By Kingdom Mufhandu, a student of MPH in Global Health Leadership & Administration, 2016-2017 Cohort.
The time was 8:15am; I was at home in Isifiya, an Arab Druze village located on the Mount Carmel, located 15 minutes from the University of Haifa. I was eagerly preparing myself to attend a lecture by Professor Arvind Singhal, who is based at the University of Texas at El Paso in the USA and a global leader in the fields of Edutainment (Education-Entertainment) and Health Communications. Professor Singhal’s lecture was entitled “Education-Entertainment, Public Health and Social Change: Present and Future Prospects”. The lecture was to start at 10:15am at Room 625 in the University of Haifa’s Main Building. The convener of the august lecture was Dr. Anat Gesser-Edelsburg, who is the Head of Health Promotion Program in the School of Public Health and Founding Director of the Health and Risk Communication Research Center at the University of Haifa. The expected audience included Master of Public Health (MPH) International students – which I am part of – and students in Hebrew-based MPH and Doctoral programs. I attend almost all my lectures on the 7th floor in the Main Building; therefore, I thought I would not have any problems finding Room 625. In addition, I usually commute to the university via the bus system and have become accustomed to the routes and schedules, therefore I should be at the lecture on time.
As with other days, I reached my bus stop on time and waited for my bus to arrive. I waited for a longer time and the time was 09:30am and I was starting to get concerned that I might not arrive at the university on time for the significant lecture. As Murphy’s Law would dictate, the bus decided to be late when I needed to attend a lecture in a room that I have never been to before. I waited patiently for the next bus, which arrived on time at 09:55am. As I got onto the bus, I knew it would take me 15 minutes to reach the university – therefore I had five minutes to find the lecture room.
As expected, I arrived at the university at around 10:15am. I then rushed to the Main Building, aware that all I had was less than five minutes to find the lecture room. I reached the sixth floor and frantically searched for Room number 625. My search became more difficult and longer than expect as I struggled to find room 625. I decided to walk throughout the entire floor to make sure that I did not miss the room number. With no success, I reached out to other students and staff for help. I was sent to the wrong room number on several occasions. This process repeated itself a couple of times on both sides on the sixth floor. I looked at my watch, and the time was 10:25am. I became more impatient with those who assisted me. With the certainty that I was late, I decided to search around every single area on the sixth floor. Feeling a bit dejected, I ran into secluded passage that looked like offices on either side and lo and behold, Room 625 was right there!
I opened the door and saw a group of people seated, huddled in a small classroom, however, I could not recognize anybody in the room. In doubt, I asked if that was the Edutainment Lecture venue. To my relief, the answer was yes! Since I was late, there was no seating space available near the door. The only available chair was next to Professor Singhal. Professor Singhal insisted I sit next to him. As we discussed fascinating concepts such as positive deviance and changing scripts, Professor Singhal told a story of his work in South African townships. I then shared with the group that I was a South African – in fact, born in a township (a ghetto) called Alexandra. To my utter amazement, Professor Singhal told me that he had worked in South Africa a few times and spent time at an Alexandra clinic developing a TV and radio-based edutainment program called Soul City. To date, the most successful and popular edutainment program in South Africa is Soul City! Again, I was pleasantly surprised because I collaborated with the Soul City organization through my previous work in HIV/AIDS prevention. More surprises kept coming as Professor Singhal asked me if I knew an Alexandra resident named Joe, who worked at Soul City. In total disbelief, I answered that I knew him, as we had been friends since childhood. Before I finished stating what had happened to Joe, Professor Singhal told me that Joe passed away. We both knew that he was shot dead in Alexandra – in a road rage incident. As the group discussions proceeded, I appreciated the proximity I had to Professor Singhal as he asked me to share my experiences of HIV prevention interventions in Alexandra Township. The proximity also allowed me to have easier access to him when I have questions and ideas about the future of health communications and edutainment.
The connection that Professor Singhal and I had through our mutual friendship with Joe, who was a diligent and charismatic community activist whose life was unfortunately cut short by violence that is endemic in South African townships, amazed the rest of the group as they asked: “What are odds that an Indian Professor who is based in the USA would share a friend (who lived in Alexandra Township) with a South African who lives in Israel?” I was motivated and the lecture empowered me with tools to become a better health communications practitioner. My goal is to lead my own health communications and policy analysis organization upon graduation at the University of Haifa and, moving forward, I am privileged to be mentored by a world leader in health communications.
In retrospect, I am thankful that I was late for the lecture because I would not have the privileged to sit next to a world leader in edutainment and health communications and engage him on various issues. As a student in Global Health, I witnessed globalization in action as seemingly unrelated life paths – in Israel, USA and a South African township – converged through a common purpose of eradicating HIV in the world.
Through this awesome experience, I have also built friendships with students in the Hebrew-based MPH and Doctoral programs. Lastly, this amazing encounter was a tribute to a late mutual friend who served his people until the end.