Ben Grubbs ’20 — Durban, South Africa was an experience like none other. The city rich with history and culture is more than just a typical African city. It is a city not to be fully understood unless immersed into the different lifestyle. While abroad during the month of June, I learned what real struggles were. These real struggles involved not knowing if you were going to have electricity, clean water, or even food for dinner. In a city rampant with HIV, tuberculosis, and poverty, everything in life is quickly put into perspective. Our “first world problems” are suddenly not problems at all, they are actually privileges. Durban is faced with all of these challenges and still manages to thrive off of community and family relationships. Their culture revolves around one another and building those relationships. It is so unique and not one to be found anywhere in the United States.
While culture was a daily learning experience for me, it wasn’t the only thing. My mission while abroad was to learn about the problems associated with HIV/AIDS. With over 60% of adults testing positive for HIV, it is a problem that needs to be handled. Each of the weeks while I was there, I worked in a different hospital/clinic/pharmacy in order to see the problems from all aspects. I was lucky enough to ride along with a hospice company to homes and see the problems faced by millions of Africans first hand. Many patients lived in one room, tin-walled shacks that did not have running water or electricity. They lived with family and were unable to do anything due to cancer, TB, and other common diseases. While working in a pharmacy, I was able to pack and help distribute antiretrovirals (ARV) to those in need. Since ARV’s are free to the public, it is a very busy business. In the hospitals, I saw tuberculosis secondary to HIV which is rarely seen in an American hospital. The challenges they faced daily were not having the correct medicine to treat patients, not having the technology, and also not having the funds to continue to run the hospitals. The first week while I was in South Africa, the last oncologist for public hospitals in the whole province quit, leaving millions of patients out to dry. The wait list to see an oncologist was over six months and that was just a guess on the hospitals part. My whole time abroad, they were unable to hire any more so the oncology field was nearly nonexistent.
My trip to South Africa was truly an eye opening experience that changed my outlook on healthcare and life forever. I learned more than I could imagine that I will take with me for the rest of my life. I hope to translate what I learned abroad to a more local level in Crawfordsville in order to help us achieve the goals in the healthcare field.