by Darien “Penny” McElwee, 20C Psychology
2019-2020 Halle/Fox Center Global Research Fellow
In May 2019, I traveled 22 hours to Cape Town, South Africa to investigate maternal health in conditions of high social adversity. I was drawn to South Africa because of the country’s unique history of Apartheid and its subsequent effect on the socioeconomic status of black mothers today. Through the generous support of the Halle Institute, I studied under Dr. Mark Tomlinson, a professor at Stellenbosch University studying maternal health. I also worked as an intern for the Perinatal Mental Health Project (PMHP) under Dr. Simone Honikman. The PMHP advocates for the integration of maternal mental health services with the healthcare system at large.
I began my research by attending the 9th Annual Rural Health Research Day at the Stellenbosch University Worcester Campus. At this conference, I viewed presentations on recognizing newborns with high-risk of perinatal HIV transmission, the effects of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders across the lifespan, and theories of inequality in health. These presentations informed my research interests by highlighting the unique challenges faced by mothers with sexually transmitted diseases and other health concerns. On the mountain-lined drive back from the conference, Professor Tomlinson discussed how greater interest is being placed on the effects of social inequality on maternal health. Without the Halle Institute, I would not have been able to learn one-on-one from a South African professor studying my same research interests.
I also spent much of my time working with Dr. Honikman at the Perinatal Mental Health Project. Alongside other international PMHP interns, I traveled to a clinic in Hanover Park, one of South Africa’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. I viewed first-hand the under-sourced conditions that mothers in low-income community’s experience. Many mothers go to public hospitals to receive cheaper care. However, there are many patients and only a few doctors, and thus quality of care may suffer. My experience as a Halle Global Fellow allowed me to not only learn more about South African healthcare, but also learn in the hospitals first-hand.
Darien “Penny” McElwee is a senior majoring in psychology and minoring in quantitative sciences. She is currently writing an honors thesis on environmental factors that affect parenting self-efficacy. During the summer, she traveled to Cape Town, South Africa to investigate how parenting ability is affected by factors such as living in a rural community and refugee status. Through her exploration of factors affecting parenting confidence, she hopes to contribute to a better understanding of factors that affect parenting self-efficacy and subsequent child development.