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It’s hard to believe that our time in Africa has come to an end. Being back home, in familiar surroundings has really allowed for the experience to sink in and has given me a lot of perspective. The things I saw are images that will forever be burned into my mind. Some good – some bad. Here is a brief synopsis.

What I have learned about the South African health care system is that it is a major work in progress, much like every other faction of the political/economic infrastructure of the country. I think the health care providers do an adequate job of providing services, given the context of the conditions they must work under. But there is so much room for growth and improvement. I was constantly forced to remind myself that while the Republic of South Africa has been existence for many years, the apartheid government’s demise is not even two decades removed. The country is still in its infancy, and so the problems people are encountering are somewhat to be expected.
South Africa is a nation of diversity. Diverse geography – with rugged mountains, sparse deserts and miles upon miles of coastline. Diverse people – from the black South Africans; the coloured Indian, Malay, and Asian populations and the white Afrikaans. And diverse problems – the poverty and disease epidemics are overwhelming. With over 60% of the country unemployed, it is hard to know where to begin to rectify the crisis of HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, tuberculosis, substance abuse, etc. I quickly learned that one cannot focus on the big picture or you will become completely overwhelmed. Rather you must take it one day at a time, or better yet – one individual at a time.
This trip was indeed an opportunity of a lifetime. To have gone into the townships and seen the unfathomable poverty is something I will never, ever forget. To see the love an unwavering faith the people have, despite living in the most horrific of conditions is something that will resonate within me forever. A woman on the flight back to the states asked why I had traveled to South Africa and after listening said “Janel, you are blessed for having gone there. Don’t ever forget that.” And while I’m not the most religious of people, I truly believe she is right. My spirit has been enriched in ways I can’t sum up in words and know I will be a better clinician and (more importantly) human being for having been a part of the South African experience.

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