The second in a series of posts from AJN editor-in-chief emeritus Diana Mason, who is currently traveling in South Africa with some nursing colleagues: I’m in Durban now, a major city on the eastern coast where the International Council of Nurses (ICN) meeting is taking place. I’m staying in the Prince Edward Hotel on the Indian Ocean, but we’re admonished repeatedly never to go out at night or alone because of the high crime rate.
As I took my shower this morning after suffering through a day of food poisoning, I thought about how the woman who will clean my room may walk miles to work and come from a home that has no running water, sewage, or electricity. I wondered what she thought about the luxury of the bathroom and whether she ever took a quick shower in a vacant room. (I made it a quick shower, being mindful that water is a precious resource in this country.)
But I’ve also thought a great deal about my first post from South Africa. In it, I focused on the poverty in the shantytowns, the diminished life expectancy of poor South Africans. My initial assumptions about shantytowns may need some revision. A guide took me and my colleagues through one of the shantytowns outside of Knysna, a stop on the “Garden Route” in the southeastern part of the country. The shantytown was located on the top of a mountain with stunning views of the water. The guide spoke to us about the strengths of this black community that still reveres its elders, looks out for their neighbors, and is proud of the new, simple housing that the government is slowly building. All of this housing has running water, electricity, and sewage disposal with indoor plumbing. Some of the people in these new homes have started gardens and added adornments to the plain concrete structures with proper roofs. And even in the shacks that coexist with these new homes, we saw a hair salon, shoe repair shop, and two shacks strung together and called the “mall.” Our guide saw hope in the improvements he’s witnessed in the lives of people in these communities. The changes are incremental, but he reminded me that only 16 years have passed since apartheid was ended.
One of the principles of nursing, particularly community health, is to recognize and tap into the strengths of people. I’m grateful to this guide for reminding me of this important principle.