The Pebbles Project: A Reflection

Emily Drewry participated in the Northwestern Public Health and Development in South Africa study abroad program in Spring 2014. As part of her studies, she spent six sessions working with a local NGO to integrate her understanding of South African health systems with understanding of community development.

IMG_3026The Pebbles Project is a nonprofit organization whose offices are located on the Villiera Wine Farm in Somerset West, South Africa. Founded in 2004, the organization’s initial goal was to help the children of wine farm workers, many of whom are affected by alcohol abuse early on and throughout life. Children living in the Winelands communities have been identified as high risk for significant instances of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and developmental delays due to increased exposure to pesticides from living on and near wine farms. Through working with this organization, we were able to integrate our budding understanding of South African health determinants. We were able to spend time with the nurse practitioner, an incredibly knowledgeable woman, as well as  one of the early childhood program teacher at Pebbles during our time there. Ending with a cumulative project about what we’d learned, the time at Pebbles left a lasting impression.

The day we first drove up to Pebbles, the natural beauty of the Winelands around the office stunned us. We were so excited to meet the staff, tour the location, and get started with our work. It became clear that we would be working on a few projects while at Pebbles, but that our time there would be largely based on their needs on a week-by-week basis. We toured the facilities that first day and were excited to see a new clinic where families of wine farm workers could come to receive care. Because it just opened, the clinic wasn’t receiving many patients, but there’s no doubt that it will be an integral part of the Winelands community in the future.

IMG_3037The Public Health and Development program focused on a different determinant of health each week, effectively introducing us to the status of South Africa within the realm of health, and creating comprehensive background for us to apply to our time at Pebbles. For example, the week of occupational health especially stood out to me as important progress in my understanding of South African health determinants. I was already familiar with the workings of Pebbles by that point in our time here, but I had never contemplated the occupational hazards present on the wine farms. After a week of coursework related to occupational health, I returned to Villiera with a broader understanding of concerns for employees and the required actions to remain in good health while working in jobs that require manual labor. Things I had never considered before, such as repetitive strain injuries due to long days of repeating motions, became illuminated and further highlighted the need for a clinic on site.

As part of our work at Pebbles, we were tasked with creating a hygiene project for the young children of the crèches. After observing for a day, we noted that the biggest gap in hygiene came in the process of washing hands. Not only did the children fail to wash their hands at home, according to the teacher, but also when asked to do so at the crèche, they simply dunked their hands in water and considered it done. We worked on creating a presentation that would be understandable by 3-5 year olds that showed them why they wash their hands and how to do so effectively. Using a basic explanation of a germ and demonstrating how long to wash our hands to the tune of Happy Birthday, we presented on our final day at Pebbles and were thrilled with the responses we got from the kids. They sang along with us as we let them practice afterward, and we left the materials behind for the teacher to replicate the presentation in the future. For children so young, it is difficult to explain concepts as difficult as germs, but we hoped to have made a lasting impression on their habits that will greatly affect their health down the road.

I could not have been happier with the placement at Pebbles; the wine farms were, to me, a fascinating community to learn about for the past ten weeks. Not only was it a group I had previously little knowledge about, I found the determinants were apparent within the community, but also being addressed by Pebbles. The organization offered a comprehensive look into the challenges of a specific community, and I appreciated the chance to identify each program and how the goals matched the health needs of the community. Pebbles offers a variety of programs, from early childhood development centers, to afterschool clubs, to parents workshops about finances, personal development, and positive parenting. The various parent programs, for example, worked well at addressing the psychosocial and occupational health problems seen among adults in the wine farm communities. The development of individuals within the Winelands communities will be forever improved because of Pebbles’ comprehensive goals and programs.

I left South Africa with a broader interest in health – not only will I continue to seek out opportunities in nonprofits abroad, but I will bring to the table the skills it will take to join and learn about a new community, especially one I’d never considered before. Pebbles is one of those organizations that will stick with me for a long time, not only because of the opportunities we had to become a part of their team, but because of the complex task they have undertaken so positively.

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