises to do, however this is hard in the winter due to the weather and its complications with arthritis. However, simply having the resource of health professionals who visit is a great opportunity to these elders to ask questions about their health and how to be healthier.

I have seen that through these informal educational sessions, the most that Carers focus on relates to debunking myths around diseases and other health problems. I have learned that someone has been telling people in the community wrongs about diabetes, ulcers, and other diseases. They had thought that if you have diabetes you can never eat sugar again, or that if you have relations with someone who is diabetic you can get diabetes, or that if you pee in a pineapple the woods you will be cured. I also had questions asked about ulcers such to the point that they had been told that if you decrease fiber intake you will decrease chance of ulcers, which is actually not true about ulcers either.

I have gained so much insight into the healthcare problems in South Africa from these past ten weeks that I wish I could stay longer. But I know that I will be back in Africa again and experiencing more of this amazing land and intriguing culture.



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Adventuring in South Africa

I have been living, working, loving, and traveling around the tip of South Africa in Cape Town for the last five weeks. Yesterday marked my “midway point” to my trip and it was quite a shock. I have already done so much here, yet want to get so much more out of my trip.

I have been working in a township of Cape Town, Khayelitsha, at the Treatment Action Campaign. This is an HIV/AIDS foundation in the heart of the townships. They work nationally to better the quality of life through means of education, policy, and awareness. Their mission,  is, “To ensure that every person living with HIV has access to quality comprehensive prevention and treatment services to live a healthy life” (About the Treatment, n.d.). There are three core sectors that are run under the Treatment Action Campaign: Prevention and Treatment Literacy, Community Health Advocacy, and Policy, Communications and Research. The Prevention and Treatment Literacy sector and Community Health Advocacy sector both fight to reduce stigma towards HIV positive individuals, decrease gender based violence, and increase the knowledge about HIV and its associated illnesses within the respective communities. While the Policy, Communications and Research sector aims to protect the rights given to the people by the South African Constitution that are not being upheld. This sector fights in the courthouses, at the government, and with the local police.

Currently, I have been doing a variety of things at the organization. I have helped to organize files for branches and freed up time for others to do their work while I focus on the administrative side. While this is not my focus, I realize that working in a grassroots organization is not always going to be hands on, but rather fulfilling all of the little details in order to get anything done.

I have also been able to observe adherence councilors for ARV treatment which has been a very interesting process. The healthcare system is very different here and being able to observe these sessions has allowed me to see more into the lives of nurses, councilors, and HIV positive patients. I am only beginning to understand the struggles of HIV in this country and what the lives are like for the people living in poverty in the townships.

While I spend thirty hours a week at this organization, the rest of my time has been spent exploring Cape Town.

I have climbed Lion’s Head to see the sunrise and sunset over Cape Town, I have hiked along the base of Table Mountain and has seen the entirety of the city from above, I have also seen the city from the sea on a sail boat. I have visited the District Six museum to better understand how the displacement of peoples happened in this city, and have walked around the old and new districts to see the changes made.

I have also traveled along the eastern coast of South Africa along the Garden Route and bungy jumped, saw elephants, walked along a gorgeous beach, and stayed at the coolest hostel I have ever slept at. There is always so much to do in Cape Town like moonlight bike rides, exploring the quirky restaraunts and shops, and always finding something new.

There is so much to see here, I am sure that my next five weeks will be just as eventful, if not more.