Today started at another early childhood development center where we did the same thing we did the other day; we took the students’ heights, weights, eye color, and hair color for identification purposes, then played with them. This one was a little different because it was in a township with no electricity or plumbing. The building consisted of four “containers” but they resembled cut out dumpsters to me. They were placed in a square to form three classrooms, a kitchen, a toilets area, and an office. The interior of the four containers was covered with roofing. When asked why they were built like that instead of actual buildings we were told that it makes it easier to pick up and leave if they have to evacuate in a day. This really struck me. I’ve never been in a school setting where I had to worry about picking up and leaving everything behind just because someone told us to get out. The children were just as sweet as all of the others. They sang songs for us, welcomed us with open arms, and I got plenty of kisses today. After a quick lunch, we went to the Children’s Institute here in Cape Town to discuss children’s rights as well as where the health of children in South Africa stands. While improvements are being made in the areas of HIV, TB, nutrition, breast feeding, sanitation, and water availability, there are still many strides to be made. The most staggering fact that I heard was that 0.5% of the national budget is spent on nutrition; however, malnutrition is still a horrible problem here with 1/5 of children’s growth being stunted due to lack of nutrients. Another really shocking fact for me was that there are only 50 child psychiatrists in the country, only 15 are in the public sector, and there are only 5 certified training facilities. With mental health issues being so present here due to high levels of physical and sexual abuse, drug use, abandonment, violence, gangs, diseases, and many other socioeconomic fathers, it really upsets me that there is so little help available to these children.
I know that the stigma surrounding mental health is still high in America, and I also know that we don’t have all of the resources that we need; however, I really feel like we should be thankful for the discussion in our country and the help that we do have. There are so many problems on this country’s plate that it is hard for them to tackle mental health right now, and it makes me very thankful that our country is moving in the direction of treating these issues and providing judgement free care.