First Impressions - Blog from Volunteer Drew Wallace

Drew Wallace, a volunteer from Virginia, USA is here in South Africa for the first time helping Project HOPE South Africa set up its nutrition program as part of the HOPE Centre project. Here is a blog about his first impressions....

So I guess it would be appropriate to start off with a bit about me. This August, I’m going to be a sophomore at The College of William and Mary (Go Tribe!), majoring in International Relations, with a minor in premed focused kinesiology.  I have always been interested in global health and wellness around the world, but in all my 19 years of life, I have never been outside of the continental United States. Sooner or later, this would need to change if I wanted to pursue my dream of helping people around the world lead healthy lives, so I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer with Project HOPE South Africa.

When people think of health problems in Africa, they generally think of infectious diseases, HIV, Malaria, etc. but in actuality, Africa, most specifically South Africa, has the world’s fastest growing diabetic population, and diabetes, as well as the heart conditions associated with diabetes and an unhealthy lifestyle, is the leading cause of death in South Africa. What Project HOPE South Africa is trying to do is establish comprehensive, across the board care for diabetic and hypertensive patients in Johannesburg’s poorest neighborhoods. My role more specifically, is to help develop a nutrition and exercise program, trying to get more people to grow their own vegetables to supplement their diet, and replace fried meats and starches, as well as get out and exercise in the very limited space they have.

Getting off the plane after a 15 hour flight, your mind really doesn’t register that you are now in South Africa, the airport could be in any metropolitan area in the United States, there are no giraffes, no zebras, no lions, just a typical airport terminal. Large parts of Johannesburg would fit in most anywhere in the first world, if not for the ever-present security fences and armed response signs, a constant reminder to this isn’t the suburban Virginia I’m so used to. The contrast becomes even more apparent when you get into the townships, informal settlements like the one the Project HOPE office is located in. South Africa, especially Johannesburg is a country with intense dichotomy, on one side of the road you could have a first world shopping center or a beautiful golf course, on the other side, a village of corrugated metal shacks crammed together along narrow unpaved allies.

The challenge now is to show families how they can grow healthy food in the limited space they have, in order to manage their diabetes. To do this we will be building a variety of demo gardens, and putting together instructions on how to build them, so that diabetic patients can better manage their condition with proper exercise and nutrition. I’m really excited for this opportunity to help out, and hope the new clinic can make a great positive impact on the community!   


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