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Claire in south Africa

Making a Difference in South Africa

A Personal Experience

Claire Hafter was a freshman at the University of Vermont when she was diagnosed with a rare neuromuscular disorder that affects her lower legs. Through surgeries, physical therapy, and pain management, she has experienced a significant improvement in her health. During her Recovery, however, she also experienced a great deal of frustration with the healthcare system.

“It amazed me how few clinicians attempted to treat me without consideration for other factors in my life, such as academic stress, mental health, and social life, all of which took a major hit from this experience,” she said. “I know how incredibly helpless that can make one feel, and would not wish that on anyone.”

She was looking for a different approach to studying the healthcare system, hoping to use her unpleasant experiences as a foundation for affecting positive change. She transferred to the University of Illinois in her junior year to enroll in the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences program. For her senior year, Claire wanted to broaden her perspectives on how culture, history, and environment impact health and health care. She spent last fall in South Africa, where, she said, “I have been able to apply nearly every aspect of being here to my studies, and vice versa.”

Affecting Positive Change

She completed internships at both the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Rondebosch, Cape Town, where she worked with children and parents in the infectious disease clinic, and in the pediatrics and maternity units in a township clinic in Khayelitsha Site B. In the infectious disease clinic, Claire dealt mostly with children and mothers who were HIV positive. Because the children were relatively active and playful, she demonstrated ways in which parents could engage their children in stimulating and developmentally appropriate activities.

Claire also assisted in research conducted at a maternity hospital and sat in on classes on child and public health at the University of Cape Town medical school.

This semester, Claire has started classes toward a Master of Public Health. She will bring to her graduate studies a broader perspective, thanks to her experiences in South Africa, where the unique political and racial history still severely impacts many of its citizens. “Learning how to utilize my skills and strengths in an unfamiliar environment has helped me develop more independence and confidence in myself,” she said, “factors that will no doubt help me in the future.”

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