- Where did you go and what was your experience like?
I was a Minerva Fellow fortunate to be placed at the Witkoppen Health and Welfare Center, in Johannesburg, South Africa. My experience at the clinic was incredibly dynamic, as my responsibilities ranged from interacting with adorable mothers and babies in the Post Natal Clinic, to donor reporting and marketing, to community wellness events in the surrounding catchment areas of Johannesburg. The Post Natal Clinic at Witkoppen is supported by a Union alumni, Lauren Cohen (class of ’78), who is the founder and CEO of her own NGO known as The Gift of Hope. Lauren and her foundation have been dedicated to caring for women and children in need in South Africa, many of whom have been infected with, and affected by HIV. To come full circle with my dynamic role as the Gift of Hope Liasion Officer at the clinic, not only did I assist with clinic operations on the ground, but I also reported to the Executive Director at Witkoppen and Lauren as well.
- What was your fondest memory of your time as a Minerva Fellow?
My fondest memories of being a Fellow are undoubtedly any moments spent with mothers and children in the Post Natal Clinic at Witkoppen. These women face such adversity, from unsupportive partners to financial instability, gender discrimination and a whole host of social issues and despite all this, are some of the happiest and loving parents that I’ve ever encountered. Their determination and grit to attend every single clinic visit (despite not having money to do so, or missing work) is just one example of how much they care for their children and how committed they are to ensuring their child remains free of HIV. In a country with one of the world’s highest prevalence rates of HIV, these patients balance the everyday struggles of motherhood and infant care along with routine HIV prevention and routine testing. With this background in mind, my fondest memories will always be learning of an infant’s HIV test being negative, and the relief and joy that it brings to the mothers who have worked so hard despite their circumstances to ensure this for their children. It is an unparalleled feeling for both mother and baby and for those like myself at the clinic who also work strive towards this goal.
- What did you do during your time? What does the fellowship entail?
Although Witkoppen Health and Welfare Center is a multi-specialty primary health care center, with multiple departments devoted to particular care (separate TB and HIV departments, to name a few), the majority of my time was spent in the Post Natal Clinic with mothers and babies from birth through 18 months of age. The program that I specifically worked under is known as ‘A FRESH Start,’ or A Future Realized through Education, Support and Healthcare.’ A FRESH Start is a holistic, comprehensive post natal program that is designed to treat and care for mothers and babies from birth through 18 months of age. Not only does the program provide routine HIV testing and care, but we also value a holistic approach to care, in that our moms and babies receive emotional support through counseling and psychological care, can consult with a dietitian for nutritional guidance and are also educated through group and individualized sessions.
- How has the trip changed you?
The Minerva Fellowship experience has enabled me to interact and engage with an entirely different culture that has different views, opinions and perspectives on the world. I couldn’t be more grateful for these vast differences, however, as I have learned a great deal in how to work with others and how to make those around you feel comfortable and at ease. In comparing and contrasting my life’s experiences with others in South Africa, I have also realized how many opportunities and good fortunes that I have been afforded with and I am so thankful for each and every one of them. South Africans are incredibly genuine and friendly people, and I have been taught how to enjoy life, and how to give thanks for every little detail and for every person in my life, and that is a lesson that I will carry forward from here on out.