Sunday, December 13, 2009

Planning the Holidays Away

It’s hard to plan a trip so far in advance, especially one that takes up almost two months of your life.

We have made the decision not to travel to London, seeing as it is so expensive there and in the interest of saving money we will probably just travel through Heathrow Airport.

We’ve been buying and borrowing books and we’ve found it’s really hard to know just where to start when planning a trip that has so much scope and is full of so many opportunities.

Some people have said not to plan, which I think is crazy. I’d like to have an element of excitement and spontaneity, but every book I’ve read has said the best way to be economical is to plan.

So we’ve begun the long process of doing so. Once we had decided this was exactly what we wanted to do, and decided we weren’t going to kill each other along the way, and had our practice run of horror outtripping in Algonquin Park, the next step was planning.

And with Christmas coming up, more and more people are asking Eric and I what we want that will help ease or travels when we leave for Europe in May.

We have gotten plenty of suggestions from so many friends and family members about where to stay and what to do while we’re overseas. And despite my constant pleading to reroute our trip to Africa, which Eric isn’t buying, things are starting to come together.

But every once in a while I get in a panic. I have documents on my computer dedicated to questions I need answers to – should we bring sleeping bags? Pack more than two pairs of jeans? Should we both bring MEC packs? Eric asked me yesterday how he will shave. Maybe these are stupid questions?

But every one needs an answer and we’re running out of time to get them.

Despite some setbacks and mix-ups, we’ve decided (after much debate) on which countries we are most likely going to visit:

· Romania (Transylvania)

· Hungary (Budapest)

· Czech Republic (Prague)

· Germany

· France (Paris and maybe Lyon)

· Italy (Venice, Rome)

· The Netherlands (Amsterdam)

· Belgium

· Switzerland

· Austria

· Greece

· Turkey

· Croatia

Obviously this is just a guideline, and some of these countries we are visiting only by the ship during the cruise we’re taking of the Mediterranean.

So our planning continues. Formulating this list was probably the easy part.

However, with some people’s help we have been able to come up with a few places we are planning to stay, including this boutique hotel in Budapest courtesy of Paula. We’ve also been able to find some activities like cycling along the Danube and visiting castles in Transylvania that seem to peak our interest.

We’re also thinking of tentatively travelling to Ireland if we can find a cheap flight to stay with my family there.

The next few weeks of the winter break will be optimal time for planning and hopefully we can decide on a route to take. As you can see from the map, we already have a tentative plan of what kind of path we plan on taking from city to city, but this is constantly changing.

They’re going to be a long few weeks…

Until Next Time


Monday, October 26, 2009

Each of us can’t survive without the other


I realize this next adventure is not going to be barefoot. At least, it’s going to be completely different from my blog’s last two experiences abroad in Africa.

This May, my boyfriend Eric and I are going to backpack around Europe for a couple of months.

I know for some this plan may seem inherently flawed. Some couples (even ones we know) would never embark on a journey like this. Fighting is surely to ruin our beautiful, romantic vacation – right?

But Eric and I have a history of international travel. At the end of 2005 in our final year of high school, we travelled to China on a group trip to commemorate the release of Canadian POWs in Hong Kong after the end of the Second World War.

And this trip went well – in fact, we found we’re great travel partners. Eric even ended up becoming my personal bodyguard when locals got too friendly.

We very rarely fight, and work well under pressure. We even took a couple of days out tripping in Algonquin Park this summer to make sure we could handle high pressure situations as a team.

I want us to use our ability to compliment each other so well when we travel this summer.

I want us to experience as much of the local European lifestyle as we can while also visiting the stereotypical tourist hotspots.

I’ve never backpacked like this before and I’m (tentatively, with a pang of longing) excited to be a tourist and not an aid worker this summer.

And lastly I want to have fun!

1. Cycling along the Danube I’ve looked into this and I think it’ll be a great change after taking trains and buses everywhere

2. Turkey I’ve never been to an Islamic country before and I look forward to the culture

3. Budapest everyone I’ve told about our plans to visit here get really excited. Apparently it’s one of the untapped resources of European tourism!


Not only is Alanna my girlfriend, but I also consider her one of my best friends. Our personalities match perfectly so I can’t think of anyone else I would like to go on a trip with but her. Alanna’s going to be the smart brain and I’ll be the fun brain for the trip.

By this I mean she’ll be in charge of museums, historic sites, government buildings etc, While I’ll be in charge of food, the bar scene and which hostels have the best bathrooms.

As you can see, one of us can’t survive without the other.

Even if were going to 10 different countries in 6 weeks, my main goal when travelling is to get a sense of how people live in their respective countries.

Being a sociology and anthropology major, I’m all about the social and cultural aspects of countries.

So even if were doing a fast paced trip, I would like to get a brief sense of what it’s life to live in each country.

1. I’m a big scenery lover, so one of the main things I’m excited about is being surrounded in sceneries I’ve never experienced. I hope to see everything I possibility can!

2. For anyone who knows me, they know I love my food (No fat jokes). I cant wait to taste every dish from every country and get a sense of what pizza is like in Italy, or bread and cheese in France, or chocolate in Belgium. Cuisine is a big part of my personality, so it’s only naturally I want to experience the cuisine of every country.

3. New experience! I’ve never been to Europe so I can’t wait to experience everything is has to offer with Alanna by my side, and hope to see and experience things we will never forget.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Got A Case of a Love Bipolar

I know what you’re going to ask.

I’ve been to South Africa twice now, so which trip was my favourite?

And that’s one question I just can’t answer. There is no way I can choose between both experiences because they were so different from each other.

The first time I travelled to Africa I was very much an idealist. Although I’d been told time and again that I was not going to change the world, I still believed that there was some way I could make a difference and I was shattered when I realized that I was just a blip on the radar, at best.

Now, I don’t believe I can change the world. But I do believe that no act of kindness (no matter how small) goes unnoticed. At least if I do something good for someone, they will pass it on or appreciate it. Like giving out school uniforms. Yes, one girl has one school uniform that might last her a few years. But it’s the fact that she now wears a new school uniform which will give her the confidence to raise her hand in class that is important.

Non-profit and nongovernmental organization work is about crunching numbers. It’s about getting the most bang for the buck you’ve been donated. Pinching pennies works wonders, especially in developing countries and although there are necessities that people need, some things are luxuries. I feel sad to admit that when you work with people who have nothing, they will ask for everything.

Wouldn’t you?

So organizations have to be thrifty with their compassion and with their money because there are other people with necessities – hundreds of thousands of people with necessities that must be met. Two school uniforms is a necessity, a paraffin lamp so your house doesn’t light on fire is a necessity.

Besides learning to differentiate between people’s wants and needs from a bare development perspective and becoming more of a realist, I found a large difference in my support back home.
There are some things I didn’t report on, or video. There are some things I photographed that I will not show you because I am afraid you would pity me for having seen what I have seen, and not grieve or find compassion for those I’ve helped. There is a difference between flaunting what I’ve seen that at the end of the day haunts me so that people will recognize what I’ve done, and giving people the information and the evidence of a world that needs their help.

Which leads me to another dilemma – how do we help?

NGOs are essentially useless – anyone who has taken a political science course has heard this before. Volunteer and relief organizations exist because governments have failed people. For this reason, I do not see any NGO as being anything but a relief organization (sustainability is just unattainable) that exists to take the place of governments that have failed their people.

And that’s what I’ve learned – or maybe I’ve just become more jaded.

I think it’s probably that I’ve just grown up. I believe that through knowledge and expertise I can change the world in a small way, not necessarily through actions. And that’s the biggest difference between my two experiences in Africa.

So none was better than the other; they were different.

I’m sure that’s the answer you expected.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Monday, June 1, 2009

Someone call the doctor

I do apologize for that video blog and promise you, at the request of my mom, that my next one be much more uplifting.

I’ve already admitted that last year I gained so much perspective from my trip that this time around I wanted to help you gain some perspective and get to know Africa on a different level apart from what you see on TV or in movies.

And I guess this is it.

Strokes are extremely common here, a result of endemic high blood pressures that are probably the result of a very unbalanced diet in the region.

I’ve noticed that although commercials on TV show you the suffering of children (probably because that pulls on your heartstrings the most and gets you to open your wallet wider) the elderly suffer in painful silence.

Last year, because I worked at the crèches, I saw more sick children and rarely saw adults. Now, on home-based care, I’ve really been shocked by the way the elderly suffer.

This is not to say that the old are always abandoned. There have been at least three instances while I’ve been here that I’ve seen children abandoned. It's just that society back in Canada so often caters to the aging baby boomer population that it is such a juxtaposition with this society that has no infrastructure for the elderly.

This day was tougher than others just because of a combination of many factors. Normally home based care has a very uplifting house visit that counteracts the emotions brought on by a heart wrenching one.

And of course, learning from Jenna has been a great experience. She just graduated and is now a doctor so she’s been teaching me so much about dressing wounds and diagnosing the symptoms we keep seeing over and over again, mostly TB.

Which brings me to the last girl in the video, suffering from TB. This is the fourth individual we’ve seen with active, contagious TB and they all generally look like she does.

It has been suggested that this region has the highest HIV and TB co-infection rate in the world and it’s obvious with every passing day that it’s a problem. Mostly because TB medication is a strict six month regimen and people are reluctant to stay on the meds that long, can’t get to the clinic to receive their full rounds, or the clinic runs out of medication to give them.

It’s frustrating to see the faltering healthcare system in the country. But there is a silver lining; the construction of the new clinic in Khula is supposed to be finished by the end of the year and hopefully African Impact can expand upon their medical project to involve volunteers working at the new state clinic. There is hope for the future!

Until next time


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Worms – Some food for thought?

I used to make my neighbour at my cottage put the worms on the hooks when we went fishing because I couldn’t stand the thought of piercing them with the fishing rod’s hook. The older boy did take some sort of sick pleasure in cutting the worms up, which I found revolting.

And now, who’d have thought, I’m getting a sick pleasure in worms here at the crèche. Sorry for the video, it can be a little much for those with a weak stomach.

When the girls couldn’t figure out what was wrong with a little boy’s foot at Ndabenhle crèche last week I knew immediately what it was from my visit here last year.

Worms. Children all over Africa get them apparently. In Kenya they call them “jiggers”, here it’s “sandworm.”

In reality, the worms come from a fly which lands on the children and lays its eggs underneath their skin. I’m told the lack of hygiene is the main cause of the fly laying its eggs (I researched, since a volunteer got them last year and obviously I’m constantly barefoot so I was slightly worried). So to anyone that is concerned, I do wash my feet at least twice a day here.

When the eggs hatch, the worms are what are seen underneath the skin of the children. This little boy had a long, curling worm right at the bottom of his foot, and a few on his toes.
So three of us went to work on him in the Combi backseat, laying the seats out like our own private examination table. While Katie pricked the worm to let all the juices flow out of his foot,

Christine and I soaked bandages in a special solution that will dissolve the worm.

Distracting him with some toys, the little boy didn’t even cry! He was so brave and everyone was so proud of him.

Despite some episodes of worms like this one, the kids here are very much the same as any kid back home.

I wanted to show everyone how Africa is not like they see on TV, or even in the classroom. The continent (surprise, it’s NOT a country), is so diverse and the people are so intriguing. I never feel uncomfortable or in danger and I am constantly surrounded by beautiful landscape with an intriguing history.

People are always more than happy to answer my million and one questions that I have for them and for the most part they are in a constant state of pleasure, which they can derive from the smallest things, like a new pair of shoes or a lolly pop.

The children don’t have swollen bellies here, nor do they always have flies attacking their faces. They play and learn and laugh like you and I did when we were kids.

That’s the wonderful thing about children – they don’t know the HIV prevalence rate of their country or their village. They don’t know their life expectancy or their increased chance of getting raped or murdered because of where they were born. They don’t even cry when you’re poking them with a needle.

They just live each day happily, with a smile on their faces. And they dance whenever music is played.

Don’t you think we can learn a thing or two from them?


Monday, May 25, 2009

Some sustainability

This past week I got to participate for the most part in two of the activities on the project that I think are the most sustainable, have the most impact and I excel the most at.

First was farming. The project has many plots at locations like the AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation) clinic, where Mama Florenz gives counselling and testing for villagers. We have made a garden for her so that she can share the vegetables we cultivate with people who come to see her.

Other farming projects include subsistence farming plots that we have created for families we visit on other projects like for Home Based Care. The Ezwenelisha Clinic also benefits from a farming plot we’ve made.

The most important component of the farming projects is the fencing, which we provide and install. Without fencing, most gardens that could be used to feed entire families are destroyed by wandering chickens or cows.

We do also provide seeds and fertilizer in the form of chicken poop. Last week I got to go to the chicken farm where we lugged huge bags of chicken poop (bought for R6, less than $1). Except when we got there the lady thought we wanted chickens, so she opened up a chicken coup with plenty of live, white chickens and one very dead chicken and asked us to pay R35 before we called a translator to request the fertilizer and a wheelbarrow to transport it down to the road to our farming plot.

An afternoon of farming holds plenty of surprises like this, many weird animals, lots of red ants, sunburns and blisters. But at the end of the day, I’ve seen how cultivating even a small plot here can provide a resource that many people struggle to acquire even on a daily basis.

Second is HIV Education at Ubuhlebemvelo Primary School. Although the adult education classes are no less important, I find that HIV education is much more positively received by groups of 13 and 14 year olds. Their questions, although sometimes shocking, provide a stepping stone for discussion and also offer reinforcement for how important the course is for younger South Africans.

In our ‘Secret Questions’ box last week were questions about rape, pregnancy and discrimination, among other things. Sometimes it’s hard to stand and preach abstinence, condom usage, and attempt to instil anti-discrimination in the students. Their blank stares often scare me into believing they don’t understand or take us seriously. But when the majority of the students pass the test at the end of the week, it does give me a sense of hope. At the end of the day it’s that feeling that even if I ensured that one student out of the twenty participants chooses to wear a condom next time he or she has sex, than I have achieved something that wouldn’t have been attained otherwise.

So there you have it. Those are two ways that I am feeling like I am really making a difference this time around. Maybe it’s small and some people might find it quite insignificant, but you wouldn’t if you saw the faces of babies with HIV, or those in the classroom at Ubuhlebemvelo.

I tell myself every little bit counts.

Until next time

Sometimes I wonder; Will God ever forgive us for what we’ve done to each other? Then I look around and I realize – God left this place a long time ago. –Danny Archer, Blood Diamond

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sound the Bugle

Mozambique adventures

So last weekend a bunch of volunteers and I travelled up to Mozambique to swim with dolphins at a project that will soon become a volunteer project, like ours, for dolphin and marine conservation along the coast.

The trip up there was eventful. Mozambique has suffered civil war and poverty which has left the country relatively destitute the further away from the capital one travels. As a result, once you hit the coastal border of South Africa and Mozambique in Kosi Bay, all roads leading North are sand. You can see in the video how difficult it is to drive on them, so trucks let out their tires to make the trip over the dunes.

Swimming with the dolphins was an amazing experience. Sorry I don’t have any video of it, but everything in the raft we were in got soaked so I didn’t want to wreck my camera.

People say dolphin’s echolocation gives you a euphoria and in the three times I’ve swam with dolphins I’d say it’s true. This time was different as the dolphins were wild and we had to find them with the boat, and we were free to swim with them as long as they felt like hanging around with us.

The dolphins were so close that we could have reached out and touched them. Sometimes they would dive down to the bottom of the ocean and come up with shells in their mouths. They would circle around us, playing and looking at us right in the eye. We swam without lifejackets so we could really dive with them and flippers to help us keep up with their speed in the water.

We stayed on reed huts in the beach in a town called Ponta d’Ouro, a small community about half an hour from the border. It was a cool experience to sleep under a bug net and hear the ocean as we fell asleep at night.

The food was pretty good, and we were all surprised to realize you could drink at any time of day, anywhere you wanted. Everything was really cheap and the beach was gorgeous.

We spent only one night away, but sometimes it’s great to get away from the project house, as tensions can rise when we have so many volunteers in such a small space over a weekend. It also acted as a bonding experience for many of us who didn’t know each other that well. It was great to mingle with some of the community project volunteers, being on the medical project myself.

Until next time,

Traveling is not just seeing the new: it is also leaving behind. Not just opening doors: also closing them behind you, never to return. But the place you have left forever is always there for you to see whenever you shut your eyes – Jan Myrdal

Thursday, May 21, 2009

No walk in the park

Being a volunteer is hard. Sometimes I wake up at 6:30 in the morning and go to bed at 10:30 at night and all I have to show for my day is a sore back and emotional baggage.

Part of the tough job of being a volunteer is that you rarely see your hard work come to fruition. There is rarely an ending point, a goal that you can meet, or a measurement of your success.

Perhaps that is why it is such a demanding job and one that is not easily recognized by those who have not partaken in something like it.

Last year, for example, I was told the day care centre we were building could be completed in six weeks if we worked hard enough. That was one year ago and the day care centre was not completed until April, almost 11 months after we broke ground. This is Africa, and this is the trouble with a lot of volunteering abroad.

Gardening here is one of the few projects that is visibly sustainable and objective. We build farming plots, mostly they’re gardens for people to grow fresh vegetables. Whether the people use their gardens for subsistence farming or they sell the products they grow, farming plots are an easy and relatively cheap way to create an income and provide for a family in need. Usually it’s as simple as putting up a fence around an already existing plot of land so that chickens and other animals can’t ruin crops.

But the home-based care families that we see will still struggle for income, food and basic necessities long after I’m gone, and the people we’ve seen with opportunistic infections caused by HIV will still be sick. I guess what each of us has to do is keep in mind that not only is volunteering for those we help over the five or six weeks we’re here – it’s also for us.

Last year I grew so much while I was here and when I returned home I made decisions that changed my life for the better. I gained perspective and work ethic and I saw the world in an entirely new light.

My hope is that when I help someone, they’ll pay it forward and be more likely to help someone else. After teaching the 20 year old mother how to wash her baby, maybe she will help other young mothers care for their children – she is responsible enough to ask for help, to go to the clinic, and to vigilantly work to keep her baby healthy.

I told you my goal at the beginning of my expedition was to help you gain perspective – and this video blog is to show you some of the images that I think might do that. Not only is it an example of how difficult some things can be to see, there is also hope in volunteering not only for those you are working to benefit but for yourself when you take on the challenge.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Game drive

This past weekend we took some down time to travel to South Africa’s oldest game park, Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Game Reserve.

Every once in a while it’s great to have some down time to see the country and the animals.

Our first spot of the day was a hyena bright and early right when the gates to the park opened at 6 a.m.

Last year I didn’t see any lions so I was pleased when we saw a pride lying about 40 metres away from us. I was able to get some amazing photographs, which you can see in the vlog.

Few people understand that the majority of African wildlife is actually fenced in to game reserves. Although this provides ample opportunity to research and observe animals, it creates some problems that revolve around the overpopulation of animals like the elephant.

Our guide was an excellent resource and gave us an unbelievable amount of information about the wildlife and ecosystems of the area.

It never ceases to amaze me how close the animals get to the car without being scared. Going to the zoo seems so useless now (although I do love the Toronto Zoo!).

But when you think about it, the animals are fenced in here, just not to the extent that they are in zoos around the world. We push animals into unnatural habitat, cut their migratory patterns and there are even auctions to buy animals like kudu and bucks to be put on private game reserves for commercial hunting.

Which brings us to the “problem” of hunting. We’ve had many discussions about the culling of elephants in particular. There are many sides to the elephant culling story, including the fact that while consuming their 500 pounds of food every day, they are destroying about the same amount; this is depleting other animals’ food supply. Entire national parks have been demolished by an overpopulation of elephants.

There’s no way I could really give you every side to the story of South African hunting, or elephant culling. But I do suggest that you research it and make sure you make an educated decision about hunting regulations before you jump to conclusions about people that partake in the planned controlling of African animals that have been penned in by humans.

Until next time


"Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. "
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sometimes you can’t make it on your own

It can be great fun here, and more often than not I am having the time of my life.

Some women don’t have that luxury.

If I had a baby, I would know nothing. I would be asking a million and one questions, and I would have many outlets that would be willing to answer them.

I met a woman this week who gave birth to a baby 5 months ago. Her mother left in 2007 to get work in a nearby village and has not been heard from since. Her father died last December and she has been left to care for her 15 and 13 year-old brothers and her 9-year old sister, not to mention her 5 month-old son.

She found out she was HIV positive when she was five months pregnant. She told the father and she says it is the last time she ever saw him. She was given adequate healthcare so she did not pass HIV on to her son during childbirth. However, he is now HIV positive, acquiring the virus through her breast feeding, as she showed us how cracked her nipples had become.

The little boy looked right into my eyes, and gripped my finger and I knew at that moment, I was done for.

This morning I bought all the supplies needed and headed out on Home-Based Care, back to the family’s house. With me, I had bought (using money donated by my aunt and uncle), baby soap, moisturizer, diapers, diaper rash cream, a pack of bottles and bibs and a big tub of baby formula.

The baby had a really bad rash all over his body, which we figure is from not being washed enough. He also had what people call “cradle cap.”

Mpho, one of our Zulu workers, showed the mother how to bathe her baby with the help of Brier and I. We moisturized the baby and got him in a new towel, blanket and t-shirt and he looked so much better than he had. I got to hold him and he seemed happier and healthier.

The mother nearly cried when we brought out the baby’s formula. She goes door to door attempting to do small gardening for neighbours to gain enough money to buy the formula for her boy.

I know it sounds like a story out of a World Vision commercial, but this is real life.

People around the world live day to day, wondering where their next meal comes from, and obviously with the guilt of passing on a deadly virus to their child. The pain this woman of 20 feels can be seen in her eyes, but she watched intently as we demonstrated how to care for her child.

In her, I saw myself. I couldn’t help it – had the stars been aligned, or misaligned maybe, that could have been me, essentially a child left alone to care for a family that has been thrust upon her at the hands of such extenuating circumstances.

Please don’t be depressed by this story. It’s a happy one, in the end. It’s a reality that people around the world lead different lives, with different worries. I am not trying to thrust some sort of higher meaning on you, nor am I attempting to scold anyone for being more fortunate than anybody else.

I am simply here to evoke thought, dialogue, perspective and understanding.

Until next time,

“People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.” – Audrey Hepburn

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

No, I’m not on holiday

This is a job. I joke that I measure people by their work ethic, and I do here more than ever.

I’m not here to lounge – not that many people here do. I genuinely take my time volunteering seriously in an attempt to make it the best learning experience possible for myself, and to hopefully help others benefit from my blood, sweat and tears.

The first two days of projects have come and gone and they were tiring. I met a woman with shingles on ARVs who proudly proclaimed that she did not pass the virus on to her 3 year old son. I handed out 5 HIV Education certificates after administering tests at HIV Education in Ezwenelisha, where the clinic we work is situated.

Speaking of the clinic, on Tuesday Brier (also from Laurier) and I worked taking blood pressure, temperatures, pulses and weights of visitors to the clinic. Tuesdays is the Under-5 clinic so we were also busy weighing babies.

We must have seen over 50 patients, we agreed. For two non-stop hours we worked, allowing one of the nurses to immunize the babies instead of doing the tasks we were completing.

So it’s a little shocking, the medical side of things here. The healthcare system is in shambles, obviously (I mean okay let’s call a spade a spade here. I have never taken anyone’s blood pressure before and here I am taking over 50 today!). I had to weigh people while holding their babies, take the temperatures of people looking extremely ill and three times the blood pressure machine alarm went off. I can remember only one normal blood pressure and only one baby who registered a healthy weight.

It’s different visiting people’s homes to give them care. We bring them food parcels, a meal replacement shake and often toys and sweets for the children. These are the people who are too sick to make it to the clinic. The lady yesterday had been suffering from shingles and had many questions.

The little girl at the day care centre in the video will hopefully be taken care of on Wednesday. There was another emergency today where a two-week old baby had been given porridge with her formula milk by her grandmother and was desperately ill. Such is life, juggling a population in dire need of a revamping of its healthcare system – and we complain about ours!!!

You want a waiting room? Try one with the line-up all the way outside the building – that’s over 60 people ahead of you, most carrying another small person. I’ll never complain about waiting to see the doctor again. Need to use the bathroom? Use the outhouse. Air conditioning in 40+ weather? None. Men cutting in front of you if you’re a woman? They’re allowed.

Holy crap I’m exhausted and we’ve only just begun. See what I mean? After this I will actually need a holiday.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Into the (somewhat) wild

322 songs on my I-pod

8 strangers talked to

3 flights

2 sandwiches

50 hours later and I’ve arrived in St. Lucia, finally.

My shoes are off and my hair is out of control and I feel like I belong here once again.

Much has changed since my last visit, but lots of things also remain the same. The project house has undergone only minor changes, many a result of the lack of water in the area, which I experienced last summer. Many of us were left taking one-minute showers and pools were used for cooking.

First thing I did was to grab a cup of tea and sit to chat with the other volunteers when I arrived. The majority come from the UK and there is also one Swiss lady.

I will begin the medical project on Monday by travelling to the clinic, and hopefully work on some home-based care. I will travel with a home carer to see individuals who are too sick to make it to the clinic. I heard that last Tuesday the clinic had 100 people lied up outside and only two nurses present.

Michelle and Sam, who are both project managers here in St. Lucia, said that the medical project can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, but that it’s very rewarding to see how it can help the people of the village.

We’re also starting a new “10 Families” Project. The Induna (prince) of the village has given African Impact the names and locations of the 10 most needy families in his village. We will then go into their houses and assess their situations in order to best meet their needs with things such as school uniforms, food, or even the labour to build a vegetable garden.

There’s a quick overview of what’s going on with the projects. I plan to give you an update later on about them in detail later on.

For now, I’ll show you a short video blog of some footage of my travel here, which took over 40 hours.

I flew Pearson to Dubai, to Johannesburg to Richard’s Bay. Three flights and a long drive to the house later, I’m here. I can’t wait to start work on Monday and get reacquainted with all the staff and the area.

My Zulu is still pretty good though!

Take it Easy!!


“Giving frees us from the familiar territory of our own needs by opening our mind to the unexplained worlds occupied by the needs of others.” - Barbara Bush

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pre-depatrure reflections

I have finally finished packing my bag after a very stressful couple of days. Yesterday’s surprise party for my boyfriend went really well and my trip to South Africa has finally become a blip on my radar.

Eric (the boyfriend) keeps asking me why I don’t seem more excited. I tell him it’s because after my 12 hour flight to Dubai, I have a 10 hour layover. Then after my 8 hour flight to Johannesburg, I have a 6 hour layover before my 1.5 hour flight to Richards Bay.

Then it’s an hour drive to the house after someone picks me up at the airport hangar that is the Richards Bay airport. I think only when I reach Joburg will I really feel excited.

All of the South African Rand is back in my wallet and I’ve got those pre-departure butterflies. It’s going to be a great experience that I really hope I can share with all of you.

Maybe seeing my trip will help some of you make the decision to go abroad and volunteer!!

Next time we talk, I’ll be halfway around the world!!


Saturday, April 25, 2009

One Year Ago...

Let’s get some information and some history straight.
My first trip to Africa was no walk in the park. Even though, as you see, I do live in a very nice house in quite a nice area, an oasis if you will, in rural KwaZulu Natal, the emotional and physical strain myself and other volunteers are put under is often extremely intense.
What turned out to be the best experience of my life was also the hardest.
I am not a very emotional person, for the most part. But Africa brought out the zombie in me and I found it difficult after my experience to feel emotion in our so-called “first world.”
It’s harder than you think, going abroad to do volunteer work. But the experience you receive in return is well worth the personal sacrifices made.
When people ask me the most valuable part of my experience I always say the perspective I gained.
Last year, after working at Senzangethemba Day Care/Orphanage for children 5 and under, teaching HIV education and working on numerous community-based projects, I decided to make some big changes in my life. I made some tough decisions and went through a very weird transition period after returning from South Africa. But when I look at my life now, I’m glad I changed the pattern that I had become used to, stepped out of my shell and took chances. I grew so much this year because I learned that instead of waiting for life to happen to me, I had to go out and make it happen because there are many people around the world that do not have the opportunities I do.
Oh but it’s not all grandiose personal discovery and hardship. There are so many awesome things about volunteering abroad. Not only was I able to become a local in the eyes of those in the village, but I learned Zulu, attended traditional Zulu ceremonies and parties and learned that I could walk around barefoot anywhere and no one would care – ahh, paradise.
So I hope to have many more awesome adventures as you follow these video blogs. This second one is simply a quick compilation of some video taken during my stay last year in KwaZulu Natal.
My hope is that through these videos I can help you understand why my life changed so much after my first visit. Maybe you will even gain a little perspective by seeing a side of the world that is a paradox of horror and magnificence.
Until Next Time,
“Don’t be afraid your life will end; be afraid that it will never begin.” Grace Hansen

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Lowdown Video Style

Here's my first Video Blog, in an attempt to chronicle my experience abroad I will be making "vlogs" throughout my stay in South Africa and hopefully a few afterwards.

It's awkward making video blogs. I hate talking about myself and I find my own voice extremely annoying. On a lighter note - hopefully you don't!!!

Peace ;)


Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Pre-Departure Crunch and Breakdown

No, I'm not having a break down. This is the part where I give you an overview of what I'm going to be doing in KwaZulu-Natal with African Impact.
Firstly, let me explain to you some ongoing South African history and some current events.
South Africa is among the 7 sub-Saharan African nations whose HIV prevalence exceeds 15%. There are approximately 5.7 million South Africans living with HIV and current statistics state that the country's easternmost province, KwaZulu Natal, suffers from the greatest HIV prevalence rates, holding strong at 37% of the population. In some areas, like Dougoudougou (or Khula as it is called), rates are estimated at between 70 and 80%.
HIV can be treated with antiretroviral drug therapy. The therapy includes a cocktail or drugs that are administered at a certain time every day, orally, by the patient suffering from the virus. ARVs slow the progression of HIV into AIDS (where an individuals CD4, fighter cells, are below a count of 200, when a normal person can have upwards of 1,000). I know, it is all very complicated, but hopefully I can clarify a little more along the way. The South African government did not allow ARVs into wide circulation until November 19th, 2003, for various political and social reasons. Without boring you with the details here is the link to an overview on Mbeki's delay of ARVs to state run clinics.
Before I arrive, there will have been an election where ANC leader Jacob Zuma is said to easily win a victory. ANC is Nelson Mandela's party, which arose out of South Africa's legacy of white apartheid rule. St.Lucia, where the project house is based, was one of the last towns to give up apartheid rule and racism is still rampant in the area.
The Project
I am travelling with African Impact, the largest African volunteer agency, operating in 8 African countries.
In the mornings, I will be working at a local clinic with a nurse I met last year. I will be providing nurses with some much needed relief by performing basic medical procedures like taking blood pressure or weighing babies. The clinic supports 20,000 Zulu locals, and sees over 100 patients daily. I will also be teaching the nurses basic computer skills.
The project also includes a home-based care program, where a group of women travel around the village to visit the sick who are unable to make the trip to the clinic. I will aid these women by accompanying them and caring for the sick.
In the afternoons I will work on community building, painting and farming projects as well as teaching an HIV education course.
The projects run all day, and most of the time volunteers who are willing to emerse themselves in their jobs eat, sleep and breathe their work. Weekends are a time where I will get to experience local culture, go on trips and do some adventure tourism as well as go on bush walks and do some photography with African Impact's photography project and our guide Theo.

Whew! That was a crazy overview. Ten days until lift-off and hopefully I will get a video blog posted up here for you all!! In the meantime, below you can see a little video-diary of my last trip to KwaZulu Natal. I'm sure you'll recognize some of the people and places from future videos. And check out The Cord website (though the link above) to see other Wilfrid Laurier students' blogs from their overseas adventures...
and I hope to see you back here following mine!!

A New Beginning

As Senzo, our Zulu driver, dropped me off at the Richard's Bay airport last year, he made sure I had my ticket and that I was comfortably waiting for my boarding call, he hugged me and left. But instead of saying a tearful goodbye (as I had been doing all morning), I said:

"See you later!" cheerfully. Because I figured I'd be back.

And I was right!! I will be returning to St.Lucia in 10 days. I will post a blog with an outline of where I'm going and what I'm doing but for now I'd like to reminisce about last year's trip by showing you a video I created of a compilation of pictures and video taken last year that I created.



Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Beginning of the End...

I would highly recommend to anyone wanting to travel to anywhere in Africa that they do so on a volunteer project like I did. It was the best way to see the culture of South Africa, without all of the strings of being a tourist attached. The volunteers were free to participate in tourist activities like tours, but we were also invited to cultural activities in the village that were otherwise closed to outsiders.

We went to two traditional Zulu parties, one held for the breaking of the ground for the new Day Care Centre, and another for the death of our friend's grandfather and the passing of the head of the family to her father. The best experiences I had were ones not set up by tourist companies, but personal invitations to things I would otherwise not have had the opportunity to attend had I been travelling myself.

I guess here I'm supposed to tell you how profound my experience was – but I think that there are no words to describe it. Just like I couldn't wholly describe to you a South African sunset, or the Indian Ocean; I can't really describe how it felt to take care of the children at Senzangethemba. It is something that one has to experience for themselves because for each individual, volunteering in a developed country provides something different. It provides perspective, knowledge and understanding. We speak so much of “us” and “them”; for those who experience the developing world first-hand, the use of those words seems irrelevant.

The change I've experienced is somewhere inside me, and it's something only I can understand.International development is something I would definitely like to get involved with after traveling. I guess seeing the world really puts things into perspective and defines one's goals.

Living in a developing country, to me, is ideal. Raising my kids in an arena where material things mean very little to the children would make me feel like a better parent, not having to shield my kids from the materialistic Western approach to living. Life seems so much more simple, and yet so complicated at the same time in Africa, that it keeps you guessing all the time. It's the way I would love to live, and a way of life I think everyone should experience.

The faces of the children at the day care will bring me both joy and haunt me forever. I hate to know that I will wonder for the rest of my life what happened to those children, and what will happen to the ones that come to Senzangethemba later on. Hopefully I'll return next year to see their progress.

The questions asked about HIV, and the lack of knowledge presented by even the adults at their classes is worrisome, and to me provides a clear indicator of how the HIV/AIDS epidemic is going to continue to have a devastating affect on KwaZulu-Natal. It makes me sad to think that the man that is probably going to be the next president, from this province, tells the population he does not have HIV because he showers after sex; and they believe him. And who should they believe? He's their leader. He's educated. They are not. And that is the story of so many developing villages – including the one I worked in. They are lied to and taken advantage of by those they have no choice but to believe.

I'm not saying that I've changed the world. But maybe I helped a few babies become more socialized, gave some toddlers some extra attention that they wouldn't have received at home, and gave over eighty children every day two meals they would not have received otherwise. I also taught a group of thirteen teenagers about HIV and how to protect themselves, things they were not already taught at school. I provided first aid to some fungal infections, cuts and burns.

Maybe I didn't change the world, but part of me likes to think that with these things and others, I planted a seed in myself that will make me keep going back to Africa, and I haven't lost faith that a small group of people can change the world.

Thanks to everyone that's been reading my blog and who supported me through my trip. Of course, my mom and dad, who provided funds, as well as my grandparents and aunt and uncle. Thanks to Rob for calling me when I got sick, and giving me the world news when I couldn't rely on the South African radio. And thanks to Michelle and Andrew; our project managers – you two are doing such an amazing job, I really hope to accomplish what you have myself someday. And to all the volunteers I worked with; all of you have something special within you that made you come to South Africa.


“Traveling is not just seeing the new; it is also leaving behind. Not just opening doors; also closing them behind you, never to return. But the place you have left forever is always there for you to see whenever you shut your eyes.”-Jan Myrdal


I am always told that change is good. Maybe it's best to be told that, being in a new situation and all.

Uncertainty is something I fear most – being an A-type personality, I guess it comes with the territory. But I feel like the changes I've undergone in the last tow months haven't been filled with uncertainty at all – more so, they seem to be an alignment of sorts that has made me the way I've always wanted to be. Or maybe I'm just happy because I don't have to wear shoes here – it's a fine line.

So here are some changes that have occurred since my departure from Pearson in April:


Yes, my feet are yucky. I walk everywhere barefoot; grocery store, internet café, breakfast shop, you name it. Today I even built bricks and mixed cement barefoot. I play with the kids, teach, farm, paint the church barefoot. Mpho makes fun of me because every morning I retrieve my shoes from the car and put them on, only to leave them there once we arrive at the day care. I wear a toe ring and an anklet made by the women at the support group. I've bought a de-worming tablet, because it's been raining and I have probably got sandworms. Either way, life is better barefoot.

Day Care Centre

From the Isoyi until now there have been so many improvements in the building of the new crèche. We broke ground, and next week the roof is going on! I've made over 400 bricks, and the building should be done next week. Finally, the kids will be able to have shelter to learn in (although teaching under a tree is fun), a dry place when it rains, and warmth during the winter.


Over forty adults have passed the HIV education test since I arrived, after their week-long course. They've provided one of the most memorable experiences for me here. The joy they experience learning to help their families and fight stigma and discrimination is too inspiring for words. Ongoing is our school program, which has been deemed a success by all parties involve and will continue at the local primary school with a new group of kids next week.


Most agree that support is a key component in the fight against HIV. Cynthia, the nurse at Monzi Clinic said everyone needs council about their status – where they are negative or positive. Rasta, HIV positive for ten years, says the support of his family got him through his two years of TB and continues to keep him healthy. The women that gather at African Impact's support group in Khula support each other through friendship, shared interests and activities like farming and beading. Support is something I have come to believe would help us all if we could all manage to provide more for one another.

First Aid

Bar a couple of disgusting burns, I have been able to change my squeamish ways to aid in many medical situations with both Amy (nurse) and Jenna (doctor). The baby with the third degree burns is doing much better. One hospital trip later and little S'fiso's brother was back at crèche in a couple of days. Sandworms have been squeezed out of at least a dozen kids. Cuts have been mended, sores have been dressed and many accidents have been cleaned up. I've learned that sometimes the best way to help during the dressing of a wound is with kind words (Zulu or English), a hug, a cuddle and a few stickers.

So those are just a few examples of the improvements and changes that have occurred to and around me over the past two weeks, or at least some of the most profound. I have no idea what it will be like to go back home. It's so hard to explain the joy, pain, heartache, pleasure, frustration and so many other emotions I've experienced. It's so clichéd - but I'll never be the same. I don't think I want to stay unchanged. I like this new feeling.

Swazi Adventure

This past weekend, myself and four other volunteers decided to take the long weekend (Monday was Youth Day), and travel to the kingdom of Swaziland.

During apartheid, Swaziland was known for its casinos and nightclubs, pleasures forbidden in South Africa at the time. It is ruled by one of only three monarchs left, aided by a small core of advisors.

Despite its questionable political system, Swaziland's greatest problem is that it has surpassed Botswana as the nation with the highest HIV prevalence rate; 39% of adults are infected with the virus.

Swaziland is pretty desolate. That was the first thing we really noticed when we crossed over the border. The Zulu villages turned into small huts, sparsely set on dark red earth. We had taken two cars, and I was driving one of them.

Problem is I pretty much had to re-learn how to drive on the left hand side of the road, with the steering wheel on the right side of the car. On top of it, the cars we rented were manual, which added to the difficulty.

As we were driving along, around Big Bend, Swaziland, I noticed a large stick in the middle of the road. The roads are lined with sticks, broken pieces of sugar cane, cows, etc. so I really didn't think too much about it. Next thing I knew, the stick was moving, I was swerving, and instead of a stick it was a giant lizard! It was actually pretty hilarious. We tried to go back and take a picture of it, but it had left the road. We all agreed that this lizard was probably at least a metre and a half long.

Anyway, we continued on towards Lobamba. Swaziland is pretty small, so we didn't have a hard time finding both of the inns we stayed at. We found a restaurant to eat at fairly quickly, as well as a couple of activities.

We had dinner at a couple of nice restaurants, walked around the town a bit. We took a couple of hours to do a game drive as well, which got our cars SO dirty. We saw some hippo really close as we stood on the bank, as well as crocs, some bucks and zebra. Swaziland is absolutely gorgeous.

I have been quite a few places and it rates very high on the list of gorgeous landscape. The mountains turn blue as the sun goes down, and the sky turns violet. As desolate as it may be, perhaps that's why we all found it so gorgeous.

Although being in KwaZulu-Natal, one would never know that South Africa is considered developed, there was a big difference travelling across the border and seeing a true developing country. It was quite eye-opening.

Only one more week left on the project – and I really don't want to leave. Hopefully I can make the most of my last week!!!

Until Next Time


Condoms, Cucumbers and Thirteen Thirteen Year Olds

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday saw Josh, Jack and I teaching HIV education to some thirteen year-old students at the local primary school.

We've created a syllabus for teaching them that their school's headmaster has approved, and Musa, the headmaser, has chosen students he says he's sure are sexually active. We teach them during their lunch break, between 10 and 11 in the morning.Wednesday, we began he class by explaining what HIV is.

We're using approved "You, Me and HIV" books. Also, we've created our own booklets for the students to take home with them.

We gave them a pre-test to see their knowledge of HIV before we started, and the results were discouraging. Out of our thirteen students, four still believed you could not get HIV if you were healhy. Another three believed HIV could be cured. An asounding eight out of thirteen still thought that if you tested negative, it meant you were immune to the virus. Anoher eight thought that they were not at risk by practicing oral sex. Although the results were at times appaulling, it did show just how much we were needed there.

On Thursday, we went over the ways that HIV is transmitted, and the ways it is not. A large problem was the belief that mosquitoes could carry HIV. We did lots of activities to try to demonstrate and get it through to the students that HIV could not be transmitted through toilet seats, cooking utensils, and other ways they had heard.

Friday, we taught them about how to prevent HIV from being transmitted. After a quick brainstorm about the ABCs of HIV (Abstinence, Be faithful, and Condomize), we demonstrated how to use a condom. Both Josh and I demonstrated using cucumbers, and aferwards all of the kids tried it themselves. We had great fun, and there were many giggles, but afterwards, and during, I felt as though we'd really broken the ice with the kids and they started coming out of their shells. Well, who couldn't after we'd all rolled condoms down cucumbers together?

I had been quite worried about how the girls would feel in the classroom full of boys. I took one girl aside and made sure that all the girls felt comfortable.

Apparently we've caused some controversey over teaching the girls how to put condoms on since it's "a boy thing", but the three of us agreed that it was important to teach everyone in order to get our message across. It's amazing giving the girls the encouragement they need to refuse sex, or at least unsafe sex.

It's amazing to hear them say if a boy doesn't want to be protected, they would walk away. The course is essentially about having self-respect and respecting others; important skills to instill in the fight agains HIV/AIDS.

Heading to Swaziland his weekend!!!


Whale of a Time

I woke up at six o'clock on Saturday morning to be ready for whale watching with Jack and Jenna, two new volunteers that arrived last week. At seven o'clock we'd set off in a big truck across the sand dunes and along the beach.

Whales migrate from the arctic towards tropical waters every year, where they go to breed. They migrate up the west and east coasts of Africa, and even towards the east coast of Madagascar. While in the arctic, the whales can eat seven tonnes of krill per day during their three month stay. They migrate to tropical waters to give birth to their calves as well, after a gestation period of almost one year.

Bruno, our guide from Botswana, has a PhD in marine ecology and marine biology. He and his partner have the largest photo database of humpback whales in the world, and the only picture of a double-breech. They do a lot of recording and analysis on whale migratory patterns. It was really interesting to hear all the information he told us about the whales and his job. During peak season, he said tourists will see up to a couple hundred whales per day.

While out, we saw a large sea turtle in the middle of the ocean, which is very rare. We saw two male humpback whales migrating together. Bruno said they probably paired up for the journey and will wait around the coast until the females come to breed. The whales were so peaceful, it was amazing to sit and watch them. We stayed taking pictures for probably about an hour.

Many of the other volunteers have begun leaving, and a new batch of volunteers have arrived. On average, volunteers usually come for a month or so. As of now, we have six volunteers in the house, where we've had as many as thirteen at one point.

We're trying hard to rearrange all of the activities so there are enough people on each. I've been doing a lot of building (my back is killing me), but it'll be all worth it when I see the new daycare centre be finished.

We're starting the thatched roof tomorrow so hopefully I'll get to try the builders' roofing techniques. We're also starting to teach HIV Education in the schools on Wednesday and Thursday, so I will definitely be reporting back as to how that goes.

Elaine and I are planning to travel around this weekend, whether it's into Mozambique or Swaziland, or just around KwaZulu-Natal.

Until Next Time!


Top Moments - Happy

I figured that sometimes my blogs are a little depressing and sad. Not everything we do here is so serious, I promise! The volunteer house is so much fun and everyone is really great. Although we're winding down because it's the beginning of the month and many people are leaving (just like I was supposed to). So I thought I'd recap the eight best moments (in no particular order), that I've had with the people who's been here. I consulted them, and we've come up with some of the most entertaining moments that I'm sure none of us will ever forget.

1. The Five Shapes / The Five Colours / ABCs with Actions

Each morning at the day care starts with a circle time of songs and dances. Some are Zulu (we've all tried to learn the words), and some are English (we taught them I'm A Little Teapot last week). We try to do the ABCs each morning, and for some reason Nonklakla has decided that it would be fun to perform the ABCs by making letters with her arms. Really, only A, C, H, and X end up working out consistently; most of the time she ends up missing letters, or entire sections of the alphabet. It ends up being a complete mess, and even the five year old kids look confused when she jumps from K to R. For some reason, the teachers have learned somewhere that there are also five shapes; circle, triangle, square, acute angle and right angle. No more needs to be said about that. The five colours change every time they're called out, normally they are red, blue, yellow, purple, orange. Sometimes green replaces purple, sometimes black replaces orange – it's so hard to keep track of. Nonetheless, the teachers try so hard to keep up with the other crèches in the area, that sometimes they don't have all of their information correct. They're usually happy to have us correct that “right angle” is not a shape, and there are many colours.

2. Lost Keys

Yes, the keys were lost somewhere in Kosi Bay, near the border of Mozambique. Although it wasn't that big of a deal, and Anna and I ended up driving up to get the four girls that were stranded in one of the small town's bars. As we were taking the two and a half hour drive back, we actually passed the large truck that was towing the rental car back to Richard's Bay to get the only extra key AVIS had. Funny enough, even with all the commotion, no extra charge was put on the car.

3. Monkeys and Bananas

One afternoon, we came home to find Zanelle, our cleaner, in our room. She was apologizing profusely and when we finally got her to tell us why she was so shaken, she said that she had been cleaning our room and had opened the windows. Then Andrew had asked her to go to the store and when she left our room, she left the windows open as well. When she came back, banana peels were all over our room and all over the wall outside. Monkeys had jumped off the wall onto our window sill, gotten up into our cupboard and stolen four bananas. Even a week later, the monkeys are still stalking our room, although the dog, Peanut, tends to keep them at bay.

4. Wild Dogs and a Black Rhino

As I've said, we saw a pack of tracking wild dogs on our game drive in Hluhluwe on the first full day of my arrival. No one else has seen any wild dogs since I've been here – although I've learned that Hluhluwe has a large wild dog conservation program. We all agreed that we would never forget turning the corner and seeing all those wild dogs, and how we could have leaned out of the car window and pet them. Also agreed we'd never forget how one of the volunteers leaned out the window as we came so close to being charged by a black rhino, one of the most aggressive African animals (probably only second to Buffalo). And Theo just turning to Ben, our driver, and saying “start the engine” in a very frightened voice.

5. Crocodile Attack

So, I guess we've had a lot of close encounters with very dangerous African wildlife. On our Hippo and Croc tour, we got followed while we were on shore by a pod of hippos, only to have our guide's paddle attacked by a croc, and then have it run into our kayak. We were so close to so many crocs that day, it was really unbelievable. It was probably the best experience so far, to be paddling around the estuary seeing so much of the wildlife so close – even birds and fish.

6. Surfing

Last weekend, I had a surfing lesson with Hannah, one of the girls from Manchester. We paid less than $40 for an two-hour semi-private surfing lesson. We actually got to stand up riding the waves (not for long). I got hit in the head with the surf board, and at the end I was cut and bruised and sore. I had so much fun though that it was well worth it. I've never been able to pick up a sport so quickly and be able to have so much fun on my first try. The Indian Ocean is quite warm all year round, and it was so comfortable I just wore board shorts and a rash vest. Elaine, from Canada, and Emily, from Manchester both surfed the next morning. We're all going to go again this weekend, we enjoyed it so much.

7. Giving Out HIV Certificates

Giving out the HIV certificates has probably been one of the best experiences of my life. The smiles on the people's faces when they receive their certificates has been all the reward I need for coming to South Africa to volunteer. They represent the future of HIV/AIDS in this country. They progress from believing that ARV drugs are made out of human brain, to understanding safe sex and the effects of opportunistic infections. Most people here believe the lack of education is a major obstacle in the fight against HIV, and with each person that we educate, it feels as though we are creating positive-thinking community members and helping to quell discrimination.

8. Building Buildings

The new day care centre has really progressed since the ground breaking in my second week. We're about two weeks away from finishing the entire building. We have been digging a giant hole (about eight feet deep) in the back of the building to use as toilets, as well as a pit for sand. We've made the bricks by hand, we mix the cement on the ground, and we plaster the walls by hand as well. We cut all the grass by hand and dig away the weeds in the same manner. The manual labour that the hired builders endure every day is unbelievable. They work so quickly and even on the weekends for such a low price. In total, the entire building from start to finish will cost about $10,000; that's including labour and materials.

Until next time,


HIV Education

I suppose I'll take this time to explain how the HIV education works here, and how it has been going since I arrived.

The HIV education run by African Impact is held as a four day, hour and a half long course from Tuesday to Friday. The sessions are held at the Senzangethemba Day Care (the day care we operate in the mornings).

Mpho, one of the workers, acts as a translator as volunteers teach from a manual that is based on the United Nations syllabus on HIV education. The course is split into eleven different chapters. They include such subjects as stigma, treatments, how HIV/AIDS is transmitted and positive living, among many others. Statistics are also read to all participants, so that they may grasp the enormity of the epidemic.

All participants have agreed that they have never heard the UNAIDS statistics that we read to them on the first day. On this day, the participants also learn about what HIV is, and how it's transmitted.

The second day usually includes discussion and learning regarding the most common opportunistic infections that occur when an individual has acquired HIV. This includes discussion on TB, malaria, pneumonia, and fungal infections. Fungal infections is something we see on a lot of the children at the day care centre. The second day also includes discussion on Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).

Thursday, demonstrations on how to use male and female condoms are done. Problems have arisen in Africa with demonstrations of condom usage. In one case, condom usage was demonstrated on an individual's finger. Then, there were cases of men having sex with condoms on their fingers – continuing to spread HIV thinking they were having protected sex. We conduct our education using a cucumber, but the booklet given to each participant contains drawing.

Then on Friday the participants write their tests. The test has twenty questions, which are all true or false and the writers have to justify their answers. Normally they will write their answers in English, though some have asked to write in Zulu, which is allowed. They must get 16 out of 20 or above to receive their certificate.

Some interesting questions have been asked, and surprising discussions have been had during the HIV education. Most questioned have said that they would not want to know their HIV status out of fear of being HIV positive.

One woman asked if white people got HIV. Another asked if it could be transmitted through computer keyboards on laptops. One lady in particular was very vocal about not coming out about being HIV positive. She said that if she went home and told her boyfriend she was HIV positive, “he would run and never come back”. This same lady also said that when people know you are HIV positive, “they laugh on the corners about you.” They all agreed they would never tell their children if they were HIV positive, “they will think I will die,” one woman said.

It's interesting to teach adults, being a teenager. The people we teach are normally adults, who struggle with writing in their own language. They are so pleased when we congratulate them on their English abilities. They're ecstatic when they receive their certificate saying they have passed the test. Education is quite possibly the only way that the spread of the HIV epidemic can be snuffed.

The people we teach will hopefully discontinue the cycle of HIV/AIDS and even if they are affected, they all promise to teach their children about the virus.

“AIDS is not an event, or a series of them; it's a mirror held up to the cultures and societies we build. The pandemic, and how we respond to it, forces us to confront the sticky issues of sex and drugs and inequality” - 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa, by Stephanie Nolan

Halfway Update FAQ

I'm thinking an update is in order, since I'm halfway through my stay in South Africa (unless all works out changing my flights and I can stay - fingers crossed).

The baby with the burn is much better - the infection is gone and it's healing quite nicely. The boy who was really ill that one day is back now and although he cries, I've been assured it's just because he gets homesick during the day. We've been planting lately and have seen some great improvements at the clinic's garden and with the farming project. Many of the veggies have started to grow and will probably be harvested within the next couple of weeks. The entire inside of the Nazareth church has been painted, and half of the outside. The new day care centre is almost ready to have the roof put on.

Last week, six people passed their HIV tests, and within the next two weeks we're going to start teaching HIV education in schools.

We don't hear much about the ongoing violence in South Africa. The radio stations say there is little violence, though they've just begun to admit a problem of anger towards immigrant workers. We haven't seen any animosity here surrounding the subject.

Apparently some questions have been asked about various subjects, hopefully this answers them all:

It's winter in South Africa, but the weather is still quite warm. It gets up to 30C in the sun during the day. I wear a sweater in the mornings mainly because we drive to the day care in an open truck and it gets cold with the wind. At night, a lighter sweater and jeans are enough.


Our cook's name is Katrina, and she's amazing. Sometimes she cooks more traditional Zulu meals, like special puddings and meat sauces. Normally though, she cooks quite western food, like pasta, fruit salads, chicken and tuna sandwiches. When we go out, there is a lot of really good seafood in town, but it's easy to find a burger or even vegetarian options.

Day Care

The children at the day care receive breakfast and lunch. Both are made out of a substance called "pap" made from mais meal. It has low nutritional value, but it is usually mixed with beans or onions for lunch. It is a substance no child would ever eat back home, but the kids happily share extras if they are ever made, and lick their plates clean. We feed the babies ourselves. I'm told it's probably the only food some of the kids receive, and many malnourished babies flourish off the day care's diet.


So far at our gardening and farming projects we have planted carrots, beans, onions, lettuce, and cabbage. We plan on planting some potatoes later on this week, I believe.


At the house, we drink bottled water, the tap water is fine for the locals to drink, but it would probably make us sick. The water in Khula is apparently good, though I'm not convinced many don't drink from the streams instead of getting it from proper wells.


I've already mentionned our cook, Katrina. We pick up her son, Sandile, on our way to the day care. She lives in Khula (where the day care centre is), along with the maids Snele and Nanklakla. Lucky, who does all of the maintenence work on the house, and helps with some of the projects is 27, from Khula also, and is currently saving up his money to buy the eleven cows he needs to marry his wife. Theo is a bush guide who mostly works in the photography project. Mpho manages our community projects and teaches with Nanklakla. Finally, Senzo is our driver and also works with the community volunteers, often as a translator.

Hopefully that's an adequate update!!

Until Next Time,

The Trouble With Africa...

With every great deed that is done, there is someone behind it that operates behind the scenes, often going unrecognized.

Today I met one of those people when I took the monthly morning trip to the Monzi Clinic, a ten minute drive from Khula.

Every month, African Impact does a drive to the clinic for the women in the HIV support group. They bring their children and grandchildren to get checked out, and those who are HIV positive receive their ARVs. As between 70 and 80% of the individuals in Khula are HIV positive, one can imagine how busy the clinic is every day with those seeking treatment for HIV-related opportunistic infections like tuberculosis. This province has the highest TB/HIV co-infection rate – coupled with a disastrously poor healthcare system.

A Richard's Bay native who sat next to me on my flight said that he blames this healthcare system for the heavy burden of HIV on the province.

Head nurse at Monzi Clinic is Cynthia Nziyane, and she's a registered nurse in South Africa. In gorgeously accented English, she hugged and greeted my friends Amy and Josh upon our arrival, asking us where we were from. She invited us into the clinic, allowing us to roam around and investigate the broken down building as she spoke with us and searched for female condoms to donate for our HIV education classes.

On the walls hung posters about scabies, ear health, and other illnesses, another wall behind some desks held posters of how to properly handle equipment, and how to dispose of used tools. Another sign advocated the use of condoms, which are free at the clinic.

The floor was in desperate need of new tiles, and with such a lack of space, there was an examination room made amongst the chairs of the waiting area. Plastic chairs were emblazoned with “USAID: Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies.”

Cynthia told us she works hard, but she is the only nurse left at the clinic, as they have lost other medical workers to nearby clinics. She said she does what she can, persevering for the sake of the patients that rely on her. She told us that she is starting a new program on the 2nd of June called “Mothers to Mothers” that will help HIV-positive mothers to stop the cycle of HIV and teach their children about healthy living. She said to Josh with some sass that she thinks that there should also be a “Fathers to Fathers.”

We took ten women, one teenage boy, one man and four children to the clinic that day. The situation she's been left in, the lack of supplies and the overwhelming environment she works in every day were evident on her face, though she remained happy and positive in spite of everything I observed. Her work was demonstrated by the small number of people from Khula we brought her that she treated as the operator of that hospital – a small percentage of all the people's lives she saved from sunrise to sunset.

I found out that I will be staying in South Africa until May 23rd. I'm simply not ready to come home, I guess because I feel like my work here isn't done. I just started knowing all the children's names, I now know how to farm, garden, plaster and paint buildings, and I've only just begun walking everywhere in my bare feet, and greeting strangers and having small conversations with them in Zulu.

I heard somewhere once that it takes thirty days to get rid of a habit – and in thirty days I have developed the habit of life in Africa.I'm also afraid of who I have become here.

Although I've had great laughs and made some amazing friends, I've also seen some pretty horrific things. Like third-degree burns on a screaming baby whose grandmother doesn't have the time or money to take her to a clinic. S'fundo, with one side of his head scarred from when boiling water was accidentally poured over his head. The scarring prevents his hair from growing back, ensuring that he will be outcast and the victim of discrimination and quite possibly poverty for the rest of his life from something a skin graft back home could easily fix. The boy the teachers refer to as my son, Andiswa (informally known to volunteers as Wolfgang), suffering from chronic diarrhea, whose young single mother has no money to find him a doctor.

This week we had to call an ambulance for a lifeless, unresponsive boy.Some will argue nothing has been done in the four weeks I've spent here. Those people would also argue that staying longer won't prove or change anything. But hopefully I will see HIV education started in schools, the new day care centre finished, the cultivation of vegetables, and the selling of beaded bracelets made by the women and men of the HIV support group at a local St. Lucia shop.

Despite these things, the smiles of the children at the Senzangethemba Day Care will be enough to make the extension of my stay entirely worthwhile.

Until next time,