Project Information & News
International Development Opportunities
Articles and Editorials
South Africans helping South Africans
Written By: Rachel Hahn, Journalism student, Ryerson University
Today, 10 years after apartheid, many blacks of South Africa still live in much the same way as they used to. Townships on the edge of cities are made up of dirt pathways and shabby roads, shacks of scrap metal and wood and very few no-income houses sponsored by the South African government. More than 100,000 people live in each cramped township.
One thing has changed: the number of people infected with HIV/AIDS.
Over the last few years, nations across the world, including Canada, have formed organizations to help relieve the suffering of HIV/AIDS patients in South Africa.
Now, those suffering have begun helping themselves.
HIV/AIDS is a pandemic sweeping across South Africa, killing 600 people every day. More than 1/3 of the population is HIV-positive. Some people speculate that this is due to the polygamous tradition of the South Africans and some people blame a lack of education.
Despite the reasons, many South Africans refer to HIV/AIDS as 'the black man's disease' because it is most prominent in the townships.
Erin Rogers and Kristen Marosi are interns in South Africa, sponsored by Niagara College in partnership with the Canadian International Development Agency and Eastern Cape Technikon (a South African post-secondary education institution).
The two girls work at an HIV/AIDS clinic called the Ikhwezi Lokusa Wellness Centre. One of their duties is to check-up on patients who live in the townships. While they are there, they also check in on the HIV/AIDS councils that have been formed by citizens of the townships.
They drive to Duncan Village with two volunteers from the Ikhwezi Lokusa Wellness Centre as their guides, Face and Big King Camshe. A nurse from Holland, Monique Jansen-Schuiling, joins them. They stop the van when the roads can't be driven on any further. They walk a short distance to the shack of the first patient they want to see. She doesn't answer to the knocking at her door. Her neighbors explain that she was taken to the hospital earlier.
The group gets back into the van and drive to their next destination: the Duncan Village communities centre. This is where the HIV/AIDS council for this township meets.
The communities centre is bright yellow and larger than any other building surrounding it. It's made up of 3 rooms: a kitchen, a main room and a back meeting room. There are woman cooking in the kitchen and more than 12 girls learning to sew on one machine in the main room.
The group goes into the meeting room, a small pink and green space. They are greeted by the Duncan Village HIV/AIDS council. Nobesuthu is the council's treasurer. She is a tall, slim black woman who speaks English to the group.
The council was started last year in March. It began with one man who wanted to make a difference. "It was a dream from one person. So he collected us," Nobesuthu says. "He saw the situation of the Duncan Village people and the dying of (HIV/AIDS)."
She explains that there are 18 members on the council, all of whom live in Duncan Village. They meet every weekday morning in this pink and green room to assign each member a section of the village. Then, they spend the rest of the morning and afternoon going door to door in the village, providing care for those who need it.
"I go to door to door and visit, looking for orphans and also children who are abandoned by their mothers," Nobesuthu says. "We do counseling for those who are in need and we also advise people. If they have a problem you advise them where to go," she says.
Often people who need help are referred to either the hospital or the Ikhwezi Lokusa Wellness Centre where Marosi and Rogers work. Each member carries a bag of supplies with them while they visit.
"People who are bed-bound, they have bed sores so we give them bandages and treatment," explains council member Lathiare Diko.
When people are found in unhygienic circumstances, council members provide soap and information on how to stay healthier. Often people need help with their papers, such as their ID books and birth certificates. Without these documents they can't receive any government aid.
The council members help with this too. The council talks about how HIV/AIDS is affecting their homes. They say that part of the problem is a lack of education about the disease.
"Other people still have a lack of understanding of the use of condoms," Diko says. "People are not accepting of people with HIV/AIDS: family, neighbors. It's a stigma."
The council members combat the lack of education. They speak openly and bluntly about sex and that transmission of HIV/AIDS with other community members. Slowly but surely they are chipping away at the taboo of sex in their township.
A few of the members were able to get training by volunteering at a nursing-home in the nearby city. Then, they shared their knowledge. Training is hard to come by though. Often, you can only receive training if you already have a job.
The council is trying to get South African government funding for more supplies and training. They must have a constitution and business plan to register as a non-government organization. They already have these two things, but the process of receive funding is a long one.
Marosi, Rogers, Camshe, Face and Jansen-Schuiling thank the council for meeting with them before loading into the van to go to the next township: Scenery Park.
Scenery Park is smaller than Duncan Village but similar to it in many ways. It is full of shacks and the unemployed and it has recently formed an HIV/AIDS council to help itself.
Camshe, one of the guides, is the head of Scenery Park's council. He stops outside a no-income government house.
The man who lives in this house with his family is HIV-positive, but his status is undisclosed to the public. He wishes to remain anonymous. He fears he could loose his job if his employers find out.
Jansen-Schuiling sits with the man and talks to him about his symptoms. He has become very thin and frail. "I can't even take a walk," he says in broken English. "(Sleeping) is very bad, very bad because of the short breath."
Jansen-Schuiling, tells him to sleep propped up and to continue exercising. She suspects that his lungs are filling with fluid. The man's wife lies on a bed in another room. She is also HIV-positive.
Camshe asks the man if he would be welcomed in their home so he can checkup on them. He promises he'll keep their status confidential until they are comfortable enough to reveal it themselves. The man tells Camshe he is always welcome. This is a big step towards getting the man treatment and Camshe smiles from ear to ear.
The group leaves and travels down a few roads to the Scenery Park HIV/AIDS council office.
It is a small hut with a collapsing roof. Camshe tells the group he pays 5 rands per month, about $1 CAN, to rent it. Marosi, Rogers, Face, Jansen-Schuiling, Camshe and his wife and child gather in the small hut.
"We've got a problem, people are dying. We visit because somebody's right today but tomorrow (they're) not right," Camshe says. He explains how Scenery Park's HIV/AIDS council was started.
He lost his job last year and was at home everyday with nothing to do. He realized that people needed help and so he sent his wife out to gather people together. "At the end of the day we had 25 members," Camshe says. "It's my dream."
Rogers explains one of the reasons why home-based care is so important to people in the townships that are living with HIV/AIDS. She says the South African government will give grants to people to help them get medicine and food, but the system is gravely flawed. You must be in the World Health Organizations fourth category of HIV/AIDS progression to apply for a grant.
The fourth category is the last and is characterized as full blown AIDS. Many people in the fourth category will live for only a few more months. A grant application takes up to three months to process, which means many who apply are already dead before they are approved.
Camshe's wife and son join the group as they head off for one final visit. They arrive at a small wooden shack with two windows and a door. Nandipha Msengi lives here with a friend. Msengi is 25 and is HIV-positive. Her skin clings to her bones and she speaks very softly. "I had a chest problem, I wanted a hospital," Msengi says, using Camshe as a translator. Her lungs had filled with fluid and needed to be drained. At the hospital Msengi had a blood test done and she learned she was HIV-positive.
Camshe hasn't seen Msengi in some time, and she is looking worse. One of the Scenery Park HIV/AIDS council members sent her to the Ikhwezi Lokusa Wellness Centre a while ago where she was seen by a volunteer doctor. "Ever since they took me to the wellness centre I gained weight, but I've lost weight again," Msengi says.
Camshe takes time to explain to Msengi about the importance of continuing to eat fresh vegetables and fruit and that she needs to also continue visiting the wellness centre. "Please, go for a check-up," Camshe pleads.
Jansen-Schuiling speaks to Msengi through Camshe, telling her to exercise and do other things to make sure she stays healthy and strong. Msengi thanks the group and asks if Camshe will continue to visit her. She says she'd be proud to be an example of how the HIV/AIDS council can help those in the community.
After the visit, the group drives Camshe to his home. He lives with his wife and two children in a metal shack on a small, dirt square of land. He is proud to be helping his friends, neighbours and fellow Scenery Park citizens, and he continues to dream of a better future.