By LINDSAY OLIVIER
NORTH KINGSTOWN – As the second most populated city in South Africa, Cape Town is becoming quite the popular tourist attraction. And that’s where you’ll find North Kingstown resident Cydnee DeToy, but she’s there for work, not play.
Arriving July 5, DeToy is nearly halfway through a year-long Princeton Fellowship where she’s working for Mothers2Mothers, a non-government organization (NGO) that helps HIV-infected pregnant women prevent the transmission of the virus to their babies.
A 2009 graduate of George Washington University with a degree in history, DeToy is no stranger to Cape Town. Having studied abroad for four months in 2008, she became infatuated with the city and when the opportunity came for her to go back, this time for a longer period of time, she jumped at the chance.
“When I studied abroad, I was there for such a short period of time that between school and studying, it didn’t leave me much time to explore and learn more about the city,” she said.
Mothers2Mothers began in 2001 in Cape Town and has expanded to 600 sites in eight sub-Saharan countries, employing 1,591 mothers living with HIV. Their mission is to help eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV through effective education. The mentor mothers, as they’re called, work side-by-side with the medical staff educating pregnant women about the importance of taking their medicines, and how to take care of themselves and their babies.
DeToy works with the development team to research new potential donors and maintain relationships with current ones.
“There’s such a low level of literacy that these women don’t know how to properly care for themselves,” Detoy said. “Many breastfeed because of the cost of formula, but the risks are still there to transmit the disease to the baby. That’s why it’s crucial these women take their medicine daily.”
Without treatment, 15-30 percent of babies born to HIV-positive women will become infected with the disease during pregnancy and delivery and, an additional five to 20 percent will become infected through breastfeeding.
While working at Mothers2Mothers, DeToy has been getting a better understanding of how an NGO works, one of the many reasons she wanted to return to Africa. She’s also found a love for Nelson Mandela who was the president of South Africa from 1994- 1999 and she was eager to learn more about his work.
“He’s such a remarkable person who shows such self restraint,” she said. “He sees the larger long-term picture in such an amazing way. He inspires people and he gets them to follow him.”
Since arriving in July, DeToy has done some traveling, including visiting the city of Port Elizabeth, about 480 miles east of Cape Town. In March she’ll travel to Senegal, a still developing country in Western Africa, to visit her cousin who’s in the Peace Corps.
One thing about Cape Town, she says, is that it’s one of the most multicultural cities in the world, with most locals speaking English. It’s a place where you can easily forget where you are.
“Cape Town is more evolved in some areas than the United States,” she said. “There is a mall that has all the same stores as Providence Place does. But you just travel a small way and you’re in poverty. There’s a huge wealth discrepancy.”
From a professional side, DeToy hopes to take away a better understanding of how a NGO works from the inside and to improve on her writing and editing skills, something she’s interested in for the future. On a personal level, she wants to spend her time living like a local and taking all that Cape Town has to offer.
DeToy is writing a blog about her experience in Cape Town. To follow her, visit http://cydneedoesafrica.wordpress.com .