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Published: April 27, 2018

Allied Health Major Finds New Outlook in South Africa

Jakira Lewis ’18 has spent the last semester of her UT career not in Tampa, but in South Africa.

She will fly back just two days before she walks the stage at commencement. Lewis, an allied health major with a concentration in medical science and a minor in psychology, studied abroad through the School for International Training study abroad program, South Africa Community Health and Social Policy. She learned “community-based health from a South African perspective, exploring the roles of the South African state, the media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in mobilizing community assets.”

Her classes this semester have included Zulu, Research Methods and Ethics, Social Determinants of Health in South Africa and Approaches to Community Health in South Africa.

“This program has definitely given me a new outlook on issues that I see in the world, such as racism and poverty,” said Lewis. “I have learned to truly appreciate all that I have and every opportunity that I have been given. This program and the people here also taught me to always look at the positives in every situation.”

In addition, one of Lewis’ courses was a hands-on internship with Exodus Foundation Ministries, observing how the organization implements the policies of the health department in its practices. She assisted with setting up testing sites, taking blood pressure tests, data capturing, and writing and submitting reports based on the data they collected.

“I went out into the field with the team to attempt to link people to care,” said Lewis, explaining the goal of connecting clients who tested HIV positive to treatment. “It is difficult, because people will provide wrong numbers or addresses due to various reasons, such as not wanting to disclose their status to their families (especially for younger clients) or wanting to find their own solution or cure to the disease, such as visiting traditional healers. Some people don’t want to get treatment simply because they don’t believe they are sick enough yet. We aren’t able to force people to get treatment, so we just keep reaching out to people and educating them on HIV and why it is important to get treatment.”

Lewis, who plans to pursue graduate school in public health, was vice president of both her sorority, the Sigma Nu chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, and UT’s National Pan-Hellenic Council before she left for her study abroad experience. One of the best memories she’ll take away from her time in South Africa will be of her host family.

“They were so sweet and welcoming. My sisters wanted to help me unpack everything. I didn’t feel uncomfortable or like I didn’t belong; I felt a part of the family immediately,” said Lewis, of Atlanta. “On one of my last nights with my family, my baby sisi, Angie, wanted to sleep with me. I just remember waking up to seeing these big beautiful eyes and her smiling at me, and she yelled Jakila (Rs don’t really exist in the Zulu language). My family has helped me so much with blending into the community and with learning Zulu. I will be forever grateful to them for opening their home up to me.”

Traveling and studying abroad checks off one of Lewis’ life goals, and its impact is something she said she will be changed by.

“It’s an amazing experience that everyone should have at least once in their lives,” she said.

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