Child malnutrition, emergency rural medicine, and adolescents with HIV were the research focuses of three students who recently explored community health in South Africa.
Spending a semester with the School for International Training’s (SIT) Community Health and Social Policy Program in South Africa was life changing for senior anthropology majors Bryce Slinger ’10 (Raleigh, N.C.), MaryBeth Grewe ’10 (Eau Claire, Wis.), and Aidan Hardy ’10 (Concord, Mass.).
After two months in the classroom and six weeks living with families in townships, the students moved on to field-based independent research projects. Slinger, who has significant volunteer experience in U.S. emergency rooms, worked in the ER of a government hospital in northern KwaZulu-Natal and on its ambulance crew. He was struck by the pervasiveness of violent death in South Africa, and by how inured to it the emergency crews there have become. “I was surprised by the disrespect for life yet the simultaneous enthusiasm to heal,” he says. “It was paradoxical.”
Slinger hopes to become a physician or trauma nurse after graduation, and to someday return to Africa. “I’ve been obsessed by that continent since I was 4 years old,” he says.
Looking at protein energy malnutrition in children was the focus of MaryBeth Grewe’s research. She shadowed physicians and dietitians, visited mobile clinics in remote rural areas, and interviewed parents of sick kids. Grewe, the daughter of a doctor and a nurse, hopes to go into a health-related field as well, following a yearlong post-graduation volunteer program. She found it “eye-opening to see health in that impoverished context—where even basic needs like adequate nutrition were not being met.”
Although she plans a teaching career rather than a medical one, Aidan Hardy found her work in South Africa fascinating nevertheless. She worked in an AIDS clinic, studying how medical personnel there disclosed AIDS status to adolescents. Although most of the teens realized they had some kind of medical condition, finding out they were HIV positive is “pretty traumatic” says Hardy, since most of them have lost at least one parent to AIDS.
The news is even more devastating, she says, because many of the teenagers have no family support to count on after learning of their diagnosis. One way that nonprofits have found to bolster these kids is a camp run for HIV positive adolescents, which Hardy worked at during her stay in South Africa.
Despite the poverty and disease the students encountered, they agree with Slinger when he says, “South Africa is a magical country, one I hope will survive and prosper despite the hardships it faces.”
Bryce Slinger works for the Peace Corps in Africa