Friday, 26 June 2015

St. Joseph's: A Home Away From Home

     The majority of my time here in South Africa is spent at the amazing St. Joseph’s Home For Chronically Ill Children. I have always adored kids.  From the day I decided to switch from being pre-law and instead go into medicine to become a pediatrician, I haven’t looked back.  That’s one of the reasons my internship at St. Joseph’s Home (SJH) is so great.  SJH is a wonderful facility for those children who have life-limiting and life-threatening illnesses. Each day that I am at SJH, I encounter kind, considerate and friendly nurses and staff members.  There are so many wonderful children here who are just bubbling with excitement and filled to the brim with joy regardless of their condition. It is honestly such a privilege to be surrounded by them. JHU_Gauri who also works at my site, in her own blog mentioned some great and also heartrending facts about the kids who live at the Home.

                                                      The delightful lobby of St. Joseph's Home      

      St. Joseph’s Home is not only great in the care it provides for so many children, but also in its pioneering of an innovative short-term block therapy program. Founded by German nuns who did not believe in idle hands, SJH focuses not on the disabilities that limit them, but instead, rather on improving the abilities the children do have. A number of the children at the Home were in car accidents and suffer from traumatic brain injuries. A few of these children have been enrolled in the two-week block program in which they can receive speech, occupational and physiotherapy. After the therapy program ends, the facility sends rehab care workers to follow up on the progress of the children.

      !An article about two adorable kids at SJH who were able to successfully progress to the next grade     

      For the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to shadow these therapists and never once have I found them to be lacking in compassion nor patience with any child, no matter how limited the child’s abilities were (they also certainly had the patience to answer the many questions I asked). It is such a pleasure to see these children who’ve suffered from a stroke or who have cerebral palsy, carry out the fun and creative tasks the therapists set out for them.  Although it is heartbreaking to know what these children have been through, constantly seeing a smile on their faces never fails to cheer me up.  As I watch them successfully complete each task, whether it is pronouncing a word or using their affected hand to throw a ball, I cannot help but to feel inspired by their tenacity to keep on improving.

                                                                  An amazing child who is doing well at SJH

      Since the block program is only two weeks, the therapists can only do so much before the time is up. Thus, the program requires that parents be an integral part of the process and attend at least four sessions so that when the child is discharged, the parent can continue the exercises. Unfortunately, although improvements are made in the program, many of these children regress in someway after being discharged. This is one of the few times I see the jovial therapists look defeated.  Many of these children come from poverty stricken homes and their families face multiple issues. Many parents have various responsibilities such as having to go to work or caring for their other children and so they cannot give their child the attention he/she needs nor do many of them have the financial means to properly support their disabled child.
       St. Joseph's Home allowed us to do a home visit in order to obtain a firsthand experience of the living situations of these children. In both homes we visited, a common concern was the child’s progress in school. After they are discharged, these children end up going to mainstream schools where there are forty kids to one teacher and so the teacher cannot give the individualized attention the child needs.  Unfortunately, as a consequence, the child ends up falling behind. Transferring the child to a special school can be a long and arduous process and in the mean time the kids continue to have difficulties at their current schools. It is saddening to know that so many of these children regress or fall through the cracks after all the progress they had made at St. Joseph’s Home, especially since with the right care they would have flourished. At the end of my days at the Home, I always wish I could have been more helpful to those children instead of just observing their plight, and I am constantly wondering how I could have made more of an impact in their lives.
       When I am taken away from those thoughts by doing some adventurous activity with the other girls on the trip, like hiking Lion’s Head (where I quickly found out I was not the world’s best hiker) or paragliding, I am able to immerse myself in the beauty of Cape Town. Being thousands of feet in the air and seeing all the beauty below, it is easy to just be in awe of what seems like a perfect surface. However, my time at St. Joseph’s Home has ensured that I will never forget the sad reality for so many children that lies beneath it all.
                                                  !Amazing view from when I went paragliding   

Chantal Clough

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Youth Day Festivities

My very first Friday of interning at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Center, I had the pleasure of attending the site's annual Youth Day celebration. I heard murmurings of the upcoming celebration as soon as I began work at the beginning of the week. As I was getting to know my site, which consists of a positive youth development center and clinic, I could sense a tangible feeling of excitement among the staff and my fellow interns. I attended a planning meeting, and learned that much thought and enthusiasm had gone into the preparation of the celebration long before my arrival. On Friday morning, as I rode through the mountains on the way to the Youth Center, I eagerly wondered what the day had in store.

Youth Day is a South African national holiday on which people celebrate the youth of today and remember the youth of the past. In particular, South Africans commemorate the youth involved in a protest that took place on June 16, 1976 in Soweto. On this day in history, school aged individuals rallied for the right to education taught in their native language of Xhosa. Recent apartheid-era laws had instead mandated instruction in the language of Afrikaans. This initial protest led to a string of other youth protests, collectively called the Soweto uprising. Very sadly, these children and adolescents were met with harsh police brutality. On June 16, 1976, South Africans remember these brave souls as many children across the country take part in festivals and marches. Schools and work places are closed on June 16, so the Youth Center holds its celebration the Friday before the actual holiday.

The main individuals in charge of the celebration were six interns hired from the community the Youth Center services. This community, the nearby township of Masiphumelele, has a high rate of HIV and is home to many lower income families. The Youth Center provides Masiphumelele with a safe place where youth can learn educational and self-betterment skills as well as access clinical services. The six youth interns go through a competitive interview process in order to earn these positions of leadership, and are fully dedicated to helping kids from Masiphumelele succeed and be healthy. For me, their kindness, enthusiasm, and friendship have made them the best parts of working at the center so far.

When I came into the Youth Center that Friday morning, the first thing I saw was the six Masiphumelele interns dressed in school uniforms. Though they had all graduated from high school, they thought it would be fun to promote the holiday's theme of education. I helped them to set up chairs for the youth that would soon arrive. Before long, all the chairs were occupied and only standing room was left. Children filled the room in large groups of friends, laughing and singing. I watched from the far back as the festivities began!

A full house at the Youth Day celebration! 
Puthuma, one of the most outgoing interns, took on the role of master of ceremonies. She told jokes to get the kids riled up and then engaged them in a trivia contest. A giant wheel with numbers was spun, and kids from the audience were asked questions about the history of Youth Day. Correct answers earned the youth lollipops and an invitation to one of the Youth Center's upcoming programs. The children loved this activity; it was hard for those in the audience to resist shouting out the answers to the questions as each one was asked.

Puthuma working the microphone and asking trivia questions
Following this, a string of artistic youth performances took place. An a capella singing group blended beautiful harmonies, and a young girl recited striking self-composed poetry. A group of drummers and dancers amazed the crowd with their rhythmic talents and acrobatic skills. A group of mimes even made an appearance, which caused the youth to howl with laughter and enjoyment. All of these performances had ties back to the original theme of the holiday: the promotion of youth and the remembrance of the Soweto uprising victims.

Dancers at the front of the stage

The hilarious mimes!

When the performances had all finished, the youth gathered signs with positive messages, and went outside for a march led by the Youth Center. During this short window of opportunity, the other interns and I prepared snacks of muffins and oranges for them to enjoy upon their return. The festivities had come to a conclusion, but they had been a great deal of fun.

That evening, as I was riding home to Rondebosch, I thought about all that I had experienced that day. I had seen so much positivity in the youth of Masiphumelele, and I found it truly inspiring. I was excited to get to know the rest of the interns better, and I was excited to interact with more of the kids at the center. I knew that the rest of my summer at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Center would be informative, fun, and fulfilling.

Good Night Cape Town, Good Morning World

Happiness, and hiking. Never have I ever had any intentions of hiking…especially up a mountain. Well, particularly because I am not a huge fan of nature – the woods, bugs, snakes, all of that good stuff. Yet, when you find yourself surrounded by a landscape that looks like it belongs on the cover of National Geographic magazine, you have to give it a chance. I mean, I look straight ahead, I see mountains; I look right, I see mountains; I look left, I see mountains; in my dreams, well, I haven’t seen a mountain just yet, but I feel it coming! 

True Beauty of the12 Apostles !
Cape Town, South Africa is absolutely beautiful. So beautiful that I did, in fact, decide to go hiking. Not once, but twice in 24 hours! It all began with Lion’s Head. I remember driving past looking at this thing for days. Every time, the same thought would circle my mind: Mufasa and Simba belong there! Or, are you sure this isn’t Pride Rock? It took a few days before I realized that they don’t even look alike. Well, kind of, but since its definitely not Simba territory, I decided it was certainly my opportunity to make my mark. I had to climb it, and my girls were coming with me! 

Pride Rock
Lion's Head

It couldn’t have been a more perfect day to hike 669m above sea level (even though we didn’t walk right out of the sea, we could see the sea so it still counts)! The trail began very much so path like, with a wide and not-so-scary walkway up the hill. I started up, arms pumping, feet moving, smile shining, but it only took about ten minutes uphill for my feet to slowly trot, arms fall – but nonetheless my smile didn’t fail me (: I picked up the pace a little and pushed through until walking up this hill became second nature. Of course, being the girls we are, we had to take pictures on pictures on pictures every chance we could get, even though at the end of the day most of the pictures looked completely identical. It was worth the pit stop water break! However, the clear path didn’t last too long. It became narrow real quick! I peeked over the edge a few times and quietly died inside. I used to be the most daring kid. I really don’t know what happened to me with this whole fear of heights situation. But, its cool; it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you fall off, right? WRONG! Ok, back to our lovely adventure. After a few ladders, role calls, and scaling the mountain time after time again, we were on our way to standing on top of this lion’s head! 

I'm on top of the worldddd!

Don't Worry, Be Happy (:

Climbing up wasn’t too bad, but all I could think about was trying to climb down. About an hour and a half into our journey, we made it to the top. Just in time for the sunset! I can honestly say that making it to the top was one huge accomplishment. And it was awesome! The beauty of this sunset relieved all of my worries and deepened all of my happiness. Perfect place for some quick selfies!

Hey, look what we found  


Ahhhhhhhhhh !

What better way to start your day than to wake up to your alarm clock blaring at 4:30am? Attempting to move a leg realizing it feels about five hundred pounds because you’re so sore from walking up a mountain only a several hours prior. I mean it doesn’t get better than that, right? False. That was the ultimate struggle. But I had to persevere and climb another mountain…in complete darkness, yay! Today’s special was Devil’s Peak with a little bit of sunrise on the side. I know the name sounds quite mean, but I didn’t realize how evil a hill could actually be. This time our so-called “trail” consisted of nothing but rocks, shrubs, dirt, and more green pieces of nature. This time, our so-called “trail” also meant walking straight up a steep, vertical hill. I felt like I was walking on the treadmill with an incline of about 234,329. I got that feeling where you feel like your lungs are going to explode, blood pumping. The good part, my Fitbit was really feeling it. I had about 10,000 steps by 1:00pm that afternoon! As we walked up the mountain, the brisk morning wind kept us cool and eager to reach the top. I was feeling accomplished, my determination though. Few breaks and about an hour later, I reached the blockhouse on the mountain just as the sun was about to peek out from under the darkness. It was so refreshing. The sky adorned itself with intense streaks of navy followed by soft orange in color. It was honestly such an incredible feeling. As the sun continued to rise brightening the sky, I felt like the world was waking up one moment at a time. Good morning Cape Town! I couldn’t believe I made it up two mountains in less than 24 hours. Before this weekend, I had never hiked in my life! Maybe this hiking thing isn’t too bad after all. It made me really happy (:

Dusk above the clouds.

I see the sun coming !

Would you look at that ! Hello Cape Town.

Made with Love 
Danni (:

Monday, 22 June 2015

Meatless Mondays Everyday

When I decided to come to South Africa, I didn’t really know what to expect. I would be in a new country, with new people, eating new foods. Surprisingly, my main concern for the trip was not the fact that I would be in a new country for six weeks, nor that I would be with people I didn’t know very well; my main concern was about the food that I would be eating…or rather not eating.
Before leaving Hopkins, we met with a travel doctor to discuss the do’s and don’ts for the trip. One of the main topics was food. The doctor started with warnings about water and ice, advising that we should avoid tap water and drink “boiled, bottled or chemically purified water that are considered safe and potable.” She went into great detail about how freezing does not destroy bacteria so we should ask for no ice in our drinks. Yet, she still did not spend as long talking about ice and water, as she did fruits and vegetables. She told us that in general we should avoid eating unpeeled fruits and raw vegetables. If we wanted to eat any raw vegetables, we were advised to soak it in bleach first and then use a scrub brush to make sure we removed all potential bacteria from the food. She also mentioned that foods with veins like lettuce and celery should be avoided at all costs because no amount of “cleaning” could rid them of bacteria. When we asked if that meant we shouldn’t eat salads, she said, “No potato salad and macaroni salad are still okay.” Those really weren’t the types of salads we had in mind, but judging by that answer, lettuce salads were out of the question as well. Essentially, every food group had a caution along the lines of “avoid unless properly washed” or “avoid unless cooked and with fresh ingredients.” It appeared only safe food group was meat, but this was not good news for me.

Can always count ice cream as a vegetarian
friendly option (Chocolate Ice Cream
from The Creamery: PC Lara)
 I have been a vegetarian for over 7 years now and don’t really see myself eating meat any time soon. So after hearing all the suggested food restrictions, I called my mom panicking that I wouldn’t be able to find things to eat. She of course calmed me down and told me that the US is not the only country with vegetarians; I would find food no matter what. I hoped that there would be at least one other girl on the trip so that I would not take on this food adventure on my own. To my excitement, I found out that two more girls were also vegetarians (Lara and Gauri), and that they shared some of the same concerns.

Example A of foods we were supposed to avoid: fresh tomato and mozzarella with arugula and basil pesto on toasted ciabatta (Bruschetta from The Italian Kitchen)
Gauri took the lead in testing the validity of the doctor’s statements. She ate salad and veggies from the start whereas I was skeptical about eating vegetables that had not been cooked, and I strictly stayed away from lettuce salads. It seemed silly especially since nothing looked unsafe but I really did not want to get sick. After Gauri indulged in meals filled with raw vegetables, lettuce, and unpeeled fruit, and nothing happened, it became clear that the doctor might have over-exaggerated her pre-cautions. Lucina, our trip coordinator/program manager and a native of South Africa, looked at us as if we had two heads when we told her what the travel doctor said. She re-assured us that vegetables did not have to be bleached, and that most tap waters were in fact potable. In hindsight, I’m sure that the doctor just wanted to make us hyper-aware that food-borne illness was possible and easy to contract. But in doing so, she made us all, particularly me, scared of eating anything from that had the phrase “avoid unless” attached to it.
Contrary to everything that the doctor had said, finding food in South Africa is not difficult at all AND it doesn’t require eating out every night. Of course from time to time I indulge in a nice meal from a restaurant or quick fix from a take out place, but on most days I am able to make my own meals from the food I buy at the grocery store (most common ones I frequent are Woolsworth, and Pick n Pay).

Me posing with the cook book that
created the food pictured on the right
Chili Puffs and Samosas
(Unfortunately the samosas pictured on the
left were made with meat but you can
substitute veggies easily)

What’s great about Cape Town, or at least the area that we are staying, is that we are surrounded by food. You can find a Woolsworth, a pizza place, a Thai Restaurant, Italian Restaurant, an ice cream shop, and a frozen yogurt shop after walking just two blocks right of our cottages (about 10 minutes). A bit further in that direction is an Indian Restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, a Pick n Pay and some fast food chains. Left of the cottages has a similar spread of options as well; you can come across an Indian buffet, numerous pizza places, more fast food restaurants (KFC and McDonalds are everywhere), some interesting local chains, as well as another Pick n Pay, and Woolsworth all within 15 minutes from the cottage (walking not driving).
Take-out and restaurant food is always simple and easy, but it adds up fast. Personally, I would rather spend my money on paragliding or shark cage diving (sorry Dad) rather than meals at a nice restaurant (that being said, the fanciest meal that I’ve had here included an appetizer, meal, and dessert and came to R220, the equivalent of 18 USD). As a result a lot of my meals come from Woolsworth and Pick n Pay. Woolsworth is a bit “fancier” than Pick n Pay in that they have slightly more expensive items with the promise of being more fresh and healthy. Pick n Pay, however, definitely has more of a selection; the stores are generally double the size of a standard Woolsworth. On days that we don’t have catered lunches, I make myself a hummus and veggie sandwich and pack a couple of snacks (usually popcorn, rice crackers and an apple). On nights that we don’t eat out, I make myself a variety of things, from meatless burgers to pasta with sautéed veggies. On those that we do, I have my pick from Italian (for cheesy pizzas and creamy pastas), Mexican (for yummy tacos and steamy fajitas), Indian (for zesty curries and toasty naan), and Thai (for spicy noodles and crispy tofu). All in all it’s safe to say that food has not and will not be an issue for me on this trip. My main concern used to be about finding food to eat, but now it’s about picking which food to eat first.

Penne Pesto Pasta from the Italian Kitchen

My favorite meals from restaurants: 
  • Butternut squash and spinach ravioli with nutmeg sauce (Tuscan Beach Restaurant)
  • Pesto pasta (The Italian Kitchen)
  • Glass noodles with stir fry vegetables and tofu (Thai Café)
  • Vegetable Tacos (The Fat Cactus)

Vegetable Tacos from the Fat Cactus

      My staples from the store:
  • Regular hummus, pesto basil hummus, raspberry yogurt, brown seed bread, rice cakes, and apricot jam (Woolsworth)
  • Strawberry and yogurt muesli, Fry’s meat-free burgers, Fiji apples, and yum yum peanut butter (Pick n Pay)

Rienna Russo