Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Beginning of the research life in Limpopo

Today was our first real day in the field! I am working with Geoff, a chemical engineering student from UC-Berkeley, some students from the local university - University of Venda, and Nicola, our advisor who just completed her post-doc at the University of Virginia. We squished in Nicola’s little Hyundai and headed off to the school, which is about an hour’s drive away. On our drive, we began getting to know the local students and the culture of our surrounding area. Limpopo, a province in Northern South Africa, experiences a wide assortment of socioeconomic issues. Not taking into account economics and resources, just the unique cultural situation of black South Africans, white South Africans, and foreigners, living in the same place creates this hub for non-profit action; everyone wants to “help.” In just a couple days, I have seen or heard of work done by famous organizations, such Rotary International, World Vision, Salvation Army, and Oprah. While I do not know enough yet to make any formal opinions on these organizations and their work, I can already sense that there is some controversy and tension revolved around the need and want of their projects here. How much is implementing a fish pond really helping, if the culture of the local diet does not include fish? While the purpose of this trip is research for the Water and Health in Limpopo project, just my presence here, has me continuing to question the role and purpose of foreigners’ presence in local communities, especially in less-developed countries. Obviously, there is a major cross-cultural exchange and other benefits that result from people visiting and working in other countries, but I am finding it more and more necessary to continually evaluate the meaning and place of work in the “less-privileged places.”

Ok, back to the research! Limpopo Province is absolutely beautiful, and when we arrived at our research site, a primary school, to no surprise there was a stunning view of the nearby mountains! After re-confirming permission of the project with the principal, we met all of the teachers and students. They greeted us in each classroom with a synchronized, “I’m fine, thank you, and how are you?” Very adorable! Compared to the school in Kinani, Kenya, from last summer, it is very modern, but there are some clear areas for improvement. Without going into specifics, we are conducting an analysis on sanitation facilities in schools and how modifications in resources and education affect behavior over the next seven weeks. Overall, it was a very successful first day, gaining base line data and being introduced to the school. And one thing that never seems to change is that girls love to go to the bathroom in groups. ;)

All before 5 PM (when the sunsets - it's wintertime!), we also visited the tailor, bought water at the oasis, ate lunch at a bird sanctuary and nursery, and purchased avocados at the fruit market! It is easy to say that I am enjoying the research life in South Africa!