IGS University of Twente
Research group CSTM

Website Report – David Stephenson

Website Report – David C. Stephenson

Badplaas and Cape Town, South Africa

As part of the University of Twente’s minor program „As the World Turns” I decided to carry out my 3-month field study in South Africa. Even though this destination was a very quick-fix decision, the time abroad made up for every last-minute pressure. Since, as a Christian myself, I was interested in how faith-based development projects are run, compared to non-faith-based programs, I had sent my application to “Emoyeni”. Emoyeni (www.emoyeni.org) is a small, non-profit and faith-based Christian NGO, dedicated to tackling the HIV/AIDS orphan crisis in South Africa – and accepted the application, in the end.

The issue of HIV/AIDS orphans is very big in South Africa and an increasingly crucial development concern for the country. Emoyeni has concentrated its development efforts to Badplaas, a small town not far from Swaziland, since rural areas like these lack the necessary infrastructures for orphans that often exist in larger cities.

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In the beginning of my “field study”, my work was not as scientific as the term would indicate. The first few weeks, I assisted a voluntary team in erecting an earth-bag building in Badplaas, which is supposed to function as a daycare center for the orphans. This was a very practical experience and it was great to be working at a construction site with all its side-effects: Hard physical work under the hot South African son, chatting with the local co-workers, looking forward to the lunch brakes with traditional South African dishes, watching the locals in the neighborhood carry out their daily duties and marveling at the stunning landscape surrounding the construction site.

Following the construction project, I was put in charge of updating the organization’s records of the HIV/AIDS orphans in the area by conducting a door-to-door questionnaire in the Badplaas region. Together with the local social worker, I visited the orphans and their guardian parents. The survey was about asking the kids questions on their situation, their view on things, their medical needs and getting a picture of how their overall condition is. In doing so, I was able to get an inside view on rural life of the Zulus, which are the main tribe in the area. This was an extremely interesting part of my stay since I was able to directly witness the inside circumstances while at the same time having the social worker teach me some Zulu and comment on my impressions.

After completing the surveys, I was allowed to travel to Cape Town in order to assist a partner organization “Youth for Christ” (YFC) in their development projects in the Cape region. For YFC, I attended a local drug-support group, helped out in a soup kitchen and visited SOS Children’s Village in Cape Town. Through these projects I was able to get a picture of the living conditions and development challenges of the “Cape Coloureds”, which differ from the Zulu minority in many ways.

Of course, the field study, for me, not only meant focusing on my research topic, which was the HIV AIDS orphan crisis, but moreover experiencing life in a developing country and getting a feeling of how things work (and are done) in this unique cultural and so foreign setting. And indeed, this was the most fascinating aspect of my 3 months abroad: talking to the locals, understanding their conduct and sense of humor, asking questions about their views on things, travelling the county, occasional safari trips and slowly understanding how South African society works – all of which play important parts when launching society-rooted development projects.

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Definitely, there were also some complicated times during my stay but these more or less added to the “you want it, you get it”-experience. Power breakdowns, cold showers, checking my bed for poisonous animals or getting sun-burnt by the South African (winter!) sun were first-hand experiences that made the experience more authentic and “South African”, in the end.

The internship report will be the scientific finish of my time in South Africa. Altogether, it has been a fascinating, challenging and rewarding period of my studies. I am grateful for the possibility the UT offers through this study program and for the university’s Mobility Fund (TMF), which was a big financial help, and the assistance via e-mails from overseas. For students, who are planning a field study themselves, I can only recommend to stick to the locals, learn the language, be curious and leave some extra time for travelling the country, in the end.

Sala kahle!