megan quinn and children

During the last two weeks, my colleague, Twanda Wadlington and I have had the opportunity to collaborate with another local non-government organization (NGO) to implement a health promotion program during the winter school break.  Legae La Bana (Home for the Children) is a local NGO focused on providing daily meals and social support to the orphaned and vulnerable (OVC) children in Munsieville.  The program centered on health related issues, while incorporating team building, arts, sports, and academics.  The program also assisted in identifying student leaders in the community that can assist with future Thoughtful Path projects. 

The second week of the program kicked off with the West Rand District’s monthly orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) meeting.  The meeting was hosted by Legae La Bana in Munsieville.  Project Hope UK Project Manager, Betty Nkoana, Twanda, and I were invited as honored guests.  The meeting provided an opportunity for all of the governmental and non-governmental organizations that serve the OVC to meet together, discuss issues surrounding OVC, and continue implementation of programs. 

Munsieville’s Got Smarts Trivia competition took place on Wednesday, July 13th.  We had 26 children in attendance.  The game offered an opportunity to showcase the intellectual abilities of the children and for us to teach them about specific topics.  Topics included health, science, math, English, and South African history.  I was genuinely amazed at the level of some of the answers we received.  For example, one of the health questions asked participants to identify pollutants in the environment.  One extremely bright teenager mentioned that pollutants in their environment not only stem from illegal waste disposal and vehicular pollutants, but beauty products that contain certain chemicals can also pollute the environment and affect the ozone layer.  The children really enjoyed the competition, taught us a lot, and gained more information about the topics covered. 

Thursday, July 14th proved to be an extremely educational and successful day.  We conducted a sexually transmitted disease (STD)/sexually transmitted infection (STI) workshop with the OVC.  Due to the fact that some of the children may not have parents, live in foster care, or do not have parents that actively participate in their lives, early onset of sexual intercourse, teenage pregnancy, and STDs can be quite prevalent with this population.  Educating children early can aid in preventing some of the negative health effects associated with early onset of sexual intercourse.

The workshop began with a simulation of how easily and quickly STDs can be spread.  Each individual was given a piece of paper and was instructed not to look at their paper and to trade the paper with the other individuals participating in the game.  Individuals were told to remember how many people they traded with.  The number of times that an individual traded their paper illustrated the number of sexual partners.  Meanwhile, the pieces of paper either listed a common STD, pregnancy, or were blank (no STD, no pregnancy).  Following five minutes of trading papers, one by one the participants were instructed to open their paper and tell how many times they traded papers.  Twanda and I discussed the basic epidemiology of teenage pregnancy and each of the STDs.  We explained transmission, symptoms, and treatment.  Participants seemed to have a clear understanding of HIV/AIDs due to local public health campaigns, but were not familiar with many of the other common STDs (gonorrhea, chlamydia, HPV, herpes).  Prevention of STDs and pregnancy, as well as communication of STD status with partners was discussed.

The children in the Munsieville community are very aware of the health issues in their community and identified several issues and solutions on Friday June 15th.   The children were broken into two groups and asked to highlight some of the health issues in the community and identify feasible solutions.  Both groups listed crime as a major threat in the community.  Additionally, one group listed teenage pregnancy and STDs as a key issue for young females.  The other group focused on illegal dumping of waste and listed several potential solutions (additional garbage bins, changing community opinions of waste disposal, etc.).  The solutions listed will be incorporated into the waste management initiative we hope to begin next week.  Further, the other issues identified by the children will be compiled to inform future Project Hope UK/Thoughtful Path Munsieville projects.

The final day of the Winter Break Program was celebrated with a showcase of the children’s talents and skills on Saturday.  Soccer and netball served as the main events of the day.  We also had children create a banner for Legae La Bana, recite poems and perform dance routines.  These events provided the children with a safe, positive activity to participate in on Saturday.  Moreover, the events gave the children an opportunity for physical activity and increased their self-esteem.  All of the children received a certificate of achievement for completion of the Winter Break Program.

The last two weeks have not only provided an opportunity to break the cycle of poor health and change the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of the community, but they have also humbled me and taught me a great deal.  It genuinely amazes me just how smart, capable, and resilient children can be regardless of where they may live or what material items they possess.  The two weeks that we spent with the children will hopefully lay the foundation for positive change and greater overall health not only for these individuals, but for their families and the community as well.  I am extremely honored to work with this community and Project Hope UK and to represent East Tennessee State University and the Frist Global Health Leaders.  That said, I can’t wait to see what more we can accomplish in the next few weeks!