The Main Goal of OCCE is to Facilitate Dialogue Between Traditional Healers and Western Medical Practitioners

The Organization for Cross Cultural Exchange (OCCE) is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization that was initiated in 2007 to facilitate a dialogue between traditional healers and western medical practitioners to develop poverty alleviation and health promotion strategies. This entirely volunteer organization, is devoted to promoting research, education, and partnerships that integrates cultural traditions within developing worlds with the cross-fertilization of western ideals. The main goal of OCCE is to facilitate dialogue between traditional healers and western medical practitioners and further develop strategies, collaborative techniques, and awareness for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis in South Africa.

Key to the success of this project is the interviewing of sangomas and inyangas, traditional healers, in the village of Vukuzenzele. OCCE is responsible for bridging the gap of communication and opening those lines so accurate information about wide spread disease and its prevention are disseminated. Through open discussions and interviews of the respected community leaders and traditional healers, this gap of language and culture regarding AIDS/HIV and TB is breached with accurate knowledge and understanding. Though, it must be done in accordance with the specific culture and through the appropriate channels. In Vukuzanzeke, everything goes through  sangomas. These people hold an important role in the well being of their community. One such woman who remains an inspiration to the OCCE is Queen Ntuli, who has been practicing traditional healing from her home in Folweni.

The Organization for Cross-Cultural Exchange (OCCE) is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization that was initiated in 2007 to facilitate a dialogue between traditional healers and western medical practitioners to develop poverty alleviation and health promotion strategies. This entirely volunteer organization, is devoted to promoting research, education, and partnerships that integrates cultural traditions within developing worlds with the cross-fertilization of western ideals.

The main goal of OCCE is to facilitate dialogue between traditional healers and western medical practitioners and further develop strategies, collaborative techniques, and awareness for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis in South Africa. In promoting the dialogue between traditional healers in rural villages and western medical practitioners, we can educate traditional healers on western medical advances and combat the ravaging spread of disease. The philosophy of OCCE is to fully recognize and respect the cultures and traditions of the people who need our help.

As OCCE grows, the focus is to remain true to this philosophy and to continue collaborating with traditional South African healers who are known as sangomas or inyangas. These spiritual and medicinal healers, often people of status in the villages, are the equivalent to western doctors who attend to the needs of the sick. Through our involvment with these community leaders, it is our goal to provide access to high quality treatment for patients in developing areas that are devoid of western medical infrastructure. Additionally, associated poverty conditions must be addressed in order to improve the quality of life for these individuals many of whom are children orphaned by the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS.

Our work over the last two years has shown us that small successes bring larger rewards. With this in mind, OCCE plans to adopt the village of Vukuzenzele, South Africa, and work directly with their traditional healers, community leaders, and local residents to address this dire situation.

Queen Ntuli

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The Village of Vukuzenzele OCCE Project | Exchange For Change Org

The Village of Vukuzenzele OCCE Project

“Wake up and do it yourself” is the translation for Vukuzenzele, a village of 162 homes, nestled in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains in the KwaZulu-Natal province of the southwest region of South Africa. Traveling down the Makofu highway, usable during the winter and made impassable with summer rains, one can see the striking differences from relative poverty in the mountains of Appalachia and urban areas such as New York City and absolute poverty in most areas of South Africa. Language is the ethnic marker in South Africa and the people in this area speak ‘Amabhaca’ a combination of isiZulu and isiXhosa, which shows the fusion of two major speaking groups of South Africa. Traditional healers (sangomas and inyangas) are key stakeholders in this area, from whom 80% of the people rely on to help rid demons or treat the common cold. In addition, electricity has not yet been introduced into the village and cow dung is used for fuel. Children Household assets show that of the 200 homes only 15 had pit latrine toilets while other households had no toilet facilities at all, (Community Survey 2007). There are communal springs, which provides water to the residents, and many use water from the nearby river. The main food crops are maize and sugar beans. The residents of Vukuzenzele want to eradicate poverty and disease on their own, but they need help. This is why the 501(c) 3 non-profit, Organization for Cross-Cultural Exchange (OCCE), was developed. Its purpose is to help those who need guidance and financial help through capacity building. OCCE’s mission statement, “Bridging the communication gap between traditional and western ideals through research and cross-cultural exchange,” establishes the philosophy to fully recognize and respect the culture and traditions of the people who need help to reduce poverty and maintain a decent quality of life.” Interviewing traditional healers, providing access to quality treatment for patients and addressing associated poverty issues are the tenets of OCCE. Below are some photos and documents from the people of Vukuzenele:

According to the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, civil society should “support efforts to assist in democratic institution building, strengthen communities, promote equitable access to resources and ensure respect of rights and diversity.” Thus, OCCE’s vision meets these specified goals. Approximately 93% of the people in Vukuzenzele live in mud homes and according to Father George the priest at Lourdes Mission the poverty rate in the area is 95% (versus 45% nationally) with unemployment the highest in the nation, (Statistics South Africa 2007). Chronic illness is rampant in many of the households and HIV/AIDS and TB has become an imminent threat.

It gives me an overwhelming feeling to be invited to help address health and poverty issues raging in this rural community. Nosipho Mbanjwa, a resident of the village, Mr. Rogers Mwabe, the traditional leader (induna), and several community members have expressed an interest in becoming involved with this pilot project. The local school, Cetswayo, needs rudimentary items such as pencils, paper, and books. At the pinnacle of their wish list is a library and two computers once electricity is installed in the village. Poverty does not cause AIDS but it has been shown to be one of the factors. The aim of OCCE is to address this devastation and buffer the village of Vukuzenzele. By providing appropriate mechanisms to establish public health projects and build capacity against poverty Vukuzenzele can conquer poverty and provide the standard of life its residents deserve.

Update on the Vukuzenzele Project

In January 2009, OCCE partnered with Kettering University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB). We arrived in the village and did an assesment on the water situation.

Brenda Gonzales met with Dave Pool and Donald Smith, agriculturalists and herbalists from White River, Mupumalanga Province, South Africa, to discuss a medicinal garden OCCE project for the women in Vukuzenzele . This income generation project will be a boost in income for the women and traditional healers.

Nosipho Mbanjwa’s Community Based Organization (CBO) Masizakhe Community Development Project (MCDP) has been registered with the South African government. This partnership is part of the sustainability for the village.

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Kettering EWB and OCCE in Africa | Organization For Cross Cultural Exchange

From our friends at Kettering.  Thank you for the support for OCCE.  The engineers without borders are a tremendous asset to OCCE and the funding and building of the ongoing project to build these orphanages in Kenya.

https://news.kettering.edu/news/ewb-africa

They were introduced to the needs of this small village in KwaZulu-Natal, one of the poorest provinces in South Africa near Durban, by Brenda Gonzales, director of the Organization for Cross-Cultural Exchange (OCCE).

They were introduced to the needs of this small village in KwaZulu-Natal, one of the poorest provinces in South Africa near Durban, by Brenda Gonzales, director of the Organization for Cross-Cultural Exchange (OCCE).

The OCCE began work in Vukuzenzele in 2006, to blend western medicine and traditional practices to fight HIV/AIDS, and other illnesses typical of sub-Saharan Africa.  During site visits, OCCE met with a regional health practitioner and found a high incidence of water-related illness in the village, possibly a result of insufficient sanitation in the village.

Gonzalez contacted Kettering EWB about tackling the village water issues as their next international project, helped arrange ground transportation and accommodations for the assessment team and secured a translator who grew up in the village.

The Kettering EWB TEAM AFRICA consisted of: Krunal Desai, Elizabeth Santos, Cori Snyder, Jordan Puckett, team leaders, Katie Hyrila and Joy Jeyaratnam. Travelling with the students were Nadine Thor, director of Environmental Health and Safety at Kettering, who provided technical guidance and first aid support, and her husband, Matt Schafer, who handled the surveying equipment and setting up the GPS system used to map the area around the village.

EWB made an assessment trip to Vukuzenzele in December 2008 to conduct extensive water quality testing, collect topographical data and map the community and local water sources.  They performed in-depth interviews with village leaders, local government officials and with women in the community for assistance in assessing community expectations.  The group collaborated with local health aids to assess the health of children and adults in the village.

The outcome of this initial assessment provided data that will help determine the most appropriate methods for delivering and purifying water for the village.

The need is great. Two hundred households populate the village of Vukuzenzele.  Traditional healers in the community are becoming open to western medical practices, but before a serious campaign can be launched against HIV/AIDS in this area, health concerns that arise from contaminated water must be addressed. Further, women in the community spend much of their time walking to and from local streams and during the dry season as far as the Umzimkhulu River, which is three kilometers away.


The traditional leader, the elected councilperson, the chief, and many community members have pledged their time and energy to assist in the design and construction of a solution to water issues.  In February of 2008, these community stakeholders signed an informal memorandum of understanding with OCCE, committing to assist in data taking, design, construction, and long-term maintenance of a solution to their water supply and safety issues.

< Upon returning from the assessment trip, the team began investigating potential ways to improve the water supply in Vukuzenzele and to reduce the time that women and children currently spend fetching water.  The Kettering team has already begun fundraising for this effort, gaining support from industry, faculty and staff, family and friends.

A subsequent assessment trip may be necessary if the best solution requires additional data and/or if it is necessary to bring university representatives and local experts to the village for additional data gathering.

Further assessment and implementation will require $27,000 in funding, of which $20,000 still needs to be raised.

Students Krunal Desai, of Grand Blanc, Mich., and Joy Jeyaratnam, of Steubenville, Ohio, found their preconceptions of what they would find in South Africa shattered by the reality they encountered upon arriving in the village of Vukuzenzele in the KwaZulu-Natal Province. They also found unexpected resiliency and joy in the people they went to help, and it has inspired them.

What follows are personal accounts by both students.

Krunal Desai
“I was a member of the A-section team traveling to Africa (we took three from each section). I primarily handled the technical aspects, including mapping everything via a GPS unit, and I also took some extra hikes to map out some existing pipes and paths.

“General logistics, combined with the physical terrain in Vukuzenzele were the biggest challenges we encountered. We had to get our team overseas to South Africa firstly, which is incredibly expensive, and of course we had to acquire all our supplies on-site. The village itself is incredibly hilly, with only unimproved footpaths around to get around it, making travel through the village and surrounding areas difficult.

“Prior to leaving I pictured the area as a grasslands/desert-like area, not a very lush and verdant green temperate climate. The second thing was more of a personal dream, but I was hoping to see some wild(er) animals, since it was Africa, but all we saw were domestic animals.

Upon arrival, we discovered a lot of information that destroyed any preconceptions we had. There is a non-functioning government-installed water distribution system, but we found that most Western installations in the area are often destroyed and stripped for parts. Hopefully working through the Kettering school terms, and with professors and fellow students, we’ll have a solution to implement when we go back.”


Joy Jeyaratnam
“During our trip to the village of Vukuzenzele we were able to accomplish several things.  When we arrived, we first met the village leader, Mr. Rogers, to reassure him of our interests and intentions for the assessment.  We also attended a village council meeting where many men and women of the village congregated to hear what the leaders and we had to say.  We made clear that our main goals for this trip were to assess the quality and quantity of water the villagers used for drinking in order to determine how to provide them with clean drinking water closer to home.  Their feedback included their desire to have water as close to the houses as possible, so they wouldn’t have to walk long distances transporting buckets of water on their heads.

“They also hoped that in the long run we could also assist them with better sanitation methods and having access to electricity. A few of the villagers volunteered their time to guide us throughout the village and show us where they access water and inform us of which springs dry up in the dry season.

“We traversed the pipelines of the unsuccessful water transportation system that government contractors installed several years ago. This system does not currently transport any water at all. The piping was brittle and not reinforced under the earth. In several areas it was exposed to the environment and in one place it appeared to be deliberately sabotaged.

“We concluded that we would be unable to revitalize or in any way utilize this system to transport water closer to the homes without almost completely replacing it, which would be too time consuming and require much more money than we have available.

“After sampling all the water sources that the villagers use for drinking water, we found through coliform plates that, while for the most part the water is very clear, it is full of bacteria. Our main goal is to give the villagers access to clean water all year around (the dry season can last 6 months and the villagers have to walk half a day to get a bucket of water).

“One system for water collection already in place by a few of the villagers is cisterns that collect water that run off of roofs.  During the rainy season it rains everyday, so there is a lot of water to collect. We hope to improve this by providing each school with a cistern system that would hold enough drinking water to last the children throughout the dry seasons.

“Attached to the cistern would be roof-washers that would remove any heavy silt or chunks from entering the cistern with the water, and then applying SODIS technology that would allow the sun to kill the rest of the bacteria.  The UV index for South Africa is rather high, and we have used the same SODIS technology in Mexico, and it is working very well.

“Another idea we would like to implement in South Africa is installing Play Pumps that would access underground aquifers and tap into clean and pure water.  A few villages nearby have Play Pumps installed, and the water we tested from these sources has been amazingly free of bacteria.  If we could tap into an underground aquifer at a few points in the village, it would provide another year-round source of water that is already clean.  More information about Play Pumps can be found at www.playpumps.org

“Visiting the village gave me a new respect and appreciation for all of the technology that we have available here in the Unites States, and also for the rules and regulations put in place by our government to ensure that contractors perform their jobs in a successful manner and in accordance to safety regulations.

“Many families subsist off the small government grants for the children under 12 years old and they have so little money. Yet you can see that even with such little as they have, they take delight in small things. I saw the children able to laugh with such pure joy, it humbled me. This has given me a stronger determination to help the village of Vukuzenzele. I can’t wait to see their faces smiling over clean and easily accessible water!”

For more information about Kettering’s EWB Africa project, visit their web page at www.kuewb.com.

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