PHOTOS AT BOTTOM
Due to a fierce rebellion of teachers and municipal workers in Swaziland planned for the exact 3 days were were scheduled to be landing there, we decided to divert to South Africa early.
Our first day at the clinic we set off to find the testing team at what someone told us was “an old ladies football event”. I wondered if they meant ladies my age. The new stadium was built in Umazi for the World Cup minor matches. Sure enough, it was all ladies on the field and actually getting tested between matches. I sat in the registration tent with the team and watched the women come out of the testing tent who were visibly celebrating their negative result. The women were in the 40s-60s+. I was delighted to see them in their soccer outfits taking both the games and testing so seriously.
The 3 story AHF Ithembalabantu clinic has been renovated and is looking good. While touring it I thought of the $25,000 check that Elizabeth Taylor gave us in 2003 – the first donation from anyone to help us build up this clinic. She signed the check herself and I remember the clinic staff were so delighted – we took a picture with a big “Thank You, Elisabeth” banner and sent it to her. If she could only see how well her investment turned out – the growing size and capacity of the clinic now – we have 16,000+ people in care – a big step up from the small clinic in the still adjoining shopping center that Henry Chang, Swazi and I found together in 2001 – signed a contract and renovated in three weeks just in the nick of time for the ribbon cutting to be attended by two U.S. Congresswomen.
We moved out of there because there were two many fatal bank robberies endangering our staff and clients.
South Africa has been a challenge since day one and will continue to be. But we take on challenges and sort through them to a solution. Sounds good on paper – not always pretty or easy, though. South Africa is a country with the largest number of HIV cases in the world (5 million +) – a large weight to carry. Just 15 years after the fall of Apartheid, it is still struggling with racism, high crime, unemployment and poverty. With all that, it amazes me to see the passion and enthusiasm in Sister (nurse) Cynthia Luthuli who has been there since the beginning. Her eyes still sparkle but she tells me, “The tea is getting weak”. That is how she communicates. What she meant was that dedication and spirit are on the decrease… the tea is getting weak.
Just as she did with Lydia and Phumla so many years ago, she came up stairs to get me saying she wanted me to meet someone downstairs in the clinic. I followed. I sat in an adherence session she was having with a deaf woman who was faltering on her meds. The woman had her mother with her, as well as her adorable, not-camera-shy little girl on her lap. Cynthia had called a volunteer to translate (a young guy who could talk but could not hear due to something that went wrong with TB medication – what an unnecessary tragedy). I met everyone and sat in and marveled at how well Cynthia talks to our clients – so motherly but firm. She’s not messing around. She tried to get the woman to fess up to why her CD4 count so low – was she not taking her meds? The thin woman with her child on her lap started to cry and would not speak. Finally, it came out that she had not understood the proper schedule of taking the ARVs and was taking a double dose everyday for months. Through the interpreter, she said she was feeling not well at all and also ashamed that she was taking her treatment wrong. Cynthia was gently supportive and said,” Poor thing. It’s ok – we’ll get you sorted.” The woman cried even more.
They left and Cynthia explained that our treatment-initiator physician, Dr. Mmbarra, was starting a specific deaf adherence group so all their issues can be handled together and also so that they do not feel alone with their HIV challenges.
I gave bus fair to the volunteer interpreter.
The weekend followed with an non-stop 2 day African rain. Rain, rain, rain. It was fabulous.
During one of our drives ‘home’ from Umalzi in the car we got into a great conversation about leadership, managing people and all the challenges that go with both. I certainly have many lessons learned and am a far better manager now than I was 5 or 10 years ago. Adela is growing as a new manager, and I will never forget her saying, “Terri, you have a kick ass team. Kick ass!”. What a compliment that is – what could be better than having a kick-ass team? And I am proud to say that I do have a kick-ass team.
It is always hard for me to leave South Africa because there is so much to do ,and I could stay months and only help make a dent. I plan to be back in the summer and stay a longer time.
In Johannesburg starting the journey home, I sent Herb, Adela and Phili (South African) to the Nelson Mandela Apartheid Museum as Adela was trying to understand the very complicated and layered history of South Africa. I wasn’t surprised that Phili had never been. Most black South Africans I work with have never seen a zebra or giraffe or been to the Apartheid Museum. She was amazed and clearly affected by it.
Heading home with lots of follow-up work from a wonderful and successful trip.