June 14, 2017
I am writing from Thohoyandou, South Africa, from the alcohol-related sexual risk project with Dr. Karen Ingersoll, Taylor Allen, and University of Venda nursing students. Our project focuses on alcohol patterns, intimate relationships, demographics and violence patterns among University of Venda (UNIVEN) students.
We arrived in Thohoyandou on June 7th and have been here for a week working day in and day out to prepare for implementation of our project. The city is not what I expected – in a good way. There is a much greater infrastructure than I pictured and I’m happy to see resources available for the communities of this region (despite still experiencing a lack of many other resources). The people here are so nice and welcoming, even though some of them are seeing our skin color for the first time. The staff at Vevisa Lodge where we’re staying has been exceptionally kind and warm, making our stay so comfortable. Our partners from the university, four students aged 20-21, have also been so open and friendly. They work with us from the moment they end classes around 1pm until we are done working, which is usually around 6pm, and their attitudes and enthusiasm to work together is really amazing. They have taught us so much about their culture and communities both inside and outside the university and I’m really not sure what we would do without them. They’ve also led us to some beautiful spots in the Thohoyandou area, like the Phiphidi waterfall, in our down time.
The culture here is so interesting. Our partners have told us so much about the environment they grew up in and how they live now, including so many societal norms we wouldn’t have known about without them. While some parts of the culture has become more progressive, a lot has remained traditional, especially in regard to gender roles and relationships. A huge part of our research focuses on relationship patterns and violence patterns within relationships, which is highly sensitive. Our partners have tremendously helped us modify our surveys and methods to ensure our cultural sensitivity and relevance throughout the process. After about a week and a half of practicing interviewing, editing our surveys/questions, and preparing materials for our study, we are hoping to wrap up this week totally ready to begin our field work at UNIVEN next week. It’s really exciting, and especially since discussing sexual risk and relationships are mostly taboo and under-researched in this region, it makes the work all the more rewarding. I’m really looking forward to what students at UNIVEN will provide for us, and I’m looking forward to our analysis. It would be so amazing to be able to implement solutions and educational prevention tools for this region that faces such a high rate of relationship violence.
I could not be more thankful for this opportunity to come to South Africa, research such important topics, and work with such amazing people from UVA, UNIVEN, and other US schools. It has really felt like we have already made a difference by starting conversations about these taboo topics and I can’t wait to see what else this passionate team gets to do in the coming weeks! Thanks a million to CGH!
UVA 2019, GPH major