Tuesday, January 31, 2017

SLU PT Study Abroad Opportunity - South Africa

Molo! from South Africa

By: Caroline Lipic (DPT Class of 2020)
Molo! Molo is translated to hello in Xhosa, one of the eleven national languages of South Africa. My name is Caroline, and I was given the unique experience to study abroad for a semester. Given that most physical therapy students are not granted this opportunity, I wanted to make sure I took full advantage of this chance to see the practice of physical therapy on a global scale. Yet, I also wanted to get to know the people of a different culture and grow in community. After reviewing study abroad programs, I found that the South Africa Service Learning Program through Marquette University was the perfect match. Here I had the opportunity to meet influential South African leaders work with physical therapists at a school for children who are differently abled, Tembaletu, and live in community with 18 other students from Jesuit institutions. Of course the tip of the iceberg, was the fact that Cape Town is a beautiful city filled with mountains, beaches, and a thriving metropolitan area.

What did you anticipate? Were you nervous? Excited?

Before arriving to South Africa, I did a lot of research about their deep history regarding colonization, apartheid, the struggle, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I prepared for the adventures that I would have by buying hiking boots, following nearly ten different Cape Town instagram pages, and communicating with alum from the program. Being “born and raised” in STL, this was going to be the longest I have ever been away from home. I found this more exciting than nerve racking. I could not wait to hike, swim with sharks, bungee jump, try new foods, develop relationships, and gain a global perspective. Yet there was still this unease of not knowing what to expect for the next four months. Jokingly, my mom’s biggest fear was that I was going to be step on by an elephant. Due to the fact that I was primarily in an urban area, this was not of high concern. In all reality, my biggest challenge would be accustoming to the culture. So, a lot of emotions were bundled up inside of me prior to leaving. Yet, I was ready to take on this experience head on. A lot of people had helped me get to this point, and I owed it to them and myself to have an experience of a life-time.

What surprised you the most about your experience? What about the other culture surprised or shocked you?
The initial shock of being in South Africa for some reason caused me to have deja vu moments often. From my plane window, I was able to differentiate between townships, the Cape Flats, and urban city area. The fist week we were kept busy with service site visits, orientation at University of Western Cape (fist university in Cape Town to oppose apartheid), and cultural dinners at Marco’s. The effects of apartheid (separation of White, Malaysian, Colored, and Black from 1948-1994) was evident through interactions with people and views of physical locations. Despite the fact that there are still major social, physical, and economical scars of apartheid, the people were very prideful of the country’s ability to take the high road through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC was an initiative set up by the Government of National Unity to aid in the healing of the country after severe human rights violations during apartheid. People came forth and apologize for aiding in violent acts, and asked for amnesty and victims forgave their perpetrators. Public and private programs were established (Amy Biehl Foundation, Nelson Mandela Foundation, Saint Ann’s Shelter), interactive museum were built, and peace of mind was achieved through this commission. Due to this, there was an evident feeling of hope in this nation. Other small shocks involving my transition involved the response of “pleasure” instead of “you’re welcome” or the fact that cucumbers were called marrow. 
What did you see (monuments, historical sites, palaces, etc.) that impressed you the most?
Every Friday, all Iziko South African Museums are free for students; therefore, our group too full advantage. We visited the District Six Museum, tribute to the colored population that lived in this location before apartheid, then displaced to the Cape Flats due to systemic racism during apartheid. The tour guides at this museum are people who lived here prior to the displacement. 
Robben Island, which is where Nelson Mandela was held for the 18 out of 27 years he was in jail. The tour guides for this museum are previous prisoners who were detained due racial discrimination. Other museum include: Bo-Kaap Museum, Apartheid Museum, Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, Slave Lodge, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, South Africa Museum, South Africa National Gallery, Two Ocean’s Aquarium.

Hiking on Cape Town’s three peaks (Devils Peak, Table Mountain, and Lion’s Head) was a bi-weekly and sometimes even tri-weekly activity. Especially when there was a full moon. People from all over Cape Town hike up Lion’s Head to see the sunset and the rise of the full moon. We even made it up there for the viewing of the super moon this year! Other hiking adventures involved hiking all three peaks in 18 hours. It was most certainly a bonding experience for the K-house (where we lived) girls.
Part of this program also included anti-apartheid leader speakers who lectured to us every Friday.
Through this experience I had the opportunity to meet former Anglican Archbishop of South Africa Desmond Tutu (Nobel Peace Prize Winner 1984), John De Gruchy (Anti-apartheid leader and author of "No Future Without Reconciliation"), Mary Burton (member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission), Carol Bower (former director of multiple children's rights organizations), Funeka Soldaat (Lesbian assault and abuse activist), Nwabisa Bonxo (founder of Sinako After School program, politician in the ANC, and member of the MK), Ntobeko Nofemela (one of the convicted men who killed Amy Biehl), and Edwin Arrison (chairperson of NC4P).  
One of the more memorial moments was when we attended service lead by Desmond Tutu at St. George’s Cathedral. He has had this service every Friday morning since the end of apartheid in order to gather likely minded individuals in order to pray about the countries future. Before the service began, Tutu asked everyone who he did not recognize to stand up and say their name and where they are from. Then, at the sign of peace, this woman came up to me and said that she had graduated from Saint Louis University. The two of us bonded over being fellow Billikens! At the end of the service, he sunk back in his chair as people thanked him for all he has done for the country of South Africa and world in general. His humble and kind presence is something that I will never forget. 

Can you describe some of the food that you loved best? Any food experiences that didn’t go as planned/well? 
If you know me, you know that I love spicy, colorful, and texture full plates! South African cuisine provided me with all three. More traditional food would be chicken curry (Malaysian influence) or some sort of stew soaked in pap, a stickier version of grits. We would go to Big Mamma’s for fast take-out traditional food, but once or twice we went to Marco’s African Place. Here we had springbok, lamb stew, ostrich, kudu, and finish it off with malva bread pudding. At Marco’s there was also traditional Zulu singers and dancers who interacted with the audience to come up and dance!

Yet, Braii’s were the K-House guy and gal’s favorite way to have a family dinner. Braiis are a South African BBQ, expect instead of grilling burgers and hot dogs, you grill lamb and chicken drenched in Savannah Dry’s and rubbed with Braii seasoning. We would normally have Braiis at the house and invite our friends from University of Western Cape and Service to join.  
Did you make friends with some of the people native to that site? What was that experience like? Did they make you notice things about your own culture that surprised you?
Tembaletu which means “Our Hope” in Xhosa was the school where I volunteered at during my duration in Cape Town. It is in the Guglathu township and is a public school specifically for children with physical disabilities, who speak Xhosa, and want a mainstream curriculum. Since, this is the only school of it’s kind in the Western Cape, children came from all over the Western Cape. Given this, the school has a hostel where students who live too far away or have compromising family situations can stay during the week.
My bruuuus, Dylan and Leilah, were the two physio-therapists that I worked with throughout the day. I learned so much from these two. The kid’s adored Dylan or Mr. D. He would explain to me that while we were playing a competitive game of wheel-barrel, he was evaluating the student’s upper-extremity and core strength or how he buys colorful duct tap to put on the kid’s prosthetics so that they are not scared of them. Leilah has a compassionate nature, and has a strong desire for the kids to push themselves. She brought little things to my attention, such as the importance of teaching a child how to sit up with out drooling, since it would effect their ability to be hired in the future. Watching her interact with the kids, and reminding them that they do have expectations in life has inspired me to approach my future profession with passion. I also grew close with the other therapists on staff: Colleen and Wendy (speech therapists), Melissa and Naz (occupational therapists), and Sister (nurse).
At University of Western Cape, I also made friends with my classmates. I definitely got an interesting perspective from these individuals. There has been a national protest on high tuition fees in South Africa since last year; the movement is called “Fees Must Fall.” This is issue is rooted in systematic oppression of the black population and their inability to afford tertiary education. After protesting efforts were effective last year, Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s President, promised to lower fees and provide other accommodations for students such as better transportation to universities. Yet, these promises were not followed through, and as a result, protesting has continued on campuses nation wide. My friends from school had a diverse view on the situation. A lot of my friends who were graduating this year, were worried about graduating on time. Yet, other friends were scared that if the protest did not work, they would not be able to continue with their education. Conversations with these individuals has open up my eyes to see beyond the surface level issue and to the actual root of the problem. 
 Also, I cannot forget about the K-House girls and boy. Yes, there were 18 of us girls and one boy. We grew as a community together over the four months we were abroad. I can honestly say that the energy in that house was like nothing I had every experienced before. I owe my wonderful experience to everyone in that house, including the program coordinators and staff. 

How was your clinical experience? Did you have the opportunity to learn about new methods or equipment or participate in research?
Two days out of the week I participated in service at Tembaletu (Only Xhosa speaking and mainstream curriculum school for the differently abled in Cape Town in Gugulethu Township) and Sinako After School Program. At Tembaletu, I assisted the physio-therapists with treatments, fixed wheelchairs, led a weigh lifting class, and chaperoned students to visits in the Orthopedic Center. The children were so enthusiastic and motivated despite their conditions (spina bifida, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, gunshot victims, etc.). They loved to "jika jika" (twist in Xhosa) during therapy sessions, and can crank out push-ups like no other! It would melt my heart, as I watch kids fight over who got to push their friend in their wheelchair.
As part of this program, two other students (Ben Zellmer and Kali Swindell) and I have conducted an advocacy/research project on the need for wheelchair cushions at the school. Wheelchair cushions are in high demand, since they are recommended to be replaced every 6 months in order to prevent pressure sores, infection, and deformed posture in patients. Through our outreach, we have been able raise $645 to go towards future wheelchair cushions and develop a relationship between Comfort Company (wheelchair cushion distributor) and Tembaletu in which they will provide extra wheelchair materials to the school. Additionally, I worked at Sinako After School Program where I helped coach soccer and volleyball teams with kids from Nomlinganiselo (primary school in Nyanga).

Would you recommend that other PT students study abroad for clinical experience? Would you recommend your site to them?
Undoubtedly, yes! Through this experience I was able to take out everything that I possibly could from my study abroad experience. I would like to say, “Enkosi (Thank you in Xhosa) to Saint Louis University for making it a possibility to study abroad in South Africa. Though this sounds cliché, this experience has truly changed by spiritual, academic, and personal life. I’m going to continue my service here in Saint Louis, as Desmond Tutu said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it is those little acts of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
This is one of several posts featuring SLU PT Student study abroad experiences.  Because of its unique format, the SLU PT program gives students the ability to study abroad the fall of their junior year.  For more information about study abroad experiences at SLU go to: http://www.slu.edu/study-abroad.

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