Sometimes it is difficult to imagine life outside of Santa Clara University, as so much of my world revolves around this campus. I walk by the palm trees, the Mission, and the loads of students walking to their collegiate level classes and it is hard to picture a young woman of my same age halfway across the world living a life that could not be more different. A fellow Ambassador informed me of the Donovan Fellowship during winter quarter of my Junior year and it sounded like the perfect opportunity for me. I had just returned from studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa for the fall quarter of that year and I was dying to return back to the city that had stolen my heart. The fellowship is run through the Ignatian Center at SCU, which offers students the ability to travel anywhere in the world and work for a nonprofit for 8 weeks. The University gives you a stipend to assist you with travel expenses and living expenses during your time with the organization. There were fellows traveling to Indonesia, South Africa, Nepal, Peru, Uganda, Cambodia, India as well as various cities in the USA.
I chose to work at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Centre located in the township of Masiphumelele, near Cape Town. Not only does the Youth Centre provide reproductive healthcare for free to the youth attending, but it provides them with a safe and non-judgmental environment which is hard to come by in the township of Masiphumelele. This township has one of the highest rates of HIV in the entirety of the Western Cape. Around 31% of people in the township have AIDS and the average age for a woman to become pregnant is 20. The office where I worked in the youth centre is situated in the clinic where young women and men come to get tested for HIV or to attain contraceptives like the injection, free "protection," and soon they are offering the IUD. Every day I saw girls as young as 15 come in with children and meet with the adolescent counselor to discuss whether there are any other options other than having to drop out of school in order to take care of their child, given the father is not contributing to the parenting and her parents are both already deceased. The other difficult aspect is that there is a sort of stigma that people should not disclose their HIV status, so often times young people will engage in relations without even knowing the status of their partner. These are simply not issues women and men my age have to deal with in Santa Clara, California.
My eyes were opened to a completely different world than the one I am lucky enough to experience at SCU. I formed relationships with people I will never lose touch with and I gained knowledge about cultures and traditions different than my own. I appreciate SCU so much, because they encourage and support their students in traveling to different parts of the world through study abroad or fellowships like this one. The Jesuit aspect of SCU encourages students to use their education and knowledge to support underdeveloped communities throughout the world and make it a mission to continue this work through whatever career we may choose. I am so grateful for SCU giving me this experience to learn and grow and I cannot wait to continue building the relationships I have with these communities in South Africa.