Radha Sathanayagam | Staten Island, NY — Medicine, Health, and Society, 2018
Radha Sathanayagam is a sophomore from Staten Island, NY majoring in Medicine, Health, & Society on the pre-med track. She is looking forward to being part of the Vanderbilt OACS Global Service Immersion Program in South Africa, where she will engage in service with the Missionvale Care Centre and Sapphire Road Primary in Port Elizabeth. The service program will address various needs of the community including education, social injustice, and healthcare.
Blog Post One:
Though I had begun learning about South Africa and its past through seminars and readings in the months prior to my arrival, being immersed in this country for just a week so far has taught me so much more. On our first day, we visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. Through photographs, videos, quotes, and artifacts, I was able to gather a great deal of information regarding the history of apartheid and its eventual dismantlement. Later visiting the current constitutional court located on the site of old prisons left me with conflicting feelings about the devastation of the past combined with hope for the future.
The next day we visited the town of Soweto, where Nelson Mandela and others lived and fought for liberation. Here, we were able to visit both a primary school and high school which held thousands of black South Africans. Becki, A South African professor of sociology of education, who was also our tour guide in Soweto, informed us of the great educational disparities that still exist post-Apartheid. I really began to see parallels with the US, where certain poorer minority neighborhoods typically have schools with less funding and poorer educations. The visit to schools also gave me a glimpse of some of the service I look forward to doing at Machiu Primary School in Port Elizabeth. I believe this service can also be an experience that I bring back to my home country to make a positive impact on children’s educations as I continue to serve youth through organizations such as the Nashville International Center for Empowerment.
We then had the opportunity to visit Soweto Hospice and to go on home visits to deliver food supplies to patients. The hospice’s facility was quite remarkable, with amenities such as beautifully painted walls for the children’s ward, a full kitchen, and large individual wards for infectious patients. However, the hospice was far below capacity, yet we learned from hospice workers that the healthcare needs for Johannesburg’s population is much greater than they can accommodate; most care was done through home visits. As someone looking to pursue medicine in the future, it was extremely interesting for me to learn from the people who run a hospice in a place where healthcare needs are so high, especially for HIV/AIDS treatment. Much aid is needed to actually continuously run a healthcare nonprofit even when the facility is there. I was able to see that a major issue in global health is having sufficient funds and personnel and finding the ideal methods in order to reach entire communities in need.
I am so grateful to have been immersed in Johannesburg history, culture, and present day life in just these few days, thanks to the service learning experience organized by Vanderbilt OACS and the generosity of the Nichols fund. Now that we have arrived in Port Elizabeth, I look forward to the four weeks of service here where I will really be able to get to know Machiu Primary School and the specific needs of the community and the individuals who are a part of it.
Blog Post Two:
I spent my last day in South Africa doing service, but this time we were in the township of Khayelitsha in Cape Town. It was a very different feeling than when I visited other townships like Soweto or Missionvale, or did a longer period of service at Machiu. We only spent a few hours serving this community, but the impact on the residents felt immediately positive.
That day, it took only a little bit of guidance for our group to start building gardens in five homes in the areas. What was amazing to me was the simplicity of the materials used and the actual setup of the gardens that would eventually produce food for the families. We used materials such as plastic crates, wood, newspaper, and tires to create something where life would grow. Some spray paint added a burst of color to beautify this growth in these homes.
While seeing the immediate product of our work made it seem impactful, Khayelitsha’s atmosphere is what created the feeling of positivity. As we explored parts of the township earlier in the day, I got to see the hospitals, coffee shop, and artwork present there. It was clear to me that important changes were occurring there, and I think that is what made my contribution of building a few gardens feel like meaningful change.
I am grateful to have culminated my trip doing service and surrounded by the positive change and lively residents of Khayelitsha. The families were eager to take care of their gardens and to be able to harvest the food in the near future. People in the community who were not getting gardens this day also came to learn about what we were doing and even to help out. This single day of service summed up so much of what I learned and gained from my experience in South Africa. Making change really is possible when people come together with a goal in mind, and this change can come from seemingly simple actions.