This morning I arrived at Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust ready for a full day covering the outreach activities that HACT are involved in. First of all I met my friend Mr Mshengu, who had been my escort in January.  We were scheduled to attend the home visits in the company of Sister Sphe.  As we set off I was reminded of the vastness of the Valley of 1000 Hills and the absolute remoteness of some of the settlements.  Mr Mshengu's knowledge of these roads, tracks and paths makes the London cabbie "Knowledge" look like childsplay!  For reasons of confidentiality I didn't take any photographs of the patients for home visits.  However, we arrived at the first scheduled visit to find that the patient had gone visiting to family across the valley, as we were in the combi, it was impossible for us to attend to her there (it can only be hoped that she was feeling better and that is why she decided to make the visit!).  The family at the second scheduled visit said it was "not convenient" this may be because we were in the combi which has a large HACT badge on the side.  There is still a significant stigma associated with HIV/Aids in these communities and some families will not accept a vehicle with the logo in their yard.  Unfortunately, this was the only vehicle available this morning.  I was later told that when HACT first opened, they had to have a magnetic badge that could be removed from the vehicles and the staff could not wear uniform to visit people in their homes.  Third time lucky, we were welcomed into a lovely home by a gentleman who, with his wife, were caring for her sister.  This lady had suffered severe, uncontrollable epileptic fits, which, in addition to her HIV + status put her at considerable risk, living alone.  She was in the Respite Unit in August but discharged to the care of her family once she had been stabilised on a very high dosage of epilepsy medication.  She is more stable now, although still has unexpected episodes and therefore cannot be left alone or get a job.  Sadly the Govt. has refused the application for a grant to contribute to her care and support, so the burden falls on the family.

Gogo Support Group

 I then swapped cars and headed off with Phindwe and Thandi to visit a Gogo Support Group.  This group of 13 ladies is one of the longest established GOGO support groups and we met at the "leader" Tangiwe's house.  They have a fabulous garden where they grow spinach, cabbage, beetroot, onions, carrots and beans.  They have also planted a crop of yams (called mThumbe locally) which is essentially a cash crop, it is a staple of the diet locally but can only be grown where there is an underlying water table.  The land that Tangiwe and her group have has this particular topography and therefore can utilise this to develop their co-operative. 

They are a strong and close knit group, they currently all contribute R200 from their pensions to a savings pot and then this money is used to build a concrete house for any member who doesn't have one. 

In the picture to the right, the grey roofed building is the first house to be built from this scheme, the Gogo used to live in the rondavel to the side of it. 

The next ambition is to ensure that all of the members of the group have an inside toilet, so that when they are older, they will not struggle to get out to use the outside privvy.  Many have already purchased the sanitary ware, they are saving for the plumbing work.  Finally the target is that each of the Gogo's homes will have a "JoJo" a water tank for rainwater harvest.  Clearly this is a group of ambitious and forward thinking ladies.  Not only that, their humour and joy of life is evident.  There is over 1000 years of experience between them!  They told me that when they are working in the garden they talk about their lives, their current challenges and also their early years, of loves lost but fondly remembered! A fabulous group of women!

Grassroots Soccer

My afternoon was spent with Pemla on the Grassroots Soccer Initiative.  This is a new activity for HACT, replacing their LifeSkills Programme.  The programme is focused on Grade 7,6,5 so age range from 10 to 14 and this term it is the Grade 5.  We visited Laboure Primary School in Kwanqetho, deep in the Valley of 1000 Hills.  This is a lovely school of nearly 400 pupils from Grade R to Grade 7.  The Grassroots Soccer delivers physical activity (soccer skills) and HIV awareness messages to groups of 15 pupils at a time.  This creates a trusting and caring cohort and allows children to speak up.  The session starts with a warm up and the two messages that are targeted in today's session are HIV avoidance and HIV attack. 

The first game uses a skipping rope as a limbo bar.  The children are told that they have to limbo under the bar. At first the bar is high, this represents abstaining from sexual activity, so it is easy to limbo under (i.e. it is easy to avoid contracting HIV).  The second bar is lower, this represents dating a person your own age, again it is quite easy to limbo under.  The reasons are discussed at each point so that the understanding of the metaphor is clear.  Now the bar is lower, this represents dating someone 5 years older than you.... now some cannot limbo and clear the bar, so the metaphor is that they have contracted HIV.  Again this is discussed, along with a clear discussion about "power" in a relationship, pressure and coercive behaviour. Finally the bar is very low, this represents dating someone 10 years older than you, hardly anyone can limbo or avoid the risk.  The discussion centres around the risk factors and what to be on your guard for, e.g. accepting gifts, someone hanging around school etc.

The second game very cleverly explains infection, immunity and how HIV suppresses the natural immune system.  Children are in a circle, one child is "human" and stands in the middle.  Another child is "Immune System" and joins the child in the middle.  The other children, some of whom are "flu" "cholera" "pneumonia" throw the football to touch the "human" and the "immune system" acts as defence.  Then, another child joins as "HIV" this child holds the "Immune System" child's arms behind their back, so he cannot "defend" any more.  Then a child named "ARV" joins, she represents the Anti Retro Viral drug therapy, which puts HIV to sleep and then "Immune System" can work again!  The final piece is to bring another infection"TB" into the picture! Now the discussion is on defaulting from treatment.  At each step the facilitator checks understanding and reinforces the messages.  It is a very clever method of delivering a very serious message.

Thank you HACT for your hospitality today and for the wonderful work you do.  We are proud to be associated with you and very grateful to our amazing donors who make that partnership possible.