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Every Duke student asks or has been asked, “Hey, what are you doing this summer?”

After I was accepted to this DukeEngage program back in December, I never thought the answer to this notorious Duke question would consist of distributing male and female condoms on the streets of Maitland, Cape Town. At the NGO I work at, Sonke Gender Justice, we are focused on gender justice, ending gender-based violence, and causing awareness of South Africa’s H.I.V problem. Thus, one day, my Sonke colleagues and I went out into the field and engaged with the Cape Town suburb by distributing condoms and informing South African residents of safe sex.

Oddly enough, this experience has been one of my favorite experiences thus far because of how I was able to immerse myself and engage with the community I was sent here to serve. The most eager people to take and ask for the condoms were the men. Some jokesters questioned, “How do I use this?”, “What are these?”, “Are these biscuits?”, and my favorite, “If you are going to give me this you must give me girls as well.” Despite these teasing men, I enjoyed this experience because I got to see how informed about safe sex practices South Africans were with men and women asking for both male and female condoms as well as questions regarding H.I.V. testing and prevention. What continues to strike me the most about my work here in South Africa and with Sonke Gender Justice is how informed South Africans are. Back home in America, the majority of people are usually well-informed about things that they know directly affects them. However, here, South Africans seem to be informed about literally anything and everything, even things that aren’t influencing their lives. From my conversations with uber drivers to the men at my favorite froyo shop here, South Africans are informed and eager to better themselves and their country as a whole. When distributing the condoms, South Africans taught me things that I had never been taught in my years of U.S. education. They were willing, accepting, and eager to protect themselves and in turn fight this H.I.V. epidemic plaguing 19.5% of South Africa. Although this unconventional day was around 5 hours of distributing, I really enjoyed it because I saw a society in which its people care to inform themselves, learn more, and protect their country and that’s pretty awesome.

So, yes, if a Dukie were to ask me, “Hey, what are you doing this summer?” I would never have imagined my shy self in South Africa distributing banana and strawberry-flavored condoms. But hey, the DukeEngage motto is to challenge yourself and change your world and I’ll try my best in these 8 short weeks to live by that.