Frist Global Health Leader
East Tennessee State University
College of Public Health
Munsieville, South Africa
Class, Camp, and Compost. What do these three things have in common? They all relate to the work Courtney and I completed last week. We have been working hard on three different projects, and I am very excited about what we were able to accomplish.
Our first big project of the week was to teach part one of a surveying and research methods class. In September, Paul Brooks, the director of Project Hope, visited Munsieville with some Project Hope board members in order to check up on The Thoughtful Path’s operations. He discussed the importance of community mapping and surveying in order to better understand the Munsieville community. He stressed the need to get quantifiable survey results so that statistics could be interpreted and the needs of the people addressed. After hearing this Courtney and I talked to our preceptor and suggested putting together a three-part research methods class that would help teach volunteers and workers from The Thoughtful Path how to design their own surveys and interpret the results. In this way they would be better equipped to assess the needs of the community. We presented the first class on Tuesday of last week. There were nine people in attendance, including our preceptor, and I am happy to report that it was a great success!
In this first class Courtney and I discussed how to design a survey and covered the different types of surveys, types of survey questions, and emphasized clarity, simplicity, and neutrality in wording of questions. We also had everyone participate in a group activity in which they had to choose a survey topic, design survey questions that would address that topic, and then explain how they would conduct a survey on that topic. One lady in the class was so inspiring as she got up to present her group’s work. She demonstrated understanding of all the topics that Courtney and I had covered in the class and gave an excellent presentation! It was encouraging to see that the first class went well. Courtney and I have already scheduled the next class for the middle of October and we will be teaching ways to format a survey.
The next big event was participating in a youth camp where Courtney and I taught lessons on exercising and nutrition. This was an unexpected project, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise and a lot of fun. The youth camp was a weeklong event for youth in Munsieville that range in age from approximately 15 to 18 years. There were 18 participants at the camp and they were learning different life lessons so that they could then teach these lessons to other younger kids in the Munsieville community. This really is an amazing group of youth and it was so fun to get to spend time with them. Surprisingly, most of them do not receive any formal health classes in their schools, so they were really listening to the exercise and nutrition lessons that Courtney and I were teaching.
For the exercise class, Courtney and I spoke about the importance of exercise on a daily basis and what happens to the body when it does not get enough regular physical activity. We demonstrated some basic exercises that the youth could do at home without any formal workout equipment. After doing the various exercises with them, we played a game called The Last Man Standing where Courtney and I called out the different exercises we just taught, and the youth had to continually do them until there was just one person left doing the exercises—the last man (or woman) standing. This was a lot of fun and it was interesting to see how competitive everyone got with each other.
On Thursday of last week, Courtney and I taught the nutrition class. This was highly relevant, as most of the youth had never heard about the food pyramid, portion sizes, or the importance of a balanced diet. Everyone seemed very engaged in the lesson and quite a few questions were asked about diabetes and low-sugar and low-sodium diets.
The final project of last week involved creating our own Garden Soxx® so that Courtney and I could better understand how to create the “sock” once we train the families. Courtney and I cut the black mesh material, filled it with compost, and tied off the ends of the material to create the “sock.” We then planted nine starter vegetable plants inside the sock. This involved cutting holes in the sock and digging away a small hole with our fingers in order for the starter to have a place to grow. Now that we better understand how to create a proper Garden Soxx® garden, Courtney and I can teach the families how to grow these gardens in their homes in Mshenguville. The small keyhole garden that Courtney and I planted at the Children’s Embassy at the beginning of our time here is thriving. It is exciting to see a garden full of leafy green vegetables that once started out as small starter plants. All the mamas at the Embassy are excited about getting to eat these vegetables in a few more weeks. I believe that the Garden Soxx® project will be just as successful, if not more so, as people learn to grow their own gardens for themselves.
I remain positive that the actual process of teaching the families and talking to them about the gardening initiative will happen soon. The training process was supposed to happen last week, but it is now rescheduled for this coming week. Mama Safira, who walked through Mshenguville with Courtney and me to help us find the houses a couple weeks ago, has had trouble contacting the five families and getting them together to meet. This actually made me aware of how often I take for granted the ease of communication that is available in the US. Not everyone in the township has a cell phone, and it is not like Mama Safira can simply e-mail a Google calendar or send an event reminder on Facebook. She has to go door-to-door and speak with everyone and make the families aware of what we are planning. Hopefully we can get all the families together soon so that they can start growing their own gardens.
Last week was a busy week of work, but it is exciting to know that Courtney and I are getting things accomplished and making a difference in the Munsieville community. I look forward to my next report and giving details of further work.