Qui Chen, ‘12

Major: Computer Science & Mathematics

Project: Initiation Site Development in Khayelitsha, Cape Town: Addressing the Challenges of Urban Initiation While Preserving Tradition.

The initiation ritual, symbolizing the transition from boyhood to manhood in many South African ethnic groups, is an important tradition during which males are circumcised and taught to be responsible men. In recent years, this ritual has spread to urban environments, which has caused many challenges, the largest being safe health practices and the preservation of the traditional practices associated with this sacred ritual. Through research of the culture and analysis of the only existing formal initiation site, my team assisted in preparing a plan and implementation strategy for the development of the Good Hope College Initiation Site, a commitment by the city of Cape Town to help preserve the sacred ritual of initiation.

Why I chose this project:
I was very interested in this topic because of how unique it was. I felt like this was an opportunity to learn about something very few people, especially girls, would ever know about. This project appealed to my adventurous side.

What I learned from my IQP:
I personally interviewed many initiates and parents of the initiates to learn more about the challenges they faced. I learned how to better communicate with people through these interviews. Because the initiation ritual is a very sensitive issue and culturally sacred, most people are very hesitant to share anything about this topic, especially to a girl. I learned how to speak with them in a way to make them comfortable and create a casual environment where they found themselves sharing more personal details.

How I have benefitted from my IQP as a person and a student:
As a person, I learned to appreciate the preservation of culture. I watched how hard these people strive to preserve this ritual against many challenges. It made me look at my Asian culture and reflect on the many things I could do to help promote it. The Chinese culture has lost a lot along the way, and this experience has made me think about how I can better appreciate that culture.

As a student, I really improved in team work, communication skills, and in preparing and writing a professional report. In addition, all of my interviewers have been very impressed by my involvement in this project. It helps them to see that I am more than a computer science student, but a diversified person who is interested in a lot of different areas.

What I accomplished:
I am very proud of what we’ve accomplished. We developed the design for the site that preserved many of the traditional aspects of the ritual like providing for adequate seclusion with trees and privacy. We met with the city planner, presented the proposal to the city, and had it approved. The budget is in place and construction is scheduled to start next year.

More importantly, we pushed the people to think about what they really wanted and what importance they placed on this ritual. The government worked very slowly and accomplished very little towards this goal. By talking with the people and working with the city, we were able to make a community think about what they needed and help them to be able to communicate those needs to their government.