Thanksgiving is not just a well-awaited break for us college students; it is a time to reflect on our own lives, our own blessings, and our own personal struggles whatever they may be. This Thanksgiving I found myself more aware and appreciative of the little things that happen each day as well as the opportunities that I have. I am so thankful to have been given the opportunity to travel to South Africa with other QU students. I have traveled to Europe and across our own country, but I have never travelled to such a different country and culture with such a fraught history as South Africa. I am excited about the opportunity to witness the strength of culture and character possessed by South Africans in a land of such opposing beauty and harshness. I am excited to finally be on my way to a country I have only read about.
My mind is wrapped around South Africa. So when I needed to pick a country to research for a group project in Health Care Essentials… I chose South Africa. The research topic is a sad one- identify the top 3 causes of death in the country. Having taken a look at the history, politics, and economics of South Africa – all tragically marred by racism, I figured it was time to look at some of the health issues of the country.
The top causes of death in South Africa are HIV/AIDS, influenza and pneumonia, and diarrheal diseases, once again mirroring racial lines inequitably.
The causes of death were not a surprise to me, but the numbers of deaths due to the particular diseases was overwhelmingly heartbreaking. As I dove deeper into the environmental situation, I was struck by the role poor nutrition and unsanitary conditions play in the spread of disease in South Africa. The spread of these diseases are preventable!
This knowledge was really striking as I debated my second helping of turkey and stuffing in my warm, comfortable home decorated for the holidays (and particularly so as my sister did something as simple as fill the water glasses). I thought about the fact that some of the money we raised for our trip will be going towards food for the campers, but almost more importantly, the money is also being used to provide clean water. I originally assumed that the money we raised for this trip would be used for activities supplies and hopefully some cool shirts to give the campers to remind them of our time together. But their needs are so much more basic than that.
They need clean water!
That is something we certainly take for granted here in the U.S. We also expect houses in the United States to have sewage pipes – a necessity for sanitary conditions. It turns out that my Health Care Essentials class reinforced the need to recognize the different realities individuals face based on their environment and the serious implications of a lack of sanitary conditions and nutrition.
Soon it is time to get the dreaded vaccinations I need to travel to South Africa to protect me from getting ill. I take it for granted that they are available to me. Yet there are so many individuals in South Africa with preventable diseases who do not stand a fighting chance against illness, who do not have clean water, nutritious meals, and sanitary conditions. There is so much that can be done to prevent even just one child from contracting a disease, and its heartbreaking to me that some of those things are such basic human needs that are just not being met.
December 1st was World AIDS Day. Hopefully awareness is the beginning of meeting basic human health needs, but my project tells me there is so much to do for so many. Thank goodness for organizations like The Tippy Toes Foundation who are not deterred by the enormous task they face, but who truly believe one person, one day at a time can make a difference.
I am anxious to try.