Things are continuing to go very well here at Hope Park.  I am getting more and more adjusted to the daily workflow at the center, and I’ve been working on a number of projects to help the community of Munsieville.  For example, I’ve been continuing to work on creating data capture and collection systems for Hope Park.  This is important as it allows those working for The Thoughtful Path to identify how things at the center have changed over time, such as the number of students enrolled in No Child Left Behind and the outcome of those children, or what kind of community education workshops have taken place.  Additionally, as Hope Park continues to reach out to potential new stakeholders, being able to show quantifiable data about what is being done at Hope Park will be essential.  To that end, I’ve created  a number of documents and forms such as cover sheets for enrolled children, a guestbook to keep track of adult visitors to the center, and a planned weekly schedule for each staff member.  This kind of documentation is something which The Thoughtful Path has struggled with in Munsieville, and it is my hope that these systems will have a lasting impact on this community. 

I’ve also been reaching out to potential stakeholders, educating them about the nature of our work here at Hope Park, and discussing potential opportunities for collaboration between our organizations.  For example, Witwatersrand University, located about 45 minutes away in Johannesburg, has several community outreach programs.  However, none of them are currently involved with Hope Park.  In particular, their dental school has created the Community Oral Health Outreach Program, which is designed to provide oral health and dental services to underprivileged members of their community.  Thus far, their focus has been on inner city youth in Johannesburg, but I contacted them in order to discuss the possibility of providing any of these services to Munsieville.  I visited their university to meet with Dr. Mpho Molete,  one of the representatives from the program, who seemed very excited about the chance to get involved with The Thoughtful Path.  We talked about our missions, what kinds of services we are able to provide, and ways that we could work together to benefit our community.  They also showed me their mobile oral health clinic: two state of the art busses which included x-ray machines, exam chairs, and lots of other advanced equipment for providing oral care in low resource settings.  These clinics could be put to excellent use in Munsieville, and we are continuing to work with Witwatersrand  to schedule times when these trucks could come and visit us at Hope Park.

One of the mobile dental clinics at Wits University

What’s more, we had two groups of students come and visit us from other programs associated with Witwatersrand University.  Namely, we had visiting students from the schools of pharmacy and surgery.  As Wits is a university with a strong international presence, many of their students are not South African, and most had never been exposed to the more rural and less resource-prevalent areas of the country.  Numbering 60 and 70 students, respectively, these groups were almost too many to house at Hope Park, but we were still able to educate them about Munsieville, The Thoughtful Path, and ways they could potentially volunteer with us in the  future.  While we can’t say how many of them will follow-up with us, many expressed their interest in getting more involved with the community, and I think the ability to visit one of South Africa’s informal settlements was a very enlightening experience for them.  Knowing more about this community is an essential first step for anyone who is interested in improving the lives of the people who live here, and I believe all healthcare providers should strive to understand the communities where they live and work.  

A full house at Hope Park!

Accompanied by one of the staff members at Hope Park, I also took time this week to tour through the informal settlement, in order to see up close and personal how this group of people lives.  I learned a great deal about the history of the community, how it has changed over the years since the beginning of Project Hope’s involvement, and how we can better engage with the community and address their needs.  We also spoke with  numerous community members about our programs, as a way of building trust and increasing awareness about Hope Park.  In particular, we kept our eyes open for any school-aged children who were at home during school hours (as those are exactly the kinds of students we wish to engage with NCLB).  We talked to these children and their parents about No Child Left Behind, and explored their reasons for not being enrolled in school.  In many cases, it was due to parent’s lacking the required documents, or enough money to pay for school fees, meaning that these kids were excellent candidates for NCLB.  It was very helpful for me to get a closer look at the Mshunegeville settlement, as well as to have the chance to see up close the shacks in which these people live their whole lives, often with large families living in a space not much larger than an automobile.  It’s enough to realize that, despite the strong and hard-working nature of these people, their living conditions ares still incredibly low.  This fact is enough to keep me strongly motivated to do everything I can to benefit Hope Park and Munsieville. 

Some typical houses  in the informal settlement

Talking with children throughout the Mshuengeville settlement