|Researching Community Health in Johannesburg|
South Africa is regarded as having the most severe HIV epidemic in the world. In 2010, some 280,000 South Africans died of HIV/AIDS. Visions In Action has placed volunteers in organizations focusing on HIV/AIDS since 1992. Community AIDS Response (CARe) is a South African nonprofit organization that does community health work in Johannesburg. CARe is involved in providing health care support to clinics and hospitals through counselors and home-based caregivers. CARe is also involved in research and technical support where they are developing programs and projects to improve the quality of healthcare that is provided in the country.
Niel Chen, an American who graduated in May 2010 with B.A.S. in Biomedical Science from the University of Pennsylvania, was a VIA volunteer for CARe from January to December 2011. He was the community health work project manager, and focused primarily on research. His community health work project surveyed the health care needs of local impoverished communities.
"I manage the community health work project and organize the health workers. I primarily liaise with the team leader of each site, and work to coordinate the work on the field through them. These meetings are weekly, and between those meetings I coordinate the other aspects of the project, such as human resources, contacting the local clinics, organizing information and workshops, and so on. For the end of the project, my job was to wrap up all of the final details for the workers, and try to assist in getting as much information and data captured as possible to prepare reports."
CARe works in nine service areas: nutrition, home based care, patient follow up, training, community development, youth service programme, community counseling and testing, poverty alleviation, and psychosocial services. CARe finds it is crucial to observe how the community responds to such services. When asked about CARe's impact on the community Niel states,
"Overall, CARe's work appears to be highly effective when it comes to providing first-hand healthcare services. The clinics and hospitals that receive support from CARe's staff are very impressed with the help and appear to appreciate the support. My research is the first aspect of what needs to be done to achieve an impact upon the local communities, the results of my research can be used to enact policy change and also support CARe with additional funding/attract new donors. The response that we have received from the local government and clinics to the research projects, including my community health surveying project, has been very positive."
When asked about his impact as a Community health work project manager, Niel states,
"My impact is fairly large on the project that I am working on, as it would not be able to run without my work and managing of the different people and resources. The organization is split into two different approaches - field work/hands on healthcare provision and information/research. My work has a large impact on the latter, but very little impact on the former, as our counselors and caregivers basically work directly with their organizations and do not have much interaction with our other community work projects."
"I would recommend the placement for volunteers that are interested in getting seriously involved with a healthcare related project. My specific project was, and still is, very difficult at times and often time-consuming, but is also rewarding in terms of the scope of the people that we deal with and how much work is done."
Niel is one of several VIA volunteers that have worked at CARe over the past several years, and there is a continuing need for volunteers there. Has Niel's experience inspired you to make a difference? If so please take a look at the supported volunteer opportunities in Liberia, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania on our website https://www.visionsinaction.org/volunteers-mainmenu-26/volunteer.html