Over the summer of 2021, I was able to receive the opportunity to participate in a virtual internship in Cape Town, South Africa with VA Corps, where I collaborated with public health leaders and nonprofit organizations in the field of HIV/AIDs relief and education. Although this wasn’t my original plan for the summer of 2021 (I would have preferred an in-person study abroad experience), I believe that the circumstances that brought upon this experience were unchangeable and I found the program to be nonetheless extremely valuable to both my personal and academic aspirations.
Through this internship, I was able to develop my collaboration, networking, and investigation skills during my group-based learning projects with global organizations like UNAids. I also partnered up with the Donald White Ndwanya Memorial Fund nonprofit, where I helped organize drives for food, clothes, and stationery for primary schools and childrens’ centers in Cape Town. Many of the children that attended these schools were OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) and were directly impacted by the AIDs epidemic in South Africa.
However, I believe that my most meaningful project was a personal one, where I spearheaded an educational campaign focused on possible nutritional and dietary interventions for HIV and COVID positive individuals in Southern and Eastern Africa, through the guidance of my mentor: Dr. Takiyah White-Ndwanya. The campaign involved flyers for passersby, social media posts, and articles for those who had more advanced knowledge of HIV/AIDs. These experiences were invaluable for my future career plans and helped expand my worldview of global health issues not necessarily nearby. As a pre-health student, it helped reinforce my passion for accessible healthcare and my desire to continue collaborating with nonprofits and community centers.
I was also able to obtain fantastic guidance and mentorship from VA Corps and was encouraged to explore different options in public health, such as a possible career in epidemiology. This experience opened my eyes to the wider systems of healthcare that affect large groups of people, and was so different from the more focused assessments found in my daily coursework as a Human Nutrition and MCB student. I was also exposed to the vibrant culture of South Africa through webinars taught by VA Corps employees, which encouraged me to maybe visit Cape Town someday in the future when COVID plays less of a role in travel to South Africa.
Overall, I am extremely glad to have been a part of this virtual public health internship with VA Corps and I wouldn’t have been able to be a participant or even heard of the experience itself if not for the help of the ACES Study Abroad Team. I just wanted to thank each and every one of you who made this experience possible and I hope that this reflection can be of some help for any prospective study abroad students. If that’s you, and you’re unsure about committing, I would encourage you to do it! Finding an experience as unique as this will be difficult to obtain in the future, so take advantage of your opportunities now!