Rosa is a small, barefoot woman dressed in shabby clothing with half her teeth missing. She corners me as I am walking around the beach at Camps Bay, Cape Town and asks for money. As I quickly shake my head and avoid eye contact, she presses me further explaining that not only has she recently been tested positive for HIV, but her young baby has also been diagnosed with the disease. Not knowing if she is telling the truth, I regrettably walk away and wonder what will become of her. But she is only one of the 5,700,000 South Africans that have been diagnosed with this horrendous disease.
Impact Upon Families
HIV is an epidemic that is not unfamiliar to the United States. When it hit the United States during the 1980’s, those most likely to suffer from it were usually homosexual men. Nicknamed to be the unofficial “gay cancer”, the approximate death toll per year in the 1980’s of AIDS was about 150,000. Times have changed, and with breakthroughs such as protease inhibitors and other forms of treatment and therapy, AIDS has generally become both a manageable and a preventable disease for Americans.
In South Africa, the effects of the disease have gotten worse. The death toll and number of people living with this disease have increased on a yearly basis. In 2009, it was estimated that 5.6 million people were living with HIV, officially making South Africa the country with the highest rate of HIV and AIDS. Because the most common way of transmitting AIDS is through heterosexual sex, the rate of mother-to-child dissemination is shockingly high, with approximately 11 percent of HIV/AIDS cases being passed from mother to child. This helps to explain South Africa’s shockingly high infant mortality rate. This has also broken up the family unit in South Africa, leaving millions of HIV positive children orphaned.
Advertising for a Cure?
During our trip to South Africa, we noticed noticed many different road side advertisements encouraging safe sex through the of condoms. A new thing that the South African government has recently launched is the
HIV counseling and testing (HCT) campaign to give new awareness to HIV and how it is commonly passed. The four objectives it has listed in it’s campaign are:
“-to increase health-seeking behavor-to encourage South Africans to know their HIV status
-to equip those who test HIV-negative with ways of ensuring that they don’t get HIV
-to create a quick and easy entry point to accessing wellness and treatment services for those who are HIV-positive”.
This type of sexual education has made a major headway: in 2008 it was determined through a survey that approximately four-fifths of South Africans have heard or seen some of these campaigns. Despite the fact that many South Africans have seen these campaigns, women still remain uninformed about how HIV is spread. With ambiguous advertisements like “Wrap it or Zip it” and “The Don’t Want HIV Generation”, many South Africans are unaware that using a condom prevents the spread of AIDS. Furthermore, strategies such as these place emphasis upon prevention, rather than teaching women to live and raise their families with their disease.
Although the campaign listed “easy entry point to accessing wellness and treatment services for those who test HIV-positive”, this platform has not taught women empowerment. That’s where NGO’s come in.
Heifer International Project
NGO’s or non-governmental organizations are nonprofit organizations which can perform a variety of service and humanitarian functions to perform humanitarian functions. They have become a valuable instrument in addressing problems. The Heifer International Project has been a very effective tool in teaching self-sufficiency amongst impoverished and third-world countries. Heifer’s mission is “to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the earth”. These two broad and complex goals are carried out and established by giving gifts of livestock and agricultural training to families to promote self-sustainability. The common reference to the animals and training given are called “living loans” because families must agree to pass on one of its animal’s offspring to another family in need. This method of “Passing on the Gift” seeks to carry along a pay-it-forward network to make sure that everyone in need may soon give and receive assistance and education.
Heifer Project South Africa
In South Africa, the Heifer International Project have had good results. Many rural black townships have learned and been given valuable tools which they can adapt and keep to their lifestyle once Heifer leaves. One example of this is the Khongode Project, which is situated in the northern part of the Vhembe District in Limpopo Province South Africa. In 2010, Heifer began to assist the community after the community approached the Department of Agriculture for assistance and registered themselves as a “Small Farmers Cooperative”. Project members were trained on livestock and crop management and basic business skills, in the hopes that the families would one day be self-sufficient enough to sell their crops and resources and allocate income.
The issue of the Heifer Project pulling out and leaving a communities has always been a source of tension to those families who remember the poverty and hardship that surrounded them before the project arrived. Many of the communities cannot imagine life without the assistance of the project. Heifer has always maintained that they will assist them until they are able to independently take care of their families and contribute to economic development in their community.
Curing AIDS Through Empowerment
Although projects such as these may not provide a final cure to the HIV problem in South Africa, they can be seen as a stepping stone for women and families to learn education and self-sustainability. Seeing women speak proudly of their cows and crops that they have labored upon and produced with the assistance of Heifer International in Limpopo Province made me aware of how effective empowering women through education can be. Although this is not an immediate cure for AIDS, it can be inferred to be a source of liberation from the many ways of repression women in third-world countries continually find themselves in. With a project like this planting it’s seeds in South Africa, it is my hope that it will help lower the high rate of HIV transmissions.