I, and eight other students, signed up for this journey in hopes of learning more about our perspective careers and the world outside of the University of Illinois. With the guidance of our instructor, Jan Brooks, and her connections in South Africa, we all gained a unique experienced that will enhance our education and career performances in the future.
At the University of Western Cape, we met with geography professor Dr. Bradley Rink. However, Dr. Rink filled us in on more than the map of Cape Town. He opened our eyes to mobility and its role in discrimination throughout history. I learned that while there is access to school, medication, and groceries, the means to get there are limited if you are of a certain race. Due to apartheid and gentrification, people of color have been displaced in poorer parts of Cape Town that are far from their jobs and access to resources. There, it is difficult to find a reliable form of transportation. Taxis and busses are expensive, and the train system is often not functional. This forces many people to leave for work or school hours before it begins in case they find themselves having to walk the whole way there. The journey home is worse as the concern for safety grows while the sun sets. Rink expressed to us the normalcy of students emailing professors to say they will not be in class that day simply because they cannot afford the bus fare. And unlike the United States, housing is not provided on campus for the students to avoid this problem.
This lecture really stuck with me as it brings to light a new factor that affects development. What does transportation and mobility have to do with development? Other students studying in health-related careers and I found there to be many hidden links. For example, the children of the parents who must leave early to go to work. Who watches them when the parents must leave at 4 a.m. to get on a cheaper bus? How are the parents expected to pay for better food and medication when most of their salary must go to getting to their job? Do the children pick up and feel the levels of stress and anxiety their parents have every day and night? How are their attachment styles? These questions bounced around our group after the presentation, bothering each of us for an answer and solution. Unfortunately, this cannot be solved in a few days or even a few years. But hopefully it will improve with awareness spreading.
As I study to become an occupational therapist, this trip will stay with me as I work with people of different backgrounds. This trip has made me realize the small things that make life easier and how they are a privilege, not a right. I believe an important note to take is how we can make health care more accessible and take into consideration the limitations people may have to even come to a doctor’s appointment. Not all of us on this trip were in health-related careers, but we each learned more than enough through our service and the tours to apply to our perspective careers.
Jennifer Bingham is a junior in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies with a minor in psychology. HDFS 379: Service Learning, Child, Family, Health and Agriculture in South Africa is an ACES faculty-led program that will run again during Fall 2022 and is accepting a few more students. View the course page here.