Contemporary Social Challenges in Rural Communities in South Africa
Durban and Johannesburg, South Africa
3, 6 or 9 credits in SOCY, AFAM, INTL, or ANTH (undergraduate and graduate)
2-Week Program: 4 July – 17 July 2018
4-Week Program: 4 July – 31 July 2018
Professor Ewell Dingani Mthethwa
Professor Susan Bodnar-Deren
1 April 2018
The Global Education Office, the African American Studies Department, the Sociology Department, and the School of World Studies are pleased to offer a unique service-learning opportunity for students to explore the challenges facing rural communities in democratic South Africa. The program begins in Pretoria and Soweto/Johannesburg, the epicenter of Apartheid resistance, followed by extensive travel through rural KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) - Pietermaritzburg, St. Lucia, Eschowe, Ulundi, Maputuland, and Manguzi, culminating in the city of Durban, the economic capital of KZN. The course will conclude in Namibia, a nation-state also ruled by Apartheid, where we will study parallel resistance movements, culture, health and education. Special emphasis is placed on a comparative analysis of life in post-Apartheid South Africa with post-Civil Rights Richmond VA, using a Participatory Action (PAR) framework and service learning through which students will work with and alongside South African youth, health providers, mental health practitioners, community health workers, local and provincial government leaders and community members, to examine the nature of resilience in South Africa and Richmond VA, two communities affected by a historical transition from racial segregation to inclusive democracy.
During this 28 or 14 day study abroad experience students will travel throughout the province of KZN, staying in mainly rural and remote locations not often visited by western travelers. Students will engage in a variety of service learning projects focused on education and health/well-being. In Maputaland, students will participate in an organized service activity by working on a project assisting Zulu schoolchildren, many of them orphaned by the AIDS pandemic, students will also have the opportunity to shadow community health workers in Manguzi and assist in the organization and facilitation of a traditional medicine workshop sponsored by VCU and local leaders and health care professionals in St. Lucia. We will also be working with local educators, community members and youth to develop mindfulness and reflection programs in schools in rural KZN (Eshowe, Ulundi, Manguzi, Groutville) and urban areas/townships (Inanda, Umlazi). Through family homestays (optional), seminars with local leaders/organizations, and participation in daily life in Zululand, students will also learn about Zulu traditional customs, religious ceremonies, traditional medicine/healing, and ritual performances. This study-abroad program not only meets locally-identified needs, but also takes participating students on an experiential journey into an exciting field of global responsibility and emerging democracy in South Africa.
Course and credit options
Students can enroll in one to three (depending on enrollment in either 14 day option or 28 day option) of the following courses:
- AFAM 391 Contemporary Social Challenges in Rural SA , 3 undergraduate credits, Mr. Mthethwa
- INTL 398 Contemporary Social Challenges in Rural SA , 3 undergraduate credits, Mr. Mthethwa
- ANTH 391 Contemporary Social Challenges in Rural SA , 3 undergraduate credits, Mr. Mthethwa
- SOCY 406 Senior Capstone Sociology, 3 undergraduate credits, Dr. Bodnar-Deren
- SOCY 391 Comparative Rural Global Health, 3 undergraduate credits, Dr. Bodnar-Deren
- SOCY 691 Comparative Rural Global Health, 3 graduate credits, Dr. Bodnar-Deren
- SOCY 445 Medical Sociology, 3 undergraduate credits, Dr. Bodnar-Deren
As indicated above, AFAM 391, INTL 398 and ANTH 391 are cross listed. SOCY 406 is restricted to upper class undergraduate students (Jr/Sr status). The Education Abroad office will enroll students in the course upon receipt of the registration.
AFAM 391/INTL 398/ANTH 391: Contemporary Social Challenges (3 undergraduate credits), taught by Dingani Mthethwa
Contemporary Social Challenges in Rural Communities in South Africa is an elective 3 credit hours service-learning course in AFAM, INTL, WRLD and SOCY. This education abroad course examines the historic, cultural, political, and economic context of the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) with particular emphasis on the challenges faced by rural communities in democratic South Africa. Students will participate in a service component that focuses on connecting culture, health and well-being that involves assisting with the construction of sports facilities for low-income, rural South African youth.
SOCY 391: Comparative Rural Global Health (3 undergraduate credits)/SOCY 691 (3 graduate credits), taught by Susan Bodnar-Deren.
Advanced graduate and undergraduate students will gain an understanding of health, illness, medicine, and health care as a characteristic of both individuals and societies in South Africa and globally. We will first examine basic concepts pertaining to the sociological analysis of health and illness, and explore how existing social structures, such as contemporary democratic movements and historical periods (such as British Colonial periods and Apartheid) influence the meanings and experiences of medicine and health care in South Africa. We will pay special attention to epidemiological transition as the region moves from acute/infectious illness as major cause mortality to chronic (or non-communicable diseases) as the contributor to mortality in the region. We will also look into the health care system historically and contemporarily and the profession of medicine and their changing forms of organization. Finally, we will look at how social movements and community engagement in South Africa have shaped the trajectories and experiences of disease, such as services for children orphaned by AIDS and community good initiatives to combat cardiovascular disease and diabetes. We will pay special attention to the work of grass roots activists like South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) specific to HIV/AIDs awareness and treatment and the work infected and affected community members who were instrumental in making antiretroviral treatment available in South Africa. We will also be examining major global health challenges, programs and policies. Students will be introduced to the world’s vast diversity of determinants of health and disease. Students will analyze current and emerging global health priorities, including emerging infectious diseases, poverty, conflicts and emergencies, health inequity, health systems reforms, and major global initiatives for disease prevention and health promotion.
International health has taken a new meaning in the last decade. It has grown from a disciple that represented efforts of industrialized nations to help poor countries deal with their health problems, to that which now deals with a new range of health threats that go beyond national boundaries In considering this paradigm shift, a new terminology, “global health” which more accurately reflects the notion of shared health problems and solutions, has emerged to replace the term, “international health.” Indeed, issues of global health are interconnected with the most demanding socioeconomic, physical, and biological stresses of our time. These issues lie at the nexus of development and require mechanisms that support the best of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary thought, as well as cultural competencies. With increased globalization, inequity, and poverty, global health has become a subject of heightened interest among scholars and practitioners of public health in high, middle, and low income countries.
SOCY 445 – Medical Sociology– Taught by Susan Bodnar-Deren
The goal of the course (SOCY-445/361/691) is to foster an understanding of health, illness, medicine, and health care as a characteristic of both individuals and societies in South Africa and globally. We will first examine basic concepts pertaining to the sociological analysis of health and illness, and explore how existing social structures, such as contemporary democratic movements and historical periods (such as British Colonial periods and Apartheid) influence the meanings and experiences of medicine and health care in South Africa. We will pay special attention to epidemiological transition as the region moves from acute/infectious illness as major cause mortality to chronic (or non-communicable diseases) as the contributor to mortality in the region. We will also look into the health care system historically and contemporarily and the profession of medicine and their changing forms of organization. Finally, we will look at how social movements and community engagement in South Africa have shaped the trajectories and experiences of disease, such as services for children orphaned by AIDS and community good initiatives to combat cardiovascular disease and diabetes. We will pay special attention to the work of grass roots activists like South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) specific to HIV/AIDs awareness and treatment and the work infected and affected community members who were instrumental in making antiretroviral treatment available in South Africa.
SOCY 406 – Senior Capstone Sociology – Taught by Susan Bodnar-Deren
For those registered for SOCY 406, the goal of the course focuses on your ability to take what you have learned in the past four years and put it into practice and begin to do sociology, in an international context. To practice sociology is to learn to speak truth to power through research, observation and action. Sociology has an inherently moral dimension that pushes a practitioner towards the goal of social justice. To practice sociology is to become engaged in the larger collective conversations about policy, justice and action.
For this course, ‘doing sociology’ moves to the center of the discussion and course work. My approach to this course follows Marx’s idea that the goal of sociology is not only to understand the world, but to empower the practitioner to change the world! And like Lemert, I believe that ‘doing’ sociology is something that everyone CAN and SHOULD do as it is fundamental to an active and productive citizenry. Lemert states:
Each student enrolled in this section will be responsible to DO sociology and conduct research (qualitative or quantitative) or engage in a public sociology project, using data that you will collect during your time in South Africa. Pre-trip meetings May and June will be required for those registered in the course (schedule TBD). Students will have in-class and one: one time with Dr. Bodnar-Deren to develop a research question, literature review and methodology for conducting their research. The student will complete this part of the course prior to going to SA. Once in country, students will collect data using their proposed methods. The student will also have in-country time to analyze their data and begin their discussion section. By the time we depart SA/Namibia the student will have a draft of their senior seminar research paper, to be finalized in the 10 days after their return to the U.S. For students registered in this course, their final Senior Seminar paper will be due 8/10/2018.
SOCY 691: Comparative Rural Global Health
This graduate level study-abroad/service learning class examines health from a South African perspective (with comparisons made to the U.S.) It is suggested that students have taken undergraduate Medical Sociology or Health Psychology. The unit will appeal to students wanting to engage with social perspectives on health and illness from a globalised and localised perspective. This course will provide students the opportunity to move beyond the generalizations (both social and epidemiological) that characterize public perceptions and discourse specific to South Africa to identify the ways in which these generalizing statistics are actually experienced at the community and family levels. We will examine the specific economic, political, cultural, and historical pressures that have shaped the health environment in South Africa. We will discuss the differences/similarities in how biomedicine is practiced in both South Africa and the U.S.; and explore the major South African healing traditions, and how the practice of “healing with two hands” (P. Farmer) fits into the promotion of health and well-being in South Africa. We will examine public and private health and health promotion; HIV/AIDS and sexual health and the influence of the media and the internet on health related matters. SOCY 691 is restricted to graduate students.
Students should prepare for extensive traveling throughout South Africa.
All students registered for the program will also be required to attend 4 pre-trip lectures during the spring semester.
Students must have at least a 2.0 GPA. An academic letter of reference is not required. This program is open to non-VCU students and community members.
Accommodations and meals
Participants will stay in hostels, guests houses, bed and breakfasts, and dorms at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Meals are included. Each student will have a shared room and will share a bathroom while at the university. While traveling through rural areas, students will have the option of doing homestays with local families. In the norther regions of Manguzi, we will be staying in community run lodges, and camps (2-3 students per room/cabin with shared bath facilities).
Professor Ewell Mthethwa
, instructor of the isiZulu language at VCU, is a native of South Africa. He holds a Masters degree in history from the University of KwaZulu-Natal Professor Mthethwa has extensive experience in Zululand and has led college and university students on cultural and heritage tours to KwaZulu-Natal.
Professor Susan Bodnar-Deren
is a medical sociologist whose research focuses the ways that macro social factors affect individual-level health and well-being. Dr. Bodnar-Deren has a PhD in Sociology from Rutgers University. She has experience doing research in the area of HIV/AIDS, Reproductive Health, and Aging; and is in the initial stages of examining postpartum depression in South Africa.
A valid passport is required to leave the US. If a student does not already have a passport, they are advised to begin the application process as soon as they are accepted into the program. The processing time for new passport applicants can be as long as 8 weeks. For students who already have passports, they will need to verify that the passport’s validity dates extend 6 months past their return date. For more information about passports and the application/renewal process, please consult the State Department's website
Payment of fees
In order to complete the application, students are required to submit a $250 registration fee and deposit. This $250 registration fee and deposit is refundable in two cases: if the program is cancelled, or if a student is rejected by the faculty member based on their qualifications to participate in the program. Reasons for rejection could include, but are not limited to, GPA, lack of a pre-requisite, unacceptable or inappropriate statement of interest, etc. and are at the discretion of the faculty program director. However, if a student pays the fee and is not given final acceptance to the program based on failing to complete application requirements, as determined by the Education Abroad office or faculty director, the $250 is non-refundable.
Students will receive two separate charges to their student accounts for this program: one charge will reflect the balance of the program fee (minus the $250 deposit and application fee) and the other charge is for VCU tuition costs (based on the number and type of credits being taken by the student). These bills will be charged through VCU Student Accounting and should appear by May 2017.
Please note: While these charges may post to the student’s account simultaneously or separately, it is the student’s responsibility to make sure the account balance is paid before the billing due date.
Withdrawal procedures and financial commitment policy
All withdrawals must be made formally in writing and submitted to the Director of Education Abroad. Otherwise, the program fee will not be refunded. After committing to the program, students deciding to withdraw will be held accountable for a portion of or the entire program fee based on the following schedule:
- Formal withdrawal submitted later than 30 days before the first day of the program abroad: 100% of the program fee will be charged
- Formal withdrawal submitted within 30-60 days before the first day of the program abroad: 75% of the program fee will be charged
- Formal withdrawal submitted within 60-90 days before the first day of the program abroad: 50% of the program fee will be charged
In the event an unexpected emergency occurs within 30 days before the first day of the program abroad, students must provide a physician’s certification that his/her condition prohibits participation. In this case, refunds will be limited to only those funds VCU is able to recover or that have not already been spent on behalf of the student.
See above for refund policy on $250 registration fee and deposit.
Students should schedule an appointment with their physician or at a travel clinic (such as VCU Student Health) at least 4 to 8 weeks before the program to inquire about recommended and/or required vaccines/immunizations. It is the responsibility of the student to ensure that all routine and travel immunizations are up-to-date.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on recommended and required immunizations for travelers. To view the health risks and requirements for the country to which you will be traveling, please visit the CDC's website
Health Alert: Zika Virus
The CDC has issued a travel alert for countries where the Zika virus is prevalent. Check the CDC’s travel notices
regularly as new countries are being added to this list. Check VCU Student Health
to stay updated as well.
VCU Student Health offers in-depth pre-travel consultation with a health care provider as well as most of the vaccines recommended for safe travel. Prescriptions for recommended medicines are also available. Please visit their website
for full details.
Every effort is made to provide updated and accurate information at the time of publication. The sponsors reserve the right to make necessary changes to the programs and costs. The university reserves the right to revise or alter all fees, regulations pertaining to student fees, and fee collection procedures at any time.