Twanda Waddlington had intended on becoming a doctor until she went to South Africa as an undergraduate and saw how useful a career in public health could be to people in need.
“It was just a wonderful place to be,” Waddlington said of South Africa. “It was different. It’s like a hidden jewel as far as the people, the place and the community.”
But the state of public health in parts of South Africa, including a place called Munsieville, is in dire shape.
When Waddlington visited in 2007 as an undergraduate student at Fisk University in Nashville, she said the nation was far behind in basic health policies. Simple things like the use of medical gloves and soap in restrooms were not common. Things are not much better now.
Waddlington got her bachelor’s degree from Fisk in 2008 and then came to East Tennessee State University for her master’s degree, which she obtained in 2010. Now she is enrolled in the doctorate of public health program with a concentration in community health.
Waddlington and Megan Quinn, both doctoral students in the College of Public Health, spent seven weeks in South Africa this summer through an initiative from Project Hope United Kingdom called The Thoughtful Path: Munsieville. Project Hope is an international charity working to produce sustainable improvements in health. The Thoughtful Path: Munsieville seeks to establish a model for sustainable community health development in challenged communities across the world.
Munsieville is the hometown of Desmond Tutu and is about an hour from Johannesburg.
“Megan and I did a lot of work over the seven weeks we were there,” Waddlington said.
One of the things Waddlington and Quinn did was to help the locals establish their own programs they identified as necessary. They then taught the citizens of Munsieville how to collect data to be used to measure success of the programs they develop through The Thoughtful Path.
“We just taught them the basics of data,” Waddlington said. “We were teaching them the basic skill sets to start their own programs.”
The education did not end there.
“We were also able to start community gardens in the area with the help of some older women who saw the need to start a soup kitchen,” Waddlington said.
Quinn raised $300 from contacts she had in the United States to help establish the 15 community gardens throughout the community of about 50,000.
“And it’s probably more, because the day we left we had materials left over, and I’m sure they planted more,” Waddlington said.
Munsieville is a close-knit community and it did not take long for the girls to become well-known, Waddlington said.
“Probably by our third week in Munsieville everyone knew Megan’s and my name,” she said.
Paul H. Brooks, executive director of Project Hope UK, was on the ETSU campus last week as part of ETSU’s Leading Voices in Public Health lecture.
He said Project Hope UK specializes in improving childhood health. Brooks knew both Waddlington and Quinn.
He and said many countries in sub-Saharan Africa will reach a point in the next few years where they are no longer economically viable because of the amount of orphans caused by the AIDS epidemic on that continent. Western countries are no longer able to offer a lot of assistance now due to the global recession, he said. In fact, it could be years before the West spends more on African relief.
“By that stage countries will have collapsed,” Brooks said. “The community, they know what their health problems are but they don’t necessarily know what the solutions are.”
One possible solution, Brooks said, was to help at-risk communities by helping them help themselves.
“It’s about what they can do rather than what we can do on their behalf,” Brooks said. “When you do for a community what they can do for themselves, you’re actually abusing them.”
Brooks said through fostering sustainable initiatives, his organization is seeing measurable improvements in the health and well being of the Munsieville community. That is why data collection is so important and where ETSU comes in. Data collection projects like the ones made this summer by Quinn and Waddlington will continue to help gauge how effective Project Hope UK is in its assistance by collecting measurable data.
There is plenty more to be done in Munsieville, including improving the new community gardens by identifying what plants grow best there and also provide essential vitamins for children, Brooks said.
“I’m absolutely sure that Megan and Twanda will be able to go back into Munsieville in five years and see people continuing the work they started,” Brooks said.