Helen Thomason and friends in Durbin Township, South Africa. | Provided

Helen Thomason, OPRF High School class of 2013, was a Percy Julian Symposium winner in 2014 with her research project on “Imprinting on New Born Ducks.”

We have been following her college experiences and want to highlight her semester abroad in South Africa.

Helen, a junior at Scripps University, has just returned from South Africa after completing her study abroad program. Seventy percent of the juniors at Scripps participate in this requirement, most going to Europe. Helen’s second choice would have been to study the medical practices in Italy (her foreign language of choice), but she felt that the South Africa experience was a unique opportunity.

Helen had a family connection in Malawi and flew there first. She spent a week working in a daycare/foster care environment where she assisted in the care of children of various ages before flying on to South Africa.

Arriving in Durbin Township, South Africa, Helen became part of a program that, three days per week, included studying public health, with two days in clinics and hospice care where she shadowed nurses and doctors as they attended to the health of people in various camps. Many of these camps were forcefully formed during the times of apartheid and were not disbanded. Many of the people have since “lived in the place” in which they were last settled with little change to their circumstance.

Helen’s designed independent study formed around a particular group of families that lived together in a large warehouse with very little privacy. She was looking to understand their concept of home and community. Fifteen mothers, who were the most vocal, welcomed Helen to be with them. Helen documented her experience, which included studying the diseases and in one case developed a case of some 60 pages detailing the defense of a family being thrown out of this housing environment.

One of Helen’s highlights was the month home-stay during this time. Although it was an important welcoming experience, the apartheid setting was still evident.

Helen returned to Scripps University to continue her pre-med studies and eventually finish a degree in the field of neuro-science.

This year’s Percy Julian Symposium takes place this Saturday, April 22, at OPRF High School.

Norb Teclaw

Oak Park

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