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,


T.I.A - This Is Africa

I've read somewhere, and been told, that there is something special about Africa - something different. Africa gets into your bones somehow and you can become addicted to it. Maybe it's the mystery that comes along with travelling here; a sense of the unknown. Or maybe it's the people and their welcoming culture. It could be the landscape and wildlife. Maybe instead it's the fact that Africa is such an enigma.

It should be a tourist hotspot, should be rich off natural resources, and the list goes on. Instead the continent is full of corruption, exploitation, marginalization, and that list goes on. It makes the allure of Africa appealing on different levels. Africa is like a drug. And I'm hooked.

Everyone's pegged me as an Africa-addict. They say they can easily recognize their kind - those who arrive in Africa and always return, or stay forever. As opposed to those who visit and never return.

Those are the two types of Africa-bound travellers, and it's easier than you would think to see the divide. So I've extended my visit. I've noticed already when I walk by myself, or I'm in the market, I can speak Zulu with the locals, and I'm starting to really fit in. I'll be spending more than a week longer than I had planned.

My chicken pox were still too bad to go to Kosi Bay with the other girls, so I ended up driving with Josh to Richards Bay to do some shopping for the HIV support group. It was interesting to see more of South Africa, especially a city, where the subtle racism evident in St. Lucia wasn't easily observed. We saw a billboard that read "Real Men Don't Rape", and another promoting the 'ABCs of AIDS' - Abstinence, Be faithful, Condomize.

The girls lost their key to one of their cars in Kosi Bay so I ended up driving up with our relief manager Anna to meet them and bring them back. On the way, we almost hit a dog, a cat, some cows, and people carrying their water cannisters home after work (it gets dark around 5:30 here). Such are the dangers of African night-driving.

Until Next Time,
-Alanna the Africa Addict
I've had a great first full week with the project in KwaZulu-Natal. The kids at the day care centre are just amazing. I've been helping out a bit more with the first-aid, and I find it really difficult to handle at times.

On Friday, a girl about a year old came in with third-degree burns all over her forearm. Josh, the head volunteer, had already dressed it and sent a note home with her older sister to tell her grandmother that the little girl had to be taken to the clinic as soon as possible. But the clinic is 7km away, and about R20-R30 - not even five dollars - and her grandmother says she cannot afford it and does not have the time.

The girl was hysterical when we were cleaning the burn, she must have been in absolute agony. I won't get into the gory details of how the burn looked - I'm sure you can only imagine.

In these situations, it's been really interesting to see how the children here interact with one another, in comparison to North American children.

They look out for each other in such intimate ways - like they figure they can really only rely on each other, more than anybody else.

Over the weekend we all got a very important and needed Zulu language lesson, to learn some more words to use at the day care centre. Theo, one of the workers, took us on a bush walk and we saw some more animals. A herd of Zebra ran right by us! We spent some time at the gorgeous, isolated beach nearby. Next weekend we've decided to travel to Kosi Bay, and cross the border into Mozambique.

The breaking of the ground and Isoyi, a Zulu celebration that signifies that the Induna (Prince) has approved the building of the new day care on the certain plot of land. There were speakers from all over Kwazulu-Natal, singing, dancing, and a traditional Zulu meal. Elections were also held this week in Khula, which was interesting to experience.

I'm looking forward to working on the HIV education project at the local school this week. Information regarding that will come on Thursday, for sure! Oh and maybe a night drive through one of the national parks as well!

Until Next Time!!


Senzangethemba Encounter


I'm starting to get well acquainted with everything in South Africa. My Zulu is getting better, as well as my sleep patterns and the daily routine is getting more familiar. The day care is such an amazing place. I got put on First Aid duty, which was interesting to say the least.

There are lots of problems with worms (like ringworm), fungal infections, and the usual cuts and bruises. Burns are strangely common. I patched up a young boy on Monday who said he had been cut by a knife on his knuckle. Another had worms in their foot, and worm eggs in her thumb that we had to squeeze out. She cried so hard, tears streaming down her face. My St. Johns First Aid Course did NOT prepare me for this sort of thing. Today one of the little boys in my group was throwing up everywhere and I had to sit and rub his back while he just was in hysterics. It seemed oddly normal.

I'm already attached to a particular baby. Apparently he's been attending the day care for a couple of months. When he came, I'm told all he did was cry. His hair is still orange, and his belly a little swollen, but he eats lots and seems generally healthy. He doesn't however, respond to movement and voices like a Canadian child would.

All the kids often look very serious, especially the babies. They get so much joy out of small things like being swung around by their hands, rubbed on the head or even given food. One day we gave them all sweets, and it was so exciting.

There are many other projects that we're working on at the moment. On Friday, we're breaking ground on the new day care centre, to replace the broken-down church-shack that is now used. There is a farming project for an HIV support group, where women can cultivate vegetables to sell them, or keep them for their families. Making bricks by hand to build the new day care is another afternoon activity. Planning lessons on HIV education for the support group are also interesting activities during the afternoon.

There's lots of work to be done. I've packed care packages for the HIV positive women who come to the support group, made 60 huge bricks (with the help of volunteers Sam, Elaine and Lucky), and farmed the plot. I'm looking forward to planning next week's lessons and to some activities we've got planned for the weekend. A bonfire on the beach, maybe a surfing lesson, and a Zulu language lesson. Max, one of the other volunteers from Germany, has also started teaching me German!

Until Next Time!


My First Touchdown in ZA

I've never written a blog before, so forgive me if I don't do it right. My life is normally way too boring for anyone to be interested in reading about it. I guess that was until I signed up to travel to St.Lucia, in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal to work in an HIV orphanage, as well as do some travelling.

This blog will follow my experiences here as I travel and observe the locals, while working on a project with African Impact.I can't really remember when I decided I wanted to travel to Africa. I have always been fascinated with the continent, its history, wildlife and people.

I flew into Richard's Bay on a holiday weekend, so I haven't been able to work on the community project yet, with the children. I have, however, had some great experiences already in my first couple of days. Everyone on the project is so incredibly welcoming, and it's so interesting to see so many students from all over the world in the same place.

St. Lucia is gorgeous, and so is the project house where I'm living. There is very little crime because there is only one way in and out of town - it is otherwise surrounded by ocean and a crocodile and hippo-infested lake. It is safe to walk into town, although we have to watch out for hippos and monkeys.

We went on a game drive on Friday and saw Zebra, Wildebeast, Impala, White Rhino, Elephant, Nyala and Giraffe - not to mention many types of birds, bugs and monkeys. The most interesting though were the endangered and very aggressive Black Rhino, which very nearly charged the car. As we were driving, we discussed which African animal we would like to be, and I explained what an African Wild Dog is. Next thing we knew, twelve Wild Dogs were running alongside the car. Only three thousand are left in the wild, so it was amazing to see them all so close.I was amazed not only at the volume of animals in the park, but also their proximity to the car. It was unbelievable to have been able to reach out the window and touch so many of the animals we saw.

It's been an amazing experience so far, and I'm sure it will only get better. I'm having a great time getting to know everyone, and seeing the wildlife - I can't wait to start the community project. I'm taking care of the youngest group of children next week, which should be interesting!


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