By Lieselot Vandenbroeck, Nursing Student, KdG

Well well, it took me some time but here I am with my blog! But no worries, I have a lot to write about.
With my two Belgian companions, I arrived on the 17th of February at the house of Carolyn and Kevin, a very sweet couple who lives in the suburbs of Cape Town. Totally unexpected we were told that we were going to stay here for the next three weeks. Well, this is the first of MANY adjustments I am going to make over the next few months.

The first two weeks we participate in the IP or Intensive Program of CASO (Caring Society, the organisation I am doing my internship for). During this program, we learn about South Africa, the primary schools and the physical education (PE) they get. We follow classes, make some PE classes ourselves and do some fun stuff along the side (climbing the Table Mountain, swimming with crocodiles…). While I’m having a lot of fun, in the beginning, I ask myself at least 10 times a day what I am doing here. The Intensive Program (IP) is focused on a totally different program that we are following. Sport education (which is part of the 2.2. program) is not at all our alley as nursing students. But after a few days, we saw that our input as nurses are also really valuable because sport is also about health prevention and education. Something I am really interested in.

After the intensive program (IP) I feel like I really want to do more than just follow these classes and learn about primary schools and their physical education. During some talks with Carolyn, who is partly responsible for the 2.2 program (Healthy Lifestyle), she told me that a nurse could really implement some interesting aspects of the program. This is why I, together with my teachers from Belgium and the staff from CASO, I decided to stay for four more weeks in Cape Town to work with the 2.2. program and the organisation Play Sport for Life (PS4L). I choose this because I really want to become a social nurse in the near future and I thought I could better develop my skills as a healthy lifestyle coach than by following the original plan, which was a project around hand hygiene in hospitals.

On my first day as a healthy lifestyle coach, we had a meeting about the things we would like to work on and how we were going to make our project work. My colleagues (students from Finland, the Netherlands and Belgium) made really big plans to make some kind of a lesson plan where we could implement all of our skills. We are students from all kinds of educations (nursing, physiotherapy and social work) so that was going to be an interesting mix. I for example really wanted to give health prevention and promotion to these children, because they are at a really important age to learn new things they can keep for the rest of their lives. Apart from that we also were going to give physical education classes just to get to know the schools, the teachers and the children. At the end of the first day, my group (2 social workers and 2 nurses) already made two lesson plans: one around brushing your teeth for the smaller kids and one about drugs prevention for the 6th and 7th graders. The people in charge were very enthusiastic and told us we could work around anything we wanted to.

The next day our first day in the school starts. Together with Pepijn, a student social work from the Netherlands, I am going to Factreton Primary School with coach Faiza. Within 5 minutes I already see that the work ethics of coach Faiza, the school, the way of teaching, the boiling hot sun, the children and the teachers themselves are totally different from what I am used to in Belgium. After this first day, I ask myself if I made the right decision of changing my programs.
Over the following week, Pepijn and I make a nice connection with coach Faiza and the kids from the school. We can even give our own PE classes and have more to say about the things we want to do. I feel like I can practice my skills as a social nurse in the near future. Skills like communicating with children who speak a totally different language than me, working creatively with not a lot of material, just playing with the children …

In my second week, I talk to coach Faiza about my plans to teach health education to the children and that I really want to do a bit more than just giving physical education. Faiza tells me that in one week she can’t give me a class to teach to, but that she is looking for someone who can teach the children how to play chess. She doesn’t know how to play chess and it will add big value for the children if they learn how to play it. Even if playing chess doesn’t have to do a lot with my education as a nurse, I take this offer with both hands. Healthwise chess has a lot of benefits: research points out that playing chess improves your concentration, problem-solving skills and attention span. Also for my personal skills, it can help a lot: how can I organise these classes? What is the best approach for these classes?

These chess classes are really pleasant and I feel that the children are really learning something. A lot of children from this school come from bad environments and they don’t always have sports equipment. Unfortunately, this means that they can’t sport with coach Faiza, according to the school rules. In that way I have a nice solution for them: playing chess doesn’t require sport equipment. In that week I make an extra chess board out of cardboard and craft supplies. In that way, I can teach ten kids at the same time instead of six.

During my last two weeks, the Holiday Program is on the agenda. This is a free program from PS4L where children can come together and play, make fun and more importantly: play sport. I am really looking forward to this because Carolyn, the woman in charge of the program, says we (the European students) can do everything we want to do. Last year they had some problems with children who got bored after a while and ran away. We have the opportunity to find a solution for this. During the meeting, we arrange our own program and I have new hope to give my own healthy lifestyle education classes. Together with the Dutch, Finnish and Belgian students we make small stations to give sport, life skill and creative lessons. We plan everything in such a manner that it can be fun and educational. The stations are divided and everyone knows what to do. There are only 15 coaches for +200 children so we are careful when planning them into age groups. When we are almost finished, coach Faiza comes and changes the whole program.

Now we divide everything again and Fien and I get the smaller kids (4 – 7-year-olds). We can craft with them, teach them some health education and sport in a fun way. We write down all the materials we want to get and start our preparations. Coach Quinton tells us that hygiene is a big problem for a lot of children and maybe we can make some lesson plans around that. I am very excited and can’t wait to start. Just by the time we finished everything, Miles (the big boss of PS4L) comes in. He also starts to change a lot of things and starts to divide everyone into two locations instead of one. Now it will be a surprise the first day and we just have to wait for our materials.
As expected the first day of the Holiday Program is fun but also chaotic and hectic. At one location (where a lot of professional coaches are) there are almost no children, while at the other (where only two professional coaches are) more than 200 children arrive. After some adjustments (like sending some children away), in the afternoon everything is much more pleasant. The rest of the Holiday Program goes well and I learn how to handle difficult situations and learn a lot. The children are also getting really friendly and we do a lot of fun stuff.

To summarize this period of time, I have to admit that didn’t really improve my competitions as a nurse. Only when my roommate Fien got ill from playing with all the kids, I could apply my skills as a nurse. But on the other hand, I learned so much valuable intercultural things, like how people from South Africa work, play, laugh and live. And that is also a really important lesson I can take with me. I made friends over this month and a half and had experiences that I will never ever forget for the rest of my life. I also learnt that a lot of people don’t have the same chances and opportunities in life as I have in my life in Belgium. This makes me think about how lucky I am and to take nothing for granted. It is also really heartwarming that there are organisations like PS4L that really try and help their communities getting better. Things like sports and health education are so important for people who will otherwise never get to know these things.

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