Saturday, 20 July 2013

Community-based learning at CMT

We’ve already heard plenty of stories about people living with HIV in South Africa, the majority of whom reside in under-resourced black townships, suffer from poverty and unemployment, experience fragmented family life, and lack the basic access to quality care and information. These populations have also been extensively analyzed, in a rather detached manner, as either figures demonstrated in papers or participants of randomized controlled trials. However, through community-based learning opportunities such as working with local non-profit organizations and the homestay weekend in Langa township, we finally came to understand them as real people - people who have their own aspirations and struggles just as we do. The weekly journal and reflection session further enabled us to bring together both the observations out in the field and the classroom learning.

Entrance to the CMT office 

       Community Media Trust, the local non-profit organization Amanda and I have been working with for the past six weeks, is dedicated to producing all forms of media for the purpose of promoting health literacy in South Africa, primarily under the brand of its popular TV show Siyayinqoba Beat It!. Apparently, one of the major causes of the high prevalence of HIV especially in those remote townships in South Africa is the lack of easy access to quality health information. As a result, an incredible number of residents in those underserved communities would test positive for HIV due to inconsistent condom use, while only a few would actually know their HIV status and even less would get and stay on ARV treatment. In addition to providing them with affordable and accessible health care, I believe it’s equally important to educate the patients with adequate information to keep themselves safe and healthy, thus empowering them with regards to their entitlement to health services. “If you test positive, think positive too!” Once the patients know that they can lead a normal life, including working, having a family and giving birth to healthy children, just as well as their healthy counterparts, it would be much easier to take a positive outlook on life and learn to live in harmony with the virus. 

Amanda (my partner, left), Debbie (our supervisor, middle)
and I (right) at the Siyayinqoba Beat it! Wrap-up Party 

      Our major contributions involve writing up press release for the website, editing a video clip about an event, and doing literature review for a research project. Our experience is also highlighted by a couple CMT events that we luckily got to be part of, notably the teenage pregnancy workshop, the HIV/TV training session for community health workers (CHWs), and the Siyayinqoba Beat it! Wrap-up Party.

CMT Outreach staff

     Through these experiences, I learnt to view a lot of things from a very differently perspective. The fates of black people have been so miserable, and their dignity been so unreasonably undermined, that they are too eager to protect their own people from any further insults from the western world, even in the extreme way. I regret having thought of those who rejected ARV treatment or HIV in general as stupid or wrong. I hope that we are here not just because of empathy, in some sort of mindset like “These black people are so poor. They have so many problems and I have to be there to fix them!” I wish we could really treat them as our equals in the mind, before we talk about social “equality” in the broader sense. I hope we truly learn to understand the lives and aspirations of individuals, respect the culture they take pride in, value everyone’s contribution to the community, and most importantly care for their wellbeing. I’d like to share my favorite quote from the Great Gatsby here“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. "Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.”

      I also got a better understanding of the essence of community based learning. What the organization can offer greatly varies across each placement site, yet it's important to be open-minded and positive. As many seemingly trivial tasks reveal their value to me over time, I have realized that what we feel and learn ultimately depends on how we approach our work and manage to get the most of it. 

By Yutong Zhou

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