Thohoyandou, South Africa

Olivia Jones

For eight weeks, I worked on the MadiTrial Project where I studied access to clean water and its relation to childhood pathogen prevalence in Thohoyandou South Africa. We were partnered with the University of Venda and this collaboration shaped much of my work experience. Our work was a continuation of the MadiTrial work that was conducted in previous summers. Also the two year time period of the study was coming to a close so we were tying up some loose ends. I gained some valuable lab experience and confidence in my physical skills. Beyond that I learned how to collaborate with new people in spaces where I am not privy to the way everything works. I interacted with participants in the field and saw firsthand their interest and enthusiasm for the study. These conversations truly made me understand the importance of this study to the communities with which we worked.

What in the Botanical Garden: Piper, Sarah, LaChrisha, Merly, and I sat at the Thohoyandou botanical gardens with Kelly early in the summer. We had seen a sign for Botanical Gardens but had no idea if it was the same kind found at home. To our surprise it was a park where groups were having cookouts and birthday parties.

Thohoyandou is a smaller city about five hours away from Johannesburg and very close to the Zimbabwe border. The landscape is breathtaking, as it is in the tropics region of South Africa. This unique location brings the University a ton of students from Zimbabwe and other countries nearby. I was able to have a great group of friends that attended Univen and was not limited to South African students. Everyone we met was extremely accomadating. I worked in two Univen labs alongside students on different projects. From these peers I learned about other research efforts and personal goals that mirrored my own. Outside of work I was able to connect with one of my hobbies back in the states, volleyball! The Univen volleyball team became close friends to my group, and I attended their practices regularly.

In the Lab: Merly, Marc, and I took a selfie after a long day in the extraction lab at Univen.

I was extremely fortunate to see multiple regions of South Africa during my summer. I went on every weekend excursion that my schedule allowed. These experiences allowed me to bond with other students who worked on different projects and to appreciate more of South Africa. I visited Kruger National Park twice and had some quality time with elephants, giraffes, and hippos. I explored the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria. I even checked off all of the big five when I saw lions on a game drive in Hammanskraal. I loved seeing different regions because of the diversity of people and landscapes that I could easily identify as belonging to one place. I remember the sigh of relief I always let out whenever I returned to Thohoyandou and saw our familiar home mountain range. After an incredible eight weeks, it was difficult to leave Thohoyandou and I was brought to tears at the end.

Summary quote: My experience in South Africa has changed me for the better, and I I absorbed everything I could to carry it with me. I now know how to identify common links across cultures that has helped me make lifelong friends.

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