Wednesday, April 15, 2009

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,


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