Janice Durrant expected to see an entirely different world when she studied in South Africa last summer. Instead, she saw problems similar to her own.
Durrant, a senior communication studies major, was among 11 other students from the School of Media and Communication who spent a month in South Africa researching culture and various topics including race, feminism and teen pregnancy.
As a young mother herself, Durrant said that the issue of teen pregnancy is of the utmost importance to her. During her time in South Africa, she said she was able to connect with a set of 15-year-old twins that were both pregnant.
“These girls dropped out in ninth grade, and when I spoke to them they were still dropouts,” Durrant said. “We talked about what they need to do, and that they need to go back to school.”
Durrant said teen pregnancy is an issue she believes is not addressed enough in both South Africa and America.
“When a young lady has a child, people automatically count [her] out,” Durrant said. “As a young person being pregnant, you are instantly counted out from achieving different things.”
Durrant said it was challenging to be a young mother trying to go to school or work when she felt as though people who surrounded her constantly doubted her ability to succeed given her situation.
“When I became a teen parent, people all around me did not believe in me, let alone believe in college or studying away two times,” Durrant said. “People didn’t expect that.”
Durrant has remained a full-time student and is able to work to provide for her daughter at the same time. She said that while in South Africa, she was asked twice to speak at women’s rights lectures at local schools.
“When they heard I was a working teen mom they instantly asked me to speak,” Durrant said. “Talking to these young South Africans, they were instantly motivated and connected with me on my website and social media.”
Durrant believes that while some people strongly emphasize the prevention of teen pregnancy, there is still a lack of help for young women who are already exposed to motherhood.
“There are programs that give out condoms and pills, but we don’t have enough programs helping ladies that are already exposed to parenting,” Durrant said. “I think we need more organizations to help young ladies who cross the line into becoming an adult by giving birth.”
Nichelle Brunner, another student who studied abroad, was also interested in researching issues that women face in South Africa.
“Violence against women is a huge issue,” Brunner said. “As a feminist, I definitely wanted to highlight not only issues in America, but issues abroad, so I feel like it gave me the glow of perspective of how women are treated in South Africa.”
Brunner said she also highlighted issues that connected to teen pregnancy: women’s rights and child marriages.
“Parents do arrange marriages so their children can be financially dependent so the girl doesn’t have the opportunity to go to school,” Brunner said. “They can’t do what we do – do fun teenager things.”
Both women said the trip affected them immensely and changed their perceptions of the country. Durrant said it was easy to make connections between America and South Africa, despite many stereotypes.
“We group Africa together as a continent, not realizing there are so many cultures within the continent of Africa as well as all of the different countries and I feel like people should realize that,” Brunner said. “Everyone was asking me about jungles when I stayed in the city.”
“I saw no jungles whatsoever, except my one safari trip,” Brunner said. “People have a perception on how Africa is but once you go over there, you realize a lot of them are just like us [Americans]. They have problems just like us.”
Durrant said the way that the American media often portrays Africa does not help the situation.
“A lot of people go to South Africa to highlight negativities like, ‘These kids are hungry,’ but nobody says, ‘You might need help in this area and I’m coming in, not to save you but just to help,’” Durrant said.
Durrant also said that not only was the trip about helping the South Africans that she met, but learning from their culture and growing as an individual herself.
“When you go out and adopt other cultures, I think it makes me a better professional, person and mother,” Durrant said. “I went in as a reporter and came out as a big sister.”
Karlina Jones can be reach at email@example.com