Exploring Global Health in Cape Town: Insights from Anuoluwapo Adepegba

Meet Anuoluwapo Adepegba who recently participated in CFHI’s Cape Town program. She shares, “In March 2024, the Child Family Health International (CFHI) deemed me the HBCU Leader in Global Health, providing me the opportunity to be a clinical shadow in the Pediatric Division of the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital of Cape Town, South Africa. Upon my initial arrival, I was welcomed by program leaders, Avril and Marion, at the airport. Following warm hugs, light-hearted conversations, and a short drive, I then met Auntie Carmen, my homestay mother. She is a Christian woman who loves conversing, laughing, and cooking, but she is also lovingly protective, reminding me of all the attributes my real mother possesses. It did not take long before I felt at home with her, and her daughter, Caleigh, a studious University of Cape Town (UCT) sophomore studying Genetics.

The day after my arrival, Avril, Marion, and I had orientation while eating breakfast over a beautiful view of the V&A Waterfront. They informed me of the program expectations, safety measures, and support services, if needed. More interestingly, I learned about the long-standing work partnership between Avril and Marion that turned into a lifelong friendship. Truthfully, I was elated, as their kind and warm spirits provided the reassurance that I needed to know this would be a pleasant experience. They, along with Auntie Carmen, truly set the tone for what was to be a harmonious time in South Africa.

Monday, March 4th, was when the real immersion began. Mr. T, owner of Tyrin’s Tours, arrived at my homestay with Avril and a local guide to begin my city tour. To start, we went to UCT to obtain my official identification that I needed during my clinical placement and to access university resources. Following this, we visited the Cape Town Tourism Office, Company’s Garden and the District Six Museum, to name a few. Toward the end of the tour, I had lunch in Bo-Kaap at a family-owned restaurant, Faeeza’s Home Kitchen. Surprisingly, we ran into a CFHI alumna from the February cohort who shared her plans to stay in Cape Town for an additional week. She appreciated the beauty of the city and wanted to explore more, which further increased my excitement about being there. 

Tuesday, March 5th, was the first day of clinical rotations at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, and I was welcomed by Professor Sharon Cox, Head of the Pediatric Surgery Division. She introduced me to her diverse team of surgeons, notably with career-driven women in leadership roles. Despite being the only participant for the CFHI Cape Town March cohort, it provided more specialized learning and growth opportunities. My weekly schedule was meticulously structured. Each day began at 5:30 AM, and by 6:30 AM, I would leave home. Uncle Charles from Tyrin’s Tours would pick me up, always providing an energetic start to the morning filled with lots of laughter and great conversation. I arrived at the hospital by 7:15 AM, just in time to begin my duties at 7:30 AM. Mondays started with handovers, followed by sessions at the surgical and burn outpatient clinic at 1:00 PM, and concluded with time observing in the operating room. Tuesdays were packed with ward rounds, online oncology meetings, and clinic duties. Wednesdays focused on handovers and surgeries. Thursdays, while offering a quieter pace, provided the opportunity to observe surgeries for most of the day. On Fridays, I returned to the surgical and burn outpatient clinic. Additionally, throughout the week, I had the chance to attend lectures with Cape Town University medical students. These sessions covered a range of topics, including how to examine a child, different types of burns, neurodevelopmental disorders, and non-accidental injuries.

During my orientation on my first day, Professor Cox had expressed concerns about my lack of experience observing in the operating room. Many previous participants from the CFHI program were medical students who had already had such exposure. However, for me, this was a unique and invaluable opportunity. I reassured her by saying, “There’s always a first time for everything,” demonstrating my eagerness to embrace this crucial step.

On Thursday, March 7th, I had the privilege of observing a surgery for the first time, marking a pivotal moment in my journey as an aspiring physician. On this day, I witnessed both a skin grafting procedure and a laparotomy. My background in biology was beneficial as I had already seen plenty of visuals of human organs, and it was fascinating to see them in real life and up close. Although the skin grafting was somewhat difficult to witness, I did not retreat from the experience. Instead, I saw it as a rare and unique opportunity, embracing the learning curve. This was particularly true because certain cases, like the one we observed, are more common in South Africa than in the United States healthcare system.

These healthcare differences, new exposures, and my overall experience in Cape Town were discussed at my weekly meetings with Avril and Marion. During one of these sessions, I accompanied Avril to visit Groote Schuur Hospital, the site of the first heart transplant in the world. There, I learned about South African surgeon Christiaan Neethling Barnard, the donor Denise Darvall, and the recipient Louis Washkansky, who were all involved in this pioneering surgery. This tour, along with my clinical placements, profoundly deepened my appreciation for surgery, far beyond what I had previously felt. Each experience in the operating room not only enhanced my understanding but also fueled my passion for the field of medicine.

In my last two weeks at the hospital, I connected with Dr. Siyotula, one of the lead pediatric surgeons in the department. Her welcoming and joyful aura made me feel comfortable enough to request a meeting with her. To my delight, she provided sound advice and encouragement that truly motivated me to take the next step in my career. Dr. Siyotula was very intentional about her willingness to be my mentor and continue our relationship beyond the program. 

Outside of my clinical rotations, I fully immersed myself in the vibrant life of Cape Town. My adventures began with activities like visiting Table Mountain, quad biking in Atlantis Dunes, and enjoying movies at the Galileo Open Air Cinema. My first weekend included a delightful outing with Auntie Carmen to Lagoon Beach for a light lunch, followed by an evening at Grand West where we tried Debonairs Pizza. During my second weekend, I took Friday off to embark on a three-day Garden Route tour, organized by Tyrin’s Tours and led by Mr. T’s daughter, Taryn. The tour was packed with memorable experiences: we witnessed a stunning sunrise in the mountains, took a safari tour at Botlierskop Private Game Reserve, visited the Knysna Heads viewpoint, and the Knysna Elephant Sanctuary, where we had the opportunity to feed the elephants. We also explored the Map of Africa viewpoint in Wilderness, enjoyed canoeing on the Kaaimans River to a waterfall, and visited one of the world’s highest bungee park bridges. Although I did not bungee jump myself, I watched others take the plunge. 

Despite my tour being among a diverse group of Americans, Europeans, and Australians who were volunteering in Cape Town, I formed a particularly close bond with Taryn, enjoying fun conversations and discovering how much she reminded me of her father. Mr. T subsequently took me on a 3-Day Western Cape Tour the following weekend. Our first day included visits to Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope, and a boat tour to see the Cape Fur Seals off Hout Bay, followed by a drive through Chapman’s Peak to enjoy the view. On the second day, I experienced a historical tour of Stellenbosch and visited three vineyards where I enjoyed wine tastings paired with cheesecake, chocolate, and biltong, each offering unique flavors. My final day was filled with a visit to the Hermanus Market, Betty’s Bay penguin colony, and a quick stop at Marion’s house.

Toward the end of my third week and into my last week, Caleigh, my homestay sister, was finally on school vacation (or ‘vac’ as they call it). We spent time together, along with her friends, visiting places like the Oranjezicht Market, Cabo Beach Club, and Llandudno Beach, and even enjoyed a traditional Braai at one of their homes! I also had my first Gatsby sandwich, which I shared with Auntie Carmen, her sister-in-law Auntie Sue, and her son and his fiancée, all of whom were incredibly lovely and kind. On my last full day in Cape Town, which fell on Good Friday, I attended a play and church service with Auntie Carmen and Auntie Sue. The night ended with Auntie Carmen and me enjoying another traditional Gatsby sandwich and discussing the importance of community.

Although this was merely a glimpse of my time in Cape Town and an enriching experience, it was my willingness, as a solo female traveler, to engage with the community around me that greatly enhanced my time there. My time at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital was memorable and career-enriching, but the connections I made in the community truly catalyzed my personal growth. The CFHI motto, “let the world change you,” truly resonated with me, and I encourage future participants to embrace it—you might be surprised by what you discover about others and even yourself. With the new family and community I have formed, I now eagerly look forward to returning to Cape Town, South Africa, with plans to visit again very soon”.

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