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