This item was written for the Rotary Foundation newsletter in Britain and Ireland. It was published in June 2018.
My name is Sasheenie and I am a Rotary Global Grant Scholar hosted by the Mar-low-Thames Rotary Club. With generous funding from my local Rotary District 7610 (Charlottesville, USA) and the Rotary International Foundation, I have the opportunity to read for my D.Phil in African Studies and Social Policy & Intervention at the University of Oxford.
What does a Rotary Scholar really do?
Throughout my Global Studies undergraduate and Masters of Public Health programs (at the University of Virginia in the USA), I did research on stigma and discrimination facing individuals living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa. With grant-funding, I pursued research to understand better the reasons for persisting social stigma. Today, my need to understand these reasons endures: why do we, as a society, treat people living with HIV/AIDS differently? As I plot the trajectory of my three-year DPhil, I have begun to focus on pregnant youth (teenagers and young women) living with HIV as the a vulnerable group.
The weight of the civic responsibility that merit scholarships, such as Rotary’s Global Grant Scholarship, carry rings true as its students are charged with the task of connecting worlds. As a South African, I have been humbled by my opportunities to study abroad in the USA (as a Jefferson Scholar) and, now, in the United Kingdom as a Rotary Scholar. I perceive myself as such a connector – someone who strives to bridge the gap between communities who have, and those who have not. In all interactions I aim to bring learned expertise, from institutions like Oxford, to dedicated public health professionals and community activists in resource-constrained South African township areas afflicted with HIV/AIDS. In order to co-create community-specific solutions for HIV/AIDS challenges, I bring some expertise to the table which matches existing expertise in communities where I work. I believe this type of collaboration is crucial for work with public health and social challenges facing young people living with HIV/AIDS.
But what does a Rotary Scholar really do?
In-country, local hosts is a unique privilege that Rotary Scholars enjoy. It is my belief that a student thrives inside her field of study if she has acclimated to the world outside her field of study. This outside world, for me, has been Oxford. Thanks to my Marlow Thames Rotary Club hosts, I have not only acclimated to a new way of life in Oxford – I have come to relish it.
Being a part of Rotary, as a Scholar and un-official ambassador, has coloured my academic journey with fun and thought-provoking conversation through the many events. Scholars are invited to speak at lo-cal Rotary clubs about student research and academic programs. These club dinners are a fantastic way to meet Rotarians equally keen on speaking truth to power – doing good in the world. Scholars are also invited to events organized by their host club. Mar-low-Thames Rotary, my host club, boasts an incredibly entertaining Burns Night Ceilidh complete with an address to the haggis and traditional Scottish dancing. Not to mention their Santa Fun Run where every road-runner dresses up like Santa Clause. To complement a Scholar’s host club events, a volunteering committee of Rotarians organizes the Scholar cohort – and schedules exciting social events year-round. Some of my favourite events were an evening with the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, a visit to Blenheim palace with Lady Henrietta Churchill, a day of friendly £1 betting at the Ascot Racetrack, and the Rotary 1090 District Conference at Cheltenham Race-course.
The beautiful thing about being a Rotary Scholar is that there are so many facets of the organization to enjoy. Akin to a Rubik’s cube, Rotary cannot be described in one word or sentence.
How would you describe a Scholar who is welcomed by a group of people who make her feel like family – even when she is kilometres away from home? How would you describe a Scholar hosted by a couple in their home and greeted with a cup of tea