Packing food parcels, developing recipes for nutritious immune-boosting soups and teaching schoolchildren basic gardening skills.
These were just a few of the activities in which final-year dietetics students from the Division of Human Nutrition took part recently as part of their Ukwanda rural rotation, which requires them to do work in rural communities.
Every year, the final-year dietetics students do a six-week integrated community-based rural rotation, during which they put their skills into practice. The rotation usually takes place at one of two rural training platforms, one located in Worcester and the other in Hermanus. Due to the restrictions brought about by Covid-19, these training platforms could not be accessed, so, this year the rotation took on a different format. The Ukwanda rotation was shortened to five weeks, of which three weeks were done online, and the other two weeks were completed at different locations where the non-governmental organisation (NGO), Sprouting Minds, operates. These are in Durbanville, Klipheuwel and Fisantekraal. The students' programme was adapted in line with Covid-19 nutrition-specific specifications.
Four groups, each comprising eight or 11 students, completed the Ukwanda rotation – and each group was tasked to publish a newsletter listing all their activities during this unusual year. The newsletter of the third group of eight students, which was titled "Ukwanda Times", summarised the work they did in the three communities mentioned above.
Lynette Daniels, Ukwanda co-ordinator and lecturer in community nutrition, explained that the purpose of the six-week Ukwanda dietetics rotation was to expose students to the three fields of dietetics (community nutrition, therapeutic nutrition and food service management) and to expose them to the practice, so that they can become equipped to work effectively in the South African public health context.
In their newsletter the students described how, among other things, they packed 106 food parcels at the Durbanville congregation, during the month of August with Sprouting Minds, for families who were struggling to buy food during the lockdown period.
They were also tasked with developing a recipe for a nutritious soup that could be prepared on a large scale for Fisantekraal residents. “The recipe we chose was a curry and red lentil soup, which also contained tomatoes, spinach, potatoes and split peas."
In addition, they were asked to develop a healthy spread that was high in protein and energy, and which could be used to make sandwiches.
“We made a roast garlic and lentil spread … it was enjoyed by the women of the Fisantekraal community," they wrote in their newsletter.
The students also did a health promotion activity on hypertension, which was aimed at raising awareness of this condition, and also educating women on the possible negative effects of having high blood pressure.
“The health promotion session included dancing, which encouraged physical activity … this was such a fun-filled educational activity."
The newsletter also described how the students taught junior school pupils about the benefits of plants and gardening. This included showing them how to make a trench garden, how to improve the nutritive value of soil, and how to plant vegetables and flowers. “This was a great physical development activity, because gardening helps learners to practice both gross and fine motor skills, acquire a sense of responsibility, and realise the benefits of nutrition by establishing the connection between what is grown, and what is needed for a proper diet."
They also helped community gardeners to increase their gardening skills, and trained community healthcare workers on the mid-upper-arm-circumference (MUAC) assessment for monitoring growth or identifying any signs of growth faltering.
“Poverty, hunger, food insecurity, communicable and non-communicable diseases were prevalent in all the communities in which we worked," wrote the students.
In the future, they agreed that there should be collaboration at all levels of healthcare delivery to sustain community development. “Innovation by health professionals is crucial for addressing barriers, with the foundation laying at the realisation of basic needs," they concluded.
Students wrote about their Ukwanda rotation experiences in glowing terms.
“After the enriching and humbling experience of being exposed to the lifestyle of Fisantekraal as a whole, I've gained insight into how to manage myself and my patients in future community practice," said Georgia Burnett.
“Ukwanda made me realise I enjoy working hands-on within the rural community. This experience showed me my strengths and what I needed to work on," said Sitaara Dhansay.
“Nutrition advocacy is possible through strengthening community action and fostering conducive environments. Eating healthy is an essential habit - cultivate it," wrote Nonofo Batshani.
“This rotation showed me that we as dietitians can make a huge change by just being there and showing up. When we showed up for the gardening project at the school, seeing their smiles was the best reward," said Alicia Terblanche.
“I have been able to reconnect with the reason I wanted to go into NGO work, which I had decided to focus on at the beginning of this degree. The block has been a rewarding experience," said Fatima Sulaiman.