Eh!woza: Bridging Science and Society Through Art and Engagement in Khayelitsha, Cape Town

07 Mar 2024 | By Anastasia Koch
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07 Mar 2024 | By Anastasia Koch

Established in 2013 as an informal collaboration between biomedical researchers, artists, and IkamvaYouth, Eh!woza is a community and public engagement NPO based at the Isivivana Centre in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. The organization merges biomedical science with art and social engagement, primarily targeting young people in under-resourced communities, especially in Khayelitsha township. Initially conceived as a one-time effort, Eh!woza evolved over six years, integrating public engagement projects within the IDM. In 2020, it received a Wellcome Trust Discretionary Award, facilitating its transition into an independent NPO while maintaining strong ties with the IDM. Postgraduate students from the IDM lead science workshops, playing a crucial role in the organization's operations.

Eh!woza focuses on youth engagement with infectious diseases like tuberculosis (TB) and HIV by combining scientific workshops with creative mediums like documentary film-making. This approach effectively disseminates accurate information about local diseases while conveying personal and social impacts of these health challenges in South Africa. By merging scientific accuracy with storytelling, Eh!woza educates and engages young people, highlighting the socio-economic and personal impacts of diseases. Through this bridge between scientific research and public understanding, Eh!woza fosters dialogue, challenges stigma, and promotes a nuanced understanding of health and disease.

Eh!woza currently runs five core programmes:

Learner doccies: Eh!woza’s old project engages young people in Khayelitsha with high-impact TB research conducted at the IDM. Biomedical research topics covered include “What is Biomedical Research”, What is TB from a biomedical perspective”, “TB Transmission”, and “TB Clinical Trials” Then engages young people in workshops where participants learn storytelling and film-making skills, encouraging them to explore and document their experiences with these diseases in their communities. The programme is run as an after-school programme and enrols 40 – 50 learners annually, producing 20 learner doccies. Learner-produced documentaries can be viewed here. Learner doccies and Eh!woza Youth (below) are run in close partnership with IkamvaYouth, who facilitate connections with and advice on how best to engage high school learners.

Eh!woza Youth: This programme uses Eh!woza-generated media to widely disseminate knowledge through school-attending youth and to stimulate robust discussion around disease and the social determinants of health. This programme is run once a month, engaging 80 learners per workshop. It extends health topics to include HIV and Sexual Health, Cancer, Diabetes, Mental Health, TB, and in 2024 will consist of Antimicrobial Resistance. Sessions are set up to be informational, with engaging and accurate presentations, and to include small group discussions for learners to engage with postgraduate science student facilitators.

Science Communication: Eh!woza began producing animations during the pandemic to provide vital public health and biomedical information in a simple and visually engaging way. This work, necessitated by the pandemic, has led to developing a science communication arm for the organisation that is expanding into newspaper and radio campaigns and the currently growing WhatsApp newsletter for dissemination of information and short animations.

Eh!woza Doccies: As a result of capacity development within a group of previous participants, Eh!woza produces documentaries that interrogate the social determinants of health. The pandemic stimulated significant growth within this arm of Eh!woza, with the production of nine short documentaries throughout 2020 and continuing in 2021. The production team, led by Samuel Flans and Alfa Fipaza, will also lead tuition during the film-making component of future Eh!woza doccies courses.

Engaged Scholarship: An important area for Eh!woza is to generate new knowledge and scholarly work around public engagement and science communication. To this end, Eh!woza facilitates a short lecture series and practical-based module within UCT’s BSc (Med) Honours Techniques course. Two PhD students are currently conducting research on Eh!woza and its outcomes, and several papers have been published in peer-reviewed journals.

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