My name is Courtney Stanley and I am a senior at East Tennessee State University College of Public Health. I am currently earning my B.S. degree in Public Health with a concentration in Community and Behavioral Health. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Munsieville, South Africa, and complete my internship with The Thoughtful Path, along with my colleague and fellow student Sarakay Johnson.
The first week of my internship with The Thoughtful Path has been tremendous, to say in the least. I have been able to experience and accomplish more in my first week here than I ever expected. The plane landed Thursday, September 6th at 3:00 pm, and by Friday morning Sarakay Johnson and I were walking through the informal settlements in Munsieville along with Betty Nkoana, the on-site director, and Abi Brooks. The informal settlements, or townships, are where the lower income families and the individuals who have not received any government housing live. The individuals residing in these settlements are at a great mental, physical and social risk. To be able to visit and actually go into these houses and talk to the families living there was amazing. It was overwhelming at first to experience such extreme poverty firsthand. Despite all the education and training I have received as a future public health professional, there was a moment of questioning what I would ever be able to do. Soon after this, however, the ideas started to flow.
I especially began referring to concepts learned in the ESSENTIAL’S class I took over the summer. There are so many basic improvements that can be made that would have an immense effect. First off, is the issue of cooking with a paraffin stove. The possibility exists of creating a brick oven to be used for cooking, or using the bricks to create a stable surface for the paraffin stoves to be placed. There is a brick making site that has finished being constructed, so there is potential create a coalition between the individuals making the bricks and those that are working on home safety. Another issue that I feel needs to be addressed is access to a proper hand washing station. There are only a few pumps between the two different formal settlements that provide access to clean water. I believe the tippy-taps I learned how to make in the ESSENTIAL’S class would serve very well as an affordable and achievable solution.
After we finished with the walkthrough, Sarakay, Betty and I had a meeting to discuss the projects that we would be working on over the course of our internship. They range from projects such as training adolescents and younger adults on how to educate young children in basic healthcare practices, to creating health education material to be available to everyone in Munsieville, and to creating home based, cost-efficient, nutritional gardens that we can train children to manage. There are several others that I will go into detail at a later time.
This first week Sarakay and I have also been assisting Yi He, a doctorial candidate also from ETSU, with the data capturing project started during his time here. There was a slight confusion with how the surveys were being recorded. After working with Yi and the surveying team however, we were able to get everything corrected.
Another rather large and slightly unexpected project that I have worked on this week was a health fair conducted in Mshenguville. Mshenguville is one of the more disadvantaged informal settlements in Munsieville. So, The Thoughtful Path decided to go to Mshenguville and conduct a health fair for the population residing there. Betty requested that Sarakay and I create suitable health information and conduct a health class at the fair. After meeting with the Health Promotion Unit, we decided to focus on hand washing and oral hygiene for younger children. We created interesting and informational posters that would attract the children’s’ attention. To make it fun and interactive we purchased the supplies for hand washing and had the children create their handprint a piece of paper, then showed them how to properly wash their hands afterwards. We also held small tooth brushing classes intermittently throughout the day. After the children completed the class we awarded them with a gold star. That way when the other children saw the stars they would also want to participate in the class. Another volunteer translated a rhyme while Sarakay and I demonstrated the proper technique, then we had the children repeat it with us. After the children completed the class we awarded them with a gold star. That way when the other children saw the stars they would also want to participate in the class.
The rest of the time, we have been assisting in preparing for the visiting board members of Project Hope UK, Project Hope U.S., and other various partners of The Thoughtful Path. This was an absolutely amazing experience. We had the opportunity to meet with many influential people within these organizations. I was able to have a discussion concerning the concentration paper and various projects I will be completing with Bradley Wilson, the chairman of Project Hope UK. It was wonderful to be able to hear the opinion of someone who has so much experience with Project Hope. Also, I attended a leadership lecture conducted by Dame Amelia Fawcett, a board member of Project Hope UK.
Needless to say, my first week of my internship with The Thoughtful Path has been teeming in extraordinary experiences. I know that this trend will only continue for the next ten weeks and I cannot wait to continue to develop and demonstrate my public health knowledge with such a wonderful organization.