Rising Fountains Development Prog Weblog

December 10, 2007

World AIDS Day

Filed under: Africa, AIDS, Volunteers, Zambia — rfdp @ 3:01 pm

November 24th – December 7th


The last two weeks have been very busy – between field work, writing reports and no electric I’m behind on keeping you up to date on the blog so this instalment is for two weeks!!

Saturday the 24th was marked with a concert in the centre of town for the official opening of Barclay’s bank.  I passed by the place where it was to be held early on Saturday morning and already many people had started to gather.  After working in the office in morning and passing by Melina’s parent’s home in the afternoon, we eventually made it to the concert around 16hours.  I couldn’t believe the number of people who were there – I didn’t know so many people lived in Lundazi!! As there is little entertainment in Lundazi, when something like this is staged, for free, of course people will flock to it.  Song and dance plays a major role in the life of this nation so it was no surprise that everyone was enjoying the music.  As usual I received a lot of attention, especially from pupils from Kanele Middle Basic School.  One little girl sat and stared at me for a long time before she eventually plucked up the courage to come up, touch my feet, and run away again!!   


The same weekend Melina helped me take out my dread locks.  It only took about an hour – a lot shorter than getting them put in.  My hair had grown a lot in the three weeks they were in, so of course, I couldn’t leave it alone and on Monday decided to get it cut!  The problem was that Zambian’s don’t get their hair cut in the same was as I do at home – their hair grows very slowly and they either have it very short or have dread locks in it.  There’s no such thing as a hairdresser to cut hair!  Melina and her sister assured me that I could get it cut though and we firstly called at the barber shop – he wanted to shave it all off so we made a quick exit from there!!  Then we passed by a few salons (where dread lock / wigs are put in) to eventually one lady said she could cut it.  So I sat down and asked her to only take a few centimetres of the length.  She started to cut with blunt scissors and took a lot off.  Now it is really short – just to my ear!!  It’ll be fine though – all I could do was laugh when I looked in the mirror and it’ll grow back in no time!  Anyway, it’s still really hot so having short hair will help me stay cool.


On Tuesday I attended the leaving party of Colin and Angie Smith, two VSO Volunteers who had been working with Thandizani for the last eighteen months.  I had only met the English couple the previous week outside the Thandizani office for a few minutes but, nevertheless, it was nice to get chance to say good-bye.  Robert and Kerry, the American VSO Volunteers, were also present and I have to say I found it very strange speaking to other mazungus!!  I thought the evening might get me thinking about home but on the contrary it affirmed for me how great a unique experience I am having here and reminded me to make the most of every moment!


The remainder of the week was spent preparing to go to Chief Kazembe in The Valley to commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1st.  RFDP had two main aims for the planned events.  The first was to commemorate the community members who had died from HIV/AIDS and secondly, to increase the fight against the pandemic through senstisation and the introduction of Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) at Kazembe clinic.  Previously community members would have to travel the 96km (probably cycle) to the BOMA to know their HIV/AIDS status.

We left on Friday around midday in two vehicles – as usual the journey was an adventure!  The direct road from the BOMA to Kazembe is very bad – really just a track!  A flat tyre and a fallen tree blocking the road was as exciting as it got for the vehicle I was in.  However, the other vehicle (which was the one that broke down last time) left a little after us and got broke down on the way.  It meant that Leonard (Program Manager) and Isaac (Accountant) had to spend the night in The Bush – again!  It was the middle of the following day before they made it to Kazembe, by which time activities had already started.  It was yet another adventure for RFDP staff!  It yet again enforces the need for the organisation to purchase its own reliable vehicle. 


Activities in Kazembe began on the Friday evening with a short vigil.  People had started to gather at Kazembe Basic School for the event once we arrived.  All of the preparation work for all the events had been done in advance by Isaac, RFDP’s Outreach Worker and the Orphan Care Committee.  The vigil started around 21hours in the School with choral singing from two choirs in the area.  Events continued with the candle lighting service.  Pastor Chipeta (HIV/AIDS Coordinator) explained the significance of the candle lighting was that everyone gathered had lost friends and the community had been heavily impacted by the pandemic.  The light of the candle was a symbol of people awaking to HIV/AIDS, acquiring knowledge about it and putting it into practice to curb the spread of infections and care for those infected and impacted by it.  The gathered audience was widely receptive of the message and openly engaged in the candle lighting.  The evening concluded with a short drama performance from the local drama group which contained a message about the spread of HIV.


Following the success of the vigil, hopes were high that it would set a persistent for the main activities on World AIDS Day.  This proved to be more than the case.  People started to arrive at the green close to Kazembe Basic School from early morning.  Events commenced at approximately 10hours with children from Kambwili Community School and other community members marching (behind a banner I had to make fifteen minutes before hand!!!!) from the clinic to the area where the invited guests had assembled.   

Mathias (RFDP Director) made a opening speech in which he stressed how the day had a dual purpose – to commemorate the family and friends who had dead from HIV/AIDS and to raise awareness of the pandemic to reduce infections and ensure better treatment for sufferers. He remarked how the day was not confined to Kazembe or Zambia, but it was being marked all over the world, in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.  He concluded by saying how the international slogan for the day was “Leaders, Keep the Promise” and he called for the area’s political, religious, civic and traditional leaders to continue to work together and demonstrate leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS.


The Chairperson for the Orphan Care Committee also made opening remarks in which he highlighted how it was “not our wish to be here but our motto is to fight HIV/AIDS”.  He thanked RFDP for working with the community to fight HIV/AIDS and for the assistance in the support of OVC and called upon the organisation to source more money to ensure the HIV/AIDS programmes can continue.


After the opening remarks the activities began with choral singing and traditional dances including a performance by the community around Kambwili Community School.  Some presentations were made to the Community School, including donations RFDP received from the Pencil Project in the US. After these activities there were more than seven hundred people assembled to watch the events and at this stage the key message on HIV/AIDS was delivered.  Mr. Phiri, Head Teacher of Mtimbasonjo Middle Basic School, began by delivering the key points on how HIV/AIDS is acquired and how it can be prevented.  Mr. Phiri, the Clinic Officer, then continued with discussing how HIV/AIDS can be tested and treated.  He informed the assembled audience that Voluntary Counselling and Testing was now available at the local clinic and urged people to avail of the service to know their status.  I then got involved by asking questions to the audience on the information the two men had just delivered.  With the help of translation from Mr. Phiri, the Master of Ceremonies and teacher at Kazembe Basic School, it was clear that people had listened and that those who answered were aware of the key issues.  VCT was then initiated at the clinic by Mr. Phiri and Pastor Chipeta, whilst other events continued at the main green.


These activities were mostly light-hearted activities to ensure a balance between delivering the serious messages surrounding HIV/AIDS and also ensuring the audience had an enjoyable day.  Several novelty races, including sack races and egg and spoon races were held – it was the first time such events had been staged in Kazembe and their was much laughter and support from the crowd.  I had suggested the races after remembering how much fun they were at primary school – even though I am now a good ten/twelve year older, they were still just as much fun!!!


After lunch and a short rain delay, events in the afternoon began with a football match between community teams from Kazembe and Mtimbasonjo.  Kazembe were victorious with score of 5-0.  Large crowds again came to watch the football… and the mazungu!!  All day I had a stream of young children following me, at a safe distance of course!!  A bicycle race was also held in which two women from the community cycled a distance whilst balancing a clay pot on their heads – quite a talent!!  The day concluded with a short prize giving ceremony in which the winners of the various competitions received small gifts. 


The day was a huge success.  It was thanks to the hard work of our Outreach Worker and Orphan Care Committee that everything ran so smoothly.  As the people, who we hired the vehicle that successfully made it to Kazembe on time, had their own programme to complete in the area and the other vehicle continued to experience difficulties, the team did not leave Kazembe until Monday evening.  On Sunday and Monday I sat in on a few of the VCT counselling sessions with Pastor Chipeta (counselling is compulsory before and after the test).  It was clear that much more sensitization on HIV/AIDS is needed for the community to understand how it is spread and how it can be prevented.  It was during these sessions that I was also reminded, yet again, of the strength of these people, especially the women.  One particular woman was a mother to six children.  Her first husband died and she remarried so her second husband could care for her and her children.  But he too died.  She was now alone, struggling to raise her children – the youngest of which sat on her lap, no more than a year old.  Her test results came back positive and when she was told she didn’t react hysterically, as I would probably a done.  Instead she was silent for a moment and then said she was happy to know her status and immediately asked questions about the likelihood for her children being positive.  There’s no way of knowing her children’s status, until they are tested. 


Similarly, I will never forget the smile of relieve and joy on a twenty-six year single mother of two when she was told she was negative.  I saw the same lady working in the field as we left Kazembe on Monday evening, planting the crops that would feed her family that demands an intensity of labour that is alien to most people in the West. 


By the time we were preparing to return to the BOMA, thirty four people had gone for VCT.  Twenty three of these were women and five of those tested where HIV positive meaning there was a prevalence rate of 14.7%, just below the national rate of 16.4%.  As there is a window period of six months from infection to testing positive these people will be retested in three months and again in six months time.  In order to do this, and extend on the testing programme, Kazembe Clinic needs much support in terms of finance and personal.  For those who are positive, they will have to travel the 96km to the BOMA frequently, on the bad road that become difficult to pass during the rainy season, to receive the anti-retroviral drugs (ARV) from Lundazi District Hospital. 


World AIDS Day in Kazembe was a huge success for RFDP.  We successfully established partnerships with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and community leaders and increased awareness of the HIV/AIDS and introduced VCT to the local community.  Yet many challenges remain to be addressed and the success of these activities has laid the foundation stones to do that. 


We got back to the BOMA very late on Monday night and I found a very quiet house.  Melina had left that morning to go to Chipeta for a few weeks to write exams.   Most of Tuesday was spent resting and on Wednesday it was back to the office to compile the report on the trip.  It was progressing well on Wednesday and Thursday morning would have finished it, but we all awake on Thursday morning to no electric and water.  The rains have started and although they are still showers, thunder and lighting always precedes them meaning that through out the rainy season, electricity and water supplies will be unreliable. 


Friday brought to the end a busy and successful fortnight for the organisation.  Much has been achieved but much more needs to be done!!    


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