A pair of pre-med Saints explored Cape Town this summer, once they changed out of their scrubs.
It was like a working vacation; in between sightseeing, Jasmeen Johal '20 and Sara Marchese '20 recorded patients' histories, removed IVs, and administered blood gas tests. Jasmeen and Sara spent several weeks in Cape Town, South Africa shadowing doctors through Siena's Global Medical Volunteers (GMV) program.
Jasmeen and Sara stayed with the same host family but worked in different hospitals. Sara was placed at the Red Cross Children's Hospital; Jasmeen served at Victoria Hospital, where 50 percent of the patients are uninsured and receive treatment at low cost.
The program specifically focused on healthcare challenges. Not only did the Saints get hands-on experience with patients, but they gained insight into the South Africa healthcare system, its similarities to the U.S. and its differences.
The trip logistics were organized by Child Family Health International (CFHI), and the GMV program provides Siena undergraduates intending to pursue careers and dentists or medical doctors an opportunity to learn, travel, and serve in international communities with need at reduced cost (or no cost) to the students.
"The experience has been amazing for me. I was able to immerse myself in a new culture and live with an amazing family. On top of that, I met amazing doctors who were all willing to teach and was able to discover the many healthcare challenges South Africa faces. I was also able to work on my own skills in a laparoscopic skills course. The trip overall was amazing, and I am so glad I had the chance to experience it," said Sara Marchese '20.
Institutional racial segregation was the law of South Africa for most of the second half of the 20th century. Apartheid legislation was repealed in 1991, meaning racism was no longer government sponsored. Racism, though, is never eradicated with the stroke of a pen. Jasmeen (below, right) lived Cape Town differently than white students. It's an experience she doesn't regret, but felt compelled to share:
"I could write an essay filled with the racially charged encounters I experienced in South Africa. I'm grateful for them, but that does not negate how much it hurt. And this is through no fault of the program at all! It just has to do with me being brown.
A few of us from the program went to a beautiful market near the Cape Waterfront called Oranjezicht City Farm Market. Not surprisingly, with such beauty came steep prices, and with steep prices came a filtration in the color representation of individuals attending the market. The institutional racism is so deeply ingrained in Cape Town. Nothing had to be said for me to see that people questioned my attendance. The lack of patience, the judgemental looks, and seeing how my white friends were treated so differently made me wonder if I belonged. The most interesting thing was that my white friends thought that this market was the safest place in town, and they wanted to come down every weekend. I wish I could tell them that the way they felt uncomfortable walking in the poor neighborhood where we were staying was exactly how I felt whenever we visited the "nice" places in Cape Town.
I would still visit Cape Town again, perhaps even work there for a year. I would do this despite the racism I encountered because the hospital experience was invaluable. The doctors, even the head of Internal Medicine, were very patient and willing to share information. It cultivated a wonderful learning environment that kept me engaged, and excited to pursue my future career. I have been accepted into Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, and the hospital experience from Victoria will be very helpful!"