GEORGE NEWS - A young medical student at the University of Cape Town had a life-changing experience during her sixth and final year of medical studies last year.
Ellen-Marie Trautmann undertook a community project that aimed to listen to the life stories of the homeless in George, and learn from them.
Trautman was inspired by a suggestion of Dr Hermann Reuter, the coordinator for UCT's final-year medical students in the Garden Route, to record the stories of the homeless and learn from them.
"I had always wondered how the homeless became homeless and what experiences they had had on the streets," said Trautmann.
"Dr Reuter believes that change comes from within the community and that we can help empower communities to change for the better."
Trautmann explained that the UCT health sciences faculty hopes to interest young doctors to one day work in rural areas and become holistic doctors - always taking a patient's community into consideration - through projects that entail community involvement.
Eight lives, eight stories
Rina Smith of the George Night Shelter and André Olivier of Cremhog facilitated meetings between Trautmann and eight individuals - four at the shelter and four at the meal centre run by Cremhog.
"Although the majority of homeless people are men, I, being a woman myself and knowing the vulnerabilities that women face, focused quite a bit on the experiences of homeless women as well," said Trautmann.
Although the project was not designed to answer any burning research questions, it certainly sparked a desire to do more in-depth public health research. "I was carried away by unravelling the complexities of homelessness," she said.
Insight and experience
With the project Trautmann hoped to expand her insight into the vast differences of human experience that we come in contact with every day but seldom acknowledge and learn from.
"I believe this aim has been met many times over. I have come to understand more of the complexities of what drives homelessness and what keeps people homeless. But more than that, I have been trusted enough to hear the life experiences of a group of very strong individuals who still face a mountain of adversity, but who have desires to thrive through hardships that many of us can never imagine," said Trautmann.
"I hope that I was able to leave each person feeling heard and I hope to be able to use what they shared with me to make a positive impact on the community through advocacy and a more holistic approach to my future medical career.
"This experience has had a major effect on me as a new doctor. I now have a deeper understanding of homelessness and what the needs of the homeless are and what can be changed."
Read Trautmann's narratives on the lives of eight homeless individuals to be published weekly online at www.georgeherald.com.
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