global health is everyone’s responsibility

People young and old across the US have connected with seven different communities across the African continent to support locally initiated health projects. Using the vibrant color of bananas and the enthusiasm of youth, a new nonprofit has grown to support the coming revolution in African health care.

It all began with one individual, Fr. Joseph Birungi, who had the dream of providing access to basic health care in a remote area where he worked. His dream was transferred on to me through his stories of those who died because they did not have access to basic health care. At the time I was a 14 year-old who knew little of the world beyond Michigan’s borders, but I was inspired to do something. Just entering high school, I was full of naive optimism with a goal to figure out how I could make an impact in the world. Although I was youthful, naive, and optimistic I had an incredible mentor, my mother. She helped me form basic assumptions that laid the foundation for my understanding of “global health as everyone’s responsibility. ”

One assumption that grew from my optimism was the belief that everyone had the potential to make a difference in the world. From Fr. Joseph to myself to my mother, the chain of individuals who embodied this grew to include hundreds of families, church congregations, school assemblies, and individuals from across the country working to fund an ambulance. These individuals, linked by a common cause, were able to raise over $67,000 in less than three months for the health center in Uganda.
It is easy for many people to take for granted the small things: clean water from a sink, medicine readily available in your cabinet, adequate food sources, etc. In the summer of 2002, I was able to traveled to Uganda. During my one-month stay I met and lived with the people who would benefit from the ambulance project. The people I met were so friendly and, even in their poverty, they wanted to share what little they had. I have seen that all people of the world share the same needs and wants. Everyone needs food, shelter, clean water, and necessary health care. We all want to know happiness, health and love. Parents everywhere want the best for their children and children want to learn and grow. But not everyone gets the same chance for success. And so keeping in mind the interdependent and similar nature of our world it is not so difficult to see “global health as everyone’s responsibility.”

As I graduated from high school with my classmates so did SCOUT BANANA. My friends began expanding our work into Chapters at colleges and universities across the US and Canada. This allowed our outreach to grow along with our ability to support more local projects. We became seriously focused on community-based solutions and empowering young people in the US to take responsible action when “making a difference” in Africa. Just because you have the means to do something doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. With an expanding support base and the desire to empower young people and community leaders we decided to pursue 501c3 status in order to better serve as a resource. Utilizing privilege in the US to connect communities in Africa with inspired students, SCOUT BANANA has been able to raise almost $200,000 to date and engage over 50,000 young people in partnering with African projects to provide access to basic health care.
SCOUT BANANA believes that global health is everyone’s responsibility and that everyone has the potential to make a difference. We look at global health issues systematically and our solutions are focused on revolutionizing structures as well as shifting paradigms of development thinking in regards to education, power, and privilege. We seek to create lasting social change in African health care and believe that solutions come directly from communities in need. SCOUT BANANA is dedicated to empowering community solutions as well as young people who want to responsibly make a difference in Africa. By connecting communities in long-term cooperative partnerships, we will build a movement dedicated to fundamental social change in which global health is everyone’s responsibility and every individual’s human right.

SCOUT BANANA is a nonprofit organization that works to provide access to basic health care in Africa. Focusing on community-based solutions and empowering community leaders as well as young people who want to make a difference in Africa, SCOUT BANANA is supporting the innovation in African health care. The organization connects student Chapters with local health project in Africa.

Learn more about the Chapter network & apply to launch a Chapter at your school HERE!

Written for’s Global Health Blog.

why there is no doctor: harsh realities in zonkizizwe (part 1) (10)

(photo: Clinic #1 in Zonkizizwe, serving zones 1-4)

From May to August of 2008, I interned with an organization called Vumundzuku-bya Vana ‘Our Children’s Future’ (VVOCF). The organization is located in Zonkizizwe (Zonke), an informal settlement south of Johannesburg closest to Germiston. The informal settlement is best described as a peri-urban area much like a shantytown with convenience stores. Some live at a lesser degree of poverty than others, but everyone is impacted by HIV/AIDS.

I […] learned more about the extent of HIV/AIDS in Zonke. The intern coordinator reminded us that the statistic of students at MSU that have an STD is 1 in 4. We are only lucky that HIV/AIDS did not enter the mainstream population. Here in Zonke 1 in 4 people is HIV positive. The family at the center is more so affected by HIV/AIDS and now they work to care for children who come the center affected by the virus. There is still a very high stigma and a terribly ineffective ARV program. Many people refuse to get tested or even consider the idea. Each child at the center either has HIV […] has lost parents from AIDS or related illnesses or has not yet been tested to know. There are many who should be tested, but are not. […] It has come to my attention that much of what the government does here looks good on paper and on banners, but there is a huge, massive disconnect in implementation (78).

Zonkizizwe is a snapshot of post-apartheid health care development failures. It was founded when a group of displaced people set up shacks on a farmer’s land so that they could live closer to potential places of work. Many times the South African government tried to remove them, but they kept rebuilding. This is a story different than that of the Black townships or Bantustan “homelands.” Zonkizizwe was an area not meant to be inhabited by anyone, let alone poor Blacks. Understandably the story of health care here is one of an even greater lack of access. Informal settlements had no budgets of their own to even attempt to build their own health infrastructure and even if they did it would likely have been destroyed during forced removals. Under apartheid, health services would have been incredibly difficult to come by.

Everyone waves from their steel-corrugated shacks, children smile and get excited, parents and elders are welcoming – looking out over the shanty town roof tops that extend as far as the eye can see in each direction, you can’t help but wonder that within this poverty and desolation mixed with laughter and happiness – what potential can be harnessed, what community action can be inspired to make South Africa’s future brighter by and for those who live here (79).

My goals as an intern with VVOCF were HIV/AIDS education, HIV/AIDS peer educator training, and assistance with nonprofit organizational development. I was very glad to be able to focus my strengths and interests in the work I did. I also worked to formulate a rough community health assessment based on my interactions with people at the VVOCF center, neighbors, visits to the clinics, and interactions with Zonkizizwe residents.

Now Zonkizizwe has two primary health care clinics to serve its roughly 250,000 people. Health services are all free through government funding, including immunizations and treatments. However, the issue does not become access to treatments, but rather quality of care. The director of VVOCF, Celumusa, said that all the health clinics do is give out painkiller tablets for everything (80). She said she often just goes to the chemist [pharmacist] to tell them what is wrong and get something that will actually help. This appears to be a direct outcome of apartheid health policy. The lack of trained medical professionals, notably doctors, leaves local health workers with no better option than handing out painkillers. Quite possibly the training of these health workers remains inadequate as well. Zonke is an area much in need of the RDP’s action, but all that can be seen here are RDP building supplies for new houses.

“You can see people die, sitting at Natal-spruit.” – Celumusa (81)

The closest hospital to Zonke is in Natal-spruit, about a 30-40 minute taxi ride away. If you live in Zonke, this is the closest place to get ARV medications since the clinics are “not certified” yet to distribute (82). There is another hospital nearby, but the taxi fare is more costly and it takes longer to get there. Residents of Zonke don’t necessarily have the time or money to take a day to travel to the hospital even if it is critical to their health. Those who go to Natal-spruit notice a different level of care. People die waiting, people in great pain are not attended, people in need of good health care cannot access it. At Heidelberg I was told the staff rush to help you and are much more caring (83). The Natal-spruit hospital is set to be closed soon and a new hospital will be built in Extension 6, which is in Sandonga, much closer to Zonke. Maybe with this new hospital the level of care and access to care will increase, especially in regards to ARVs accessibility.

78. Hill, Alex B. Journal Entry. 15 May 2008.
79. Ibid, 13 May 2008.
80. Ibid, 6 June 2008.
81. Ibid, 29 May 2008.
82. Ibid, 10 June 2008.
83. Ibid.

Coming next: Harsh Realities in Zonkizizwe (part 2)