As I sit down to write this most recent update, I am overwhelmed by a bitter-sweet wave of emotions. Bitter-sweet, because this week concludes the final week of the six-week DASH T4 testing phase. There are feelings of immense joy and pleasure from interacting, and hopefully, positively impacting the communities and schools involved in this project, as well as the lives of the principals, teachers and most importantly, the school children. There are also feelings of relief, after a successful, yet intensive testing period consisting of early mornings and late nights that will now cease. In the same breath, however, there is a sense of nostalgia and sadness that stirs inside me, because after working in these communities and schools for the past 3 years, we will now diverge into our separate lives. All this brings to mind the relationships and bonds that have been built with the people we have been working so closely with on such a regular basis, the fondness that has been fostered, and the many memories made along this journey that will forever remain in our hearts.
When I look back on the past six weeks, a day I am particularly reminded about while conducting data collection during this phase, one shy girl asked me: “What are you doing here and why are you doing this?” Looking at her, I assumed she must have been about 11 or 12 years old. I answered, “We are a research team from Nelson Mandela University and the University of Basel interested in disease, physical activity and school children’s health”. At this moment, her eyes lit up as she proceeded to ask, “Are you a doctor?” I said, “No, I’m not”. Confused, she asked: “What do you do then?” I briefly said, “I am a Biokineticist and we promote health and physical activity through exercise”. I then asked her, “Do you want to be a doctor?” She said, “Yes”. I asked, “What kind of a doctor would you like to be?” She said, “A brain surgeon”. And it was in this moment I found myself overwhelmed by deep sadness because I was reminded of the harsh reality that many of these children will be subjected to.
Educational opportunities for children from poor, disadvantaged communities are vanishingly slim. According to official figures, only about 40% of young South Africans nationwide obtain any qualification beyond grade 9. In 2011, a study conducted in a township in the Western Cape revealed that 2′894 students in 20 secondary schools made it to and sat for the matric exams administered at the end of Grade 12. Of those who sat, a scant 16% earned a bachelor pass (the qualification needed for access to university). And only 20 students (0.04%) went on to study at the University of Cape Town, a tertiary institution with an enrolment of over 25′000 students that is located near this township. The reality is that life in this community, and many communities much like this one is unstructured and hard. These neighbourhoods are very densely populated and overcrowded, with high rates of unemployment. Some residents still live in shacks, and in some cases, have to walk 200 meters or further to access water. Furthermore, gangsterism and drug abuse are rife, with high teenage pregnancy rates. With this in mind, a sense of duty to these children was reiterated – to encourage and motivate them so that they strive to reach their full potentials, promoting healthy bodies and healthy minds, despite the hardships they may encounter. Nelson Mandela once said, “Children are the most vulnerable citizens in any society and the greatest of our treasures”. On that note, my hope is that the work that we do in these communities provides a long-lasting positive impact on the lives of these learners so that many of them continue to pursue the dream that makes their eyes light up, much in the same way that the girl in this story’s eyes lit up when she told me about becoming a doctor one day.
Now, moving on to what’s still to come – The KaziBantu project: “Healthy Schools for Healthy Communities” (a.k.a. DASH 2.0) is progressing quite well. Material development for the learners’ and teachers’ toolkits are now approaching their final phases, with the learner’s toolkit currently in a review period prior to its completion. With regards to the teachers’ toolkit, Step 1 – The Individual Risk Assessment, Step 2 – The Individual Risk Profile and Step 5 – The Evaluation Phases are currently being developed by the Nelson Mandela University CCT team. There are still some discussions around Step 3 – The Lifestyle Coaching Sessions and Step 4 – The Follow-up, Monitoring and Motivation Phase that needs some clarification; however, the content for this is also nearing its development process prior to review. Furthermore, the KaziBantu website is expected to be up and running imminently. And finally, a logo for the KaziBantu teachers’ toolkit mobile application, KaziHealth, has been finalized.
In conclusion, the pressure is on to meet the set deadlines with regards to all the various components within the development of the teachers’ and learners’ toolkits. However, excitement levels are also growing rather swiftly amongst team members in anticipation for the end-product of the KaziBantu project, as a whole.
Until we meet again, take care.