Tag Archives: East London

Great news from the Eastern Cape: “Let Us Protect Our Future!” a go!

All over the world, the bureaucratic machine moves slowly. Organizations lumber towards results, interrupted by fiscal years and approval processes. Sometimes brilliant ideas wither and expire before before they’ve had a chance at the table.

In Africa, action sometimes masquerades as idleness. Initiative must take an indirect path. It’s anti-intuitive to the western visitor, and can test our patience. This is no place for frenzied activity, for make-work. Results come more easily to those who understand that the companionable conversation is part of negotiation, not a distraction.

So imagine my surprise to hear that in the meager five months since I left the Eastern Cape, Craig has succeeded where many have given up in frustration. This story picks up where my visit to the Duncan Village Day Hospital left off, way back in October ’09. Here’s what I remember most: Nomalizo’s confident, friendly, energetic face. She was the peer educator who handled the PMTCT workshop in the hospital’s crowded corridor, giving her presentation in both isiXhosa and English. Word was that project funding was set to expire in December ’09 so Craig was there to see if he could employ the peer presenters through his department.

I kept up with the status of the proposal by monitoring Craig’s uniformly exhausted-sounding status updates. Then, recently, this: “Craig Carty just got the email stating that the contract with the hospital network has been signed!!! Prevention education for South Africa’s most at-risk kids a go!!!” In this case (and only in this case), I can excuse the flagrant abuse of exclamation points. This is really big news.

In Craig’s own words (detailed, and very much worth the read):

Adolescent-centered health care is missing from provincial, government-run hospitals. Kids between 10-19 are lumped in with adults, thus many of them become “lost to follow-up” or return to clinics with “adult” problems.  We know that the highest rate of HIV in this country is diagnosed in 20-25 year olds, therefore it is assumed that most contract the illness in their teens. Often they present at hospitals with advanced stages of AIDS as indicated by opportunistic infections which only arise in patients with seriously-damaged immune systems.  If you couple the problems of overburdened ARV clinics with consistent issues of funding, kids presenting with AIDS are kids without a fighting chance at survival.  That’s the reality.  Plus, South Africa just stepped up their treatment standards to match those of the rest of the world in December of 2009.

We created an adolescent-centered education program based upon years of research and data collection from area amaXhosa communities. It is called “Let Us Protect Our Future!” and is co-authored by Drs. John and Loretta Jemmott and Ms. Lynette Gueits.  Initially, it was designed for dissemination within the Department of Educaton as a tool to augment the existing life skills programs.  For logistical reasons, this fell through.  Working with the provincial government, particularly with certain departments, can be daunting (think meetings to discuss meetings to discuss meetings to discuss funding to discuss “how much we’ll get out of this,” etc.).

Shortly after my arrival in South Africa, I was approached by a very passionate physician working within the hospitals of the Eastern Cape. She proposed looking at the manner by which we could disseminate our prevention education program within hospitals, drawing from the patient populations in abortion clinics, maternity wards, HIV care clinics, casualty care (abused kids), pediatrics and chronic care (diabetics, etc.). So we did.

We sent the curriculum to the adolescent division of the CDC for analysis. The feedback was great.  We met with the CEO of local hospitals (Frere and Cecilia Makiwane) as well as the Chief of Clinical Governance.  We developed a 20-page Memorandum of Understanding (ugh) so that we could ultimately “gift” our work unto the health department over the course of about 12 months.  They agreed to integrate the campaign into their 5-year fiscal program which, conveniently, started in April of this year.  But the contract-signing part dragged on and on.  It was a nail-biting experience since our training team was waiting in the wings with airline tickets reserved and I was working long nights perfecting the art of panic.

On March 31, 2010, they signed the contract. For all intents and purposes, it was a go and I was able to sleep through the night (only to wake up on April Fool’s Day wondering if it was a joke—it wasn’t).

This new program will provide a foundation that will demonstrate to the Provincial Dept of Health that the construction of new adolescent wings within our two major launch hospitals is an imperative. I was once told by a high-ranking government official that “first, you must prove that you can work in the conditions provided.”  Then, she added, “ If you can make it work, they will build you space.”  So we’re cramming ourselves into unused waiting areas adjacent to abortion clinics for the first round of pilots. And we’ll make it work.

One pediatric physician was concerned that her HIV + kids would be left out. Not so.  Those already living with HIV will be educated in terms of prevention of transmission (commonly referred to as “prevention for positives”) alongside those without HIV.  Since all the sessions are run in groups of 10-20, this will build a sense of fellowship and reduce stigma.

That same physician expressed worry about the work burden on her staff. No need to fret, I said.  The “Let Us Protect Our Future!” campaign is designed to be self-sustaining through the employment of people like Nomalizo Nonkwelo who was recruited from a de-funded prevention education project in Duncan Village. For a minimal financial output, the hospitals will maximize the reduction of repeat cases of abortion, STI treatments, etc. through empowering their most vulnerable patients.  In the long term, we’ll be reducing the burden.  In addition, we have integrated the National Campaign for HIV Counseling and Testing into the curriculum.  All participants will be referred for HIV-testing if they have not already been.

During my last conversation with the Chief of Clinical Governance (an amazingly calm and collected woman despite her incredibly-stressful post) stated, “I hope you are ready to be very busy.  Every hospital in the Eastern Cape will want this campaign once we’ve completed the integration in our two hospitals.” Her assertion is great news, indeed!  We’ll just have to muster up the energy (and funds!) to make it happen.

Once the pilots are completed and the campaign is successfully integrated, we anticipate drawing on even more of the de-funded agencies to hire more staff to hopefully enact this program in all hospitals throughout the province (but I’ve got my sights set on the entire country). It’s a lofty goal, but I have a capable, eager and determined team with a vested interest in stopping the epidemic in its tracks within this demographic.  I’ve also been told that I’m too idealistic and that burn-out is right around the corner.  Perhaps, but if South Africa foresees a future free of HIV, directing initiatives and funds toward the highest-risk populations in the highest-risk settings is key to making this happen and we’ll just have to buck up and deal.
– Craig Carty, “Let Us Protect Our Future!” campaign

Maybe this by-line should be “Craig Carty, Bureaucratic Machine-slayer”. Bravo to you for having the meetings about having meetings, and for getting your vision to the table. I could not be more impressed, my friend.

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Do-goodery: achieved; Mountain Birds outfitted and undefeated

Day before yesterday Craig drove out to Potsdam, which is beyond Mdantsane, past NU-18  where the rural areas meet the township. There, he delivered the equipment we collected and got to watch the Mountain Birds practice.

At practice in Potsdam

Two Mountain Birds at practice in Potsdam

Coach Sandile and his son at practice in Potsdam

Coach Sandile and his son at practice in Potsdam

The Mountain Birds are currently undefeated, and prepping for a match against the second-ranked team later this month.

Mountain Birds in their O'Grady's jerseys

Mountain Birds in their O'Grady's jerseys

Craig reports that the equipment delivery resulted in a rash of “complicated handshakes and hugs”, and he writes, “Thank you again to everyone who had a stake in making this happen. The joy and appreciation witnessed by me on the many faces of this struggling township team just served as a reminder of how important the spirit of giving is…”

Since the equipment packet left Canada, I have received many inquiries about when I will start the next program. The simple answer is: I don’t know.

The Mdantsane Soccer Kit Drive program was unique in a few key ways:

1) Independence: We did this without involving bureaucratic or governing bodies. This allowed us to circumvent some barriers (postal delays, paperwork) but ultimately relied on a unique set of circumstances (i.e. that we had people travelling where we needed to go) that will likely not present themselves again. In other words, this was an extremely successful one-off.

2) Environmental impact:  From the beginning, we were committed to the idea that this program should work to redistribute existing goods. The obvious way around postal/Customs issues is to avoid shipping equipment, but by sending money to be spent in-country only one issue is addressed: that of getting the team their kits. It does not help reduce consumption; it does not redistribute existing usable goods; it does less (in my opinion) to connect communities.

3) Community: This program was a beautiful example of geographically disparate communities connecting through a shared love of soccer (football). Much has been researched and written about the unifying power of sport, and organizations like Right to Play, Girls in the Game, and the Federation of Gay Games, to name a few, promote sport within their communities (international, girls, and LGBT respectively). I wholeheartedly support these initiatives but it is gratifying to see that similar outcomes can be achieved on a more grassroots level. We succeeded here without a budget and without corporate sponsorship. And we connected two very distinct communities on a much more personal level than if it had been through a larger organization. I feel that the Mdantsane Mountain Birds are “my” team. I want them to succeed. And I hope that everyone who contributed to this effort feels the same sense of pride and connection and engagement.

If I can figure out a way to replicate the success of the Kit Drive without having to abandon these ideas, I will.

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Mdantsane Village Soccer Kit Drive

December 17 Update: The collection period is now over. I would like to thank everyone who contributed to the project. Once the items have been delivered I will post details including photos.

We collected:

A set of (15) matching jerseys, (4) mismatched warm-up jerseys, (4) goalie jerseys, (7) pairs of cleats, (1) pair of turf shoes, (4) sets of shin guards, (3) pairs of shorts, (8) pairs of socks... and brand spanking new gym bag.

A set of (15) matching jerseys, (4) mismatched warm-up jerseys, (4) goalie jerseys, (7) pairs of cleats, (1) pair of turf shoes, (4) sets of shin guards, (3) pairs of shorts, (8) pairs of socks... and brand spanking new gym bag.

Big thanks to:
Noelle Carbone
Craig Carty
Julie Cissel
Kate Crowley
Gillian Flower
Chadwick Gordon
Ed Hollis
Mohammed Mofrad
Michael Robinson
Bep Schippers!
Edie Walker

and

Garry Curnew and Tedd Konya for driving the equipment to Philly to hand off to Craig Carty

and

the entire 2009 O’Grady’s Irish Creamers team: Because of everyone’s willingness to get your jerseys to me, the Mdantsane Mountain Birds team will now have their own shirts.

Background:

While I was in Africa I had the great fortune to meet the Mdantsane Mountain Birds football team. I was the guest of their coach Sandile, who introduced me to the team and gave me an overview of the state of football in Mdantsane Village. Bottom line: they need equipment and kits (and for more detail read the original post here). Craig, Sandile and I had an impromptu round-table and here’s what emerged:

1) There is a great need for usable kits and equipment in Mdantsane Village. Though the players are provided jerseys and shorts, they share their kits with the under-15s. Players are required to provide their own cleats and shin guards, and at least one player had no boots of his own. He had to wait until the opening game ended to borrow cleats.
2) Craig and I were each certain that we could locate equipment through our soccer-related networks in the west.
3) Customs tariffs, delays, and the myserious disappearances of goods make shipping anything but cash inconvenient at best, and futile at worst.
4) Craig will be travelling to Philly in December and can take back as much equipment as he can carry.

Thus it was agreed that we would do an Mdantsane Village Soccer Kit Drive. Preliminary efforts have yielded a bit of space in a car travelling from Toronto to Philly in December (thanks Tedd and Garry!), and I have already received some equipment.

Most needed items include: Cleats, shin guards, socks and shorts. Jerseys also needed and welcomed but should be in sets (minimum 14).

If you need a bit of inspiration about how soccer can change the world, read here.

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Do-goodery update: LAFN donation module online

Fresh off the interwebs: The Loaves and Fishes Network web site is now donation-enabled for international donors through the use of their very own PayPal button.* This means that you can donate to this extremely worthy organization using your own PayPal account or a major credit card.

Wondering who LAFN is? Get introductory information here and here,and read about my ride-along with a trainer here.

* Special thanks to Warren Canning from LCDbauhaus Productions for helping with the code implementation.

Speaking of PayPal, detail-oriented readers may have noticed that my PayPal donation button is gone. I was recently informed that I am in contravention with PayPal policies for reasons that remain obscure to me but that appear to have to do with the fact that I accepted money and took it to the women of Unakho in Mdantsane Village. To quote their letter, “…we request that entities wishing to accept donations on behalf of a charity or other non-profit organization provide evidence of their legitimacy.” I’m not sure whose legitimacy I am supposed to establish, but as Unakho is simply a group of women (not a charity or a registered non-profit) and I am just someone who gave them money (as opposed to a legitimate entity), I am in a bind. For the duration of this imbroglio, PayPal has restricted my account, the upshot of which is that they have frozen the $100 gift my mother deposited for my birthday. Way to crack down on the baddies, PayPal!

I do remain hopeful that this will be satisfactorily resolved and that I will be thoroughly educated on the rights and responsibilities conferred by PayPal button use. In the meantime, if you wish to donate to me and my writing, please use the Contact Me page to make arrangements.

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Good-bye East London

I wake up early and finish packing. Craig is at work and it’s impossible not to tour the flat at the Kennaway without whispering good-byes. Though the  past weeks have been full of jocular assertions that I will return – certainly for the World Cup in 2010! – I don’t know how realistic that is. Good-bye jacuzzi tub, good-bye Dennis Fistofassholes, good-bye depressing penguins at the East London aquarium.

I have a couple hundred rand left in my pocket. It’s a grey day, windy and spitting rain, but the vendors are out on the waterfront. I buy a wooden spoon from a woman who asks me to take her to Canada. She is out here every day beading bracelets and carving pieces of wood into mantle-sized elephants and baboons. Good-bye waterfront vendors.

The local Spar (grocery) is not very big but they have what I am after. O.B. tampons cost about 2 bucks a pack here; I clear the shelf, and throw in five tubes of Sensodyne. The checkout woman does a double-take and I wonder what kind of affliction she is imagining I labour under. I walk back through the parking lot.  Two men are asleep, spooning on the grass under the sign for the fitness centre. Good-bye.

Though Craig is not scheduled to take me to the airport until early afternoon, he shows up at the Kennaway at 11am. “D’you wanna go for lunch before we head out?” We load my bags into the BMW and grab a bite at the Red Tree Tea House, a cafe that’s full of antiques and really weird art. Normally we’d indulge ourselves and skewer the misshapen Jesus with six fingers… but there’s not a lot left to say, now. I hate long good-byes. We pay up and drive to the airport. Good-bye Debonairs Pizza, good-bye parking lot guys, good-bye magic bank machine (you were the only one in East London that would give me money).

Craig parks and comes inside, claiming that he wants to make sure my bag isn’t overweight. Liar. I check in (good-bye 1Time) and we walk to security. Awkwardly, Craig thanks me for coming to visit and we hug. I turn to him abruptly and say, “I don’t want to make this a big thing…” God, I can be lame sometimes but there it is: Good-bye, Lady Kennaway.

Click on a thumbnail for a closer look:

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Do-goodery: engaged

Great news! Remember this post about Unakho, the women’s group in Mdantsane Village? Well it generated some notice from my Canadian friends, and today I am taking an envelope stuffed with donations to Mama Celia.

As Craig and I jump into the car, he flashes his cheeky grin. “Do-goodery: engaged!” he exclaims, and throws the BMW into reverse. I am a little numbed by the realization that this will be my last trip to Mdantsane… That, and the diabolical hangover perpetuated by too many oversized Windhoeks at the Duncan Village shebeen last night. These final days are reserved for all the important pilgrimages that I have not yet taken, and despite feeling like turds on toast I am excited about today’s mission.

The forty minute drive feels like a week and a half as I spend it directing my laser-intense attention on a spot on the dashboard while the car bucks and rolls over the speedbumps of NU13. Sending Craig as my ambassador was out of the question, African Tick Bite Hangover or not.

Mama Celia’s house is an RDP with a small yard in front and a larger sloping garden in the back where she grows vegetables to feed herself and the people in her community. Inside, the place looks a lot like any number of homes I have been in, with the exception that the couch cushions are bedazzled with hand embroidered appliqués that reassure: “God is Good”. We sit, and I give a very short speech and produce the envelope.

There is something about Celia that does me in. I noticed it on our first meeting and now again, as I stand hugging her compact body I feel a little overwhelmed. She’s older and calm and powerful and warm. I am so pleased to be able to bring a gift, but I also feel certain that she will continue her work with or without my help. This, after all, is the women who inspired me to recognize the hand of god.

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Unakho

I am in an unpainted cinderblock RDP house in NU8, Mdantsane Village. This is the centre for a women’s group called Unakho, which means “God can”.  I am the guest of Celia, and she is explaining to me that every meeting begins with a prayer. We bow our heads and close our eyes as Celia delivers a prayer in isiXhosa and English. She gives thanks that God has delivered His servant to them today, and I realize that she means me.

Celia has prepared a written explanation of the centre, which she reads from a hand-written page. The centre has been in operation for 12 years. Their mission is to provide youth and kids with balanced meals, to teach them Bible lessons and work/life skills, and to give them a place to play and have fun. As well, she is trying to raise money to pay for food, school uniforms and tuition for those who cannot afford these necessities. The last holiday club (programs that take place when school is out) ran for five days, served 180 kids, and cost 7000 rand. All of the money was out of the five organizers’ pockets. Although Unakho is a registered charity, it has not received any external funding.

There is a phrase here – to fall pregnant – and now I think I know why.

We have been meeting for about 40 minutes when a girl arrives at the door. She is crying; she has an infant in a carrier on her chest. The woman who runs the centre addresses the room: Now listen to this. And we turn and face this girl who cannot be more than 18 years old.

“When I was three months old my mother threw me away,”  she begins. Her words tumble out urgently for 25 minutes. She had a child with a man she is not married to. He took many girlfriends. She tested positive for HIV and he began to beat and rape her. She fell pregnant again. He abused her. She petitioned for a protection order but withdrew the charges. “If he is in jail who will pay maintenance?” The boyfriend threw her and her children out of the house. She does not know if her baby is HIV positive. She has no home, no food, no diapers, no medications. “Tell me,” she says, looking directly into my eye, “What am I supposed to do?”

Sounds like falling to me.

“Ok,” Celia says when the girl is finished, and the women lean in over the low coffee table. After about 15 minutes everybody leans back in their chairs. Celia explains that they have prepared a plan. The girl will visit the hospital where there is a program that will give her access to food, medication, job training and housing – and she will keep her children.

I have a standoffish relationship to religion; God and I are not speaking. Being referred to as a “servant of God” makes me feel uncomfortable and claustrophobic. My life does not have room for an Almighty but I would be small-minded and foolish if I did not recognize that god is in this room.

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