“It must have been so depressing – how can we get on top of this terrible problem?” That has been a common response from people when I have explained that I’ve been visiting projects for an HIV/AIDS charity in southern Africa. They then seem taken aback when I reply that I have returned inspired and uplifted by the excellent things I have seen.
Life expectancy in Mozambique is 36 years with over 20% HIV/AIDS infection rate in Gondola, the village where I stayed in central Mozambique*. 70% live below the poverty line and the literacy rate is 48%. Here, people live in mud huts with dirt floors; they subsist on produce from the family small holdings – mashambas – which might be miles from their hut. Grannies are called ‘vo-vo’. Susannah in Gondola now cares for the five children of her two daughters who died of AIDS, at a time of life when she might have expected to be cared for herself in her old age. 3 year old Maria just giggled and smiled the whole time I was with the family; her brother Juinio is less fortunate, having infections and a lethargy so alien to a normal 5 year old boy. Village children watched on and shivered in rags as the warm winter sunshine faded into evening. Nurses on Hands at Work’s gap year programme ‘Footprints’, sat with Juinio and Maria, spoke gently with Susannah, handed out jumpers knitted by St Margaret’s Church Halesowen, made medical notes and administered the first dose of antibiotics to Juinio. Both children are HIV positive.
So how can I be inspired by this scene? Carlos, the project manager and his volunteers want to create a community care site at Rubatano, offering food and medication distribution, counselling, pre-school activities, and ARV (anti-retroviral drug) support groups; there is an agricultural site of poultry farming and vegetable gardens where project workers teach farm skills to orphans to enhance sustainability and food security. Have you had a conservatory built or double glazing installed recently? The Rubatano Centre can be built and fully equipped for less than £12,000 and will serve the 26,000 people of Gondola. For the price of two league football shirts (home and away for a season?), a teenager can be kept at secondary school for a year; or a monthly food parcel distributed to orphans or patients costs £7.
I am inspired because I know that people in the UK care deeply about the Susannahs, Juinios, and Marias if only they get to know about their plight. Hands at Work at Rubatano has around 35 volunteers. It’s our job in the UK to tell people here about these volunteers – and their colleagues across Africa – who care enough about their neighbours to devote a few days a week to help them; about the simple things they do that can make so much difference to a shivering orphan in the middle of Mozambique.
I asked Carlos what he wanted me to do when I returned to Britain: “Tell people in the UK we are so thankful for being touched and remembered by them” he said. “Go and speak the voice of the orphan in Mozambique, the voice of the patient, the voice of the volunteer”.
Their message is one that inspires and uplifts in the face of a terrible problem, and is simple for anyone who hears it: listen, care, act.
Veronica Caperon *Source: Mozambique News Agency