South Africa: Part 1
I came to Quest to have extraordinary experiences. To gain exposure to things that I would not at a traditional university. I came to be challenged, pushed out of my comfort zone, and ultimately to grow. So when I was one of ten students accepted into the course Politics of Health in South Africa, I said yes immediately. The two-part course began as a regular on-campus course in October, with 20 students (10 who took the course as a stand-alone, 10 who would go on the trip).
October block was hectic, trying to equip ourselves with the knowledge necessary to navigate through our trip abroad. We learned about the history of South Africa and how it has impacted health and the healthcare system, most specifically looking at HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB). We all breathed a sigh of relief when we finished our final presentations, but that didn’t last long. Less than one month later, we all boarded our respective flights to Johannesburg, South Africa. I travelled 14 hours to Dubai, and another 8 to Johannesburg. Upon arrival, I was greeted by Gcobani, our South African contact who helped organize the trip. I was taken to a backpackers (hostel) nearby the airport, and waited for the others to arrive. We were all quite timid that first day, exhausted from 30 hours of travel combined with unknown expectations of the course or from each other. The ten students had been selected by a committee and we only hoped that the group dynamics would be positive.
Our first night led to an early morning flight to Cape Town for the first part of the trip that was organized by a frequent visiting tutor, Christian Acemah. During this week, we met with top academics who spoke about TB, HIV/AIDS, unemployment, education, and the healthcare system, among other topics. Some of the lecturers were authors of pieces that we read in October, and hearing their rendition of their research brought a new dimension to the discussions that we had in class. My favourite speaker was Kate Abney, who spoke about her work with children in the TB ward at a hospital in Cape Town. Because my question revolves around biomedical sciences, I also enjoyed the lecture by Roxana Rustomjee, chief specialist scientist with the Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships of the South African Medical Research council and previously the director of the Unit for Clinical and Biomedical TB Research of the South African Medical Research Council. The South African Medical Research Council is the main research organization and funding and regulatory body for health research and pharmaceutical manufacturing in the country. Not only was it related to biology, but also brought up questions of ethics and inequalities in access to medications.
Every day was a field trip in and of itself, either to one of the major universities in the area (University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University, University of the Western Cape), to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, and iconic locations in the city like the Center for the Book. In addition to attending lectures, we had a lot of readings for each presenter, and had to write a journal entry each night.
Somehow, we still managed to find some time for fun activities. We got one “fun day” this week. A few students decided to hike Table mountain, and some of us went to Muizenberg beach to go surfing. The day off and exercise was very needed!
This first week in Cape Town gave us a broad overview of the problems facing South Africa, specifically from the lens of academics and policy makers. The lectures reinforced what we had learned in October, and the discourse that occurred with the presenters and among the students added depth to the topics.
Next stop is Jo’burg for part 2 – stay tuned!