Day 9) Limpopo
Tomorrow, Wednesday, the 8th of February we will fly to the Limpopo province. To me, this is the most beautiful part of South Africa. The flight will take 45 minutes and we will land in Polokwane, here we have one of the best teams of Orange Babies, managed by Ntemby. She knows how to inspire her team (Maimele, Mokgadi, Amu, Bassani, Aubry and Pumi) and how to keep them enthusiastic. She will collect us from the airport and after an hour drive we will arrive in the centre of Tzaneen, where we will stay until Saturday.
The trip took another turn. We were picked up by Maimele and Bassani and didn’t go straight to the hotel, we went to see Thuli. This is the HIV positive girl we found a couple of months ago, badly malnourished and ill. This girl has been on my mind ever since. There she was, radiant, happy and shy; she ran to me and gave me a big hug. Shy? Not at all, she is extremely perky and bright. John was totally very surprised by her alertness and intelligence. I was very happy about her character and immediately I thought; she is going to make it, she just needed our support to flourish.
Thuli already was a strong girl because of all her harsh experiences, but today she is as self-assured as an old “soul”, and courageous. I am convinced that thanks to the efforts of many Orange Babies friends, she will have a bright future ahead of her. It seems like a miracle what had happened. Thuli is the living proof of what can be achieved by providing HIV-medication. No words to describe how it feels to experience how someone like Thuli gets a second chance in life.
On our way back to the hotel we visit Mary, Thuli’s sister. Mary is currently Thuli’s “legal care taker”. It feels good to meet her. A pleasant woman of around 40 years of age, married with 2 young children. At the moment Thuli lives with Ntemby, our programme manager , as her new school is too far from Mary’s house. As of June 2017 Thuli will go to a boarding school.
Thank you for your help!
Day 11) Family Free Limpopo
Today is the 10th of February, my birthday. I hardly ever organize something special at my birthday. What’s more… sometimes I completely forget about my birthday since I am not used to celebrating. Only last night I mentioned my birthday to Ntemby, our programme manager. I had to tell her but waited until this very last moment to not give her a chance to throw me a surprise party. John? He won’t say a word; he does not remember these kinds of happenings.
We are picked up from the Fairview Hotel at 8.30 am on the 10th of February. We are driving to Qiyani where we arrive at around 10.00 am. I am already used to the long trips. In this region I don’t mind as Limpopo is not only wide, but also very picturesque. I enjoy and admire the “paysage”. The view from the vehicle changes continuously and everything looks like a painting, magnificent.
In Qiyani we meet with more than 40 grandmothers and a few grandfathers. The lay counsellors introduce themselves in a special way; you have to tell your name, the name of your parents and your grandparents up to 4 generations. If you originate from this region there is a big chance you are related to someone or quite some people in the audience might know your family. I really like it.
Today’s meeting is about HIV education. Their children or grandchildren are either infected or they are victims of a related disease of which the grandmothers and grandfathers have no knowledge. What’s the best way to support the children? How can they raise their grandchildren who are infected with HIV? They often only find out their grandchildren are HIV positive after the death of their own children. At this place, they can rely on the support of Orange Babies and get guidance in what to do and where to go for support when necessary. I watch them. They vary in age and listen quietly to the counsellors. Our counsellors represent a new generation, but still, these grandparents realise they can learn from these young people. Wow, I admire them so much.
Discussions about topics like the taboo around HIV/aids and “baby breast feeding-only“take place. What will happen when a baby from a HIV-infected mother only receives breast feeding? Even no water when the baby cries and the mother is not present is allowed. Breast milk is very soft. Anything else (water, food, etc.) could be too intense for the baby’s intestinal wall, which could cause small hairline fractures in the wall. Subsequently this increases the chance the baby gets infected through the hairline fractures when being breastfed (breast milk contains the HIV-virus).
In between the grandparents sing and dance. I love it, maybe because this is exactly similar to my family’s habits. Singing and dancing does support you. To share the worries, the dance steps are certainly heavy in the beginning; sometimes you feel the ‘weight’ under your arms. You have to dance; you have to feel the singing inside you. Slowly your feet will start to feel less heavy; you will dance, sing, cry and laugh. Your worries will not disappear, but for a little while … they become bearable or you will feel the energy to fight harder, to search for a solution. I know. It made me happy.
At a certain moment we were invited inside a building. For a second I thought it was because of the heat, but at arrival at the front door I saw beautiful decorated tables. I look at John, his smile and looks tell me this is for my birthday. I see beautiful dressed grandmothers … my heart’s pounding. “We are so glad to be here. We are grateful for having Baba with us today, on his birthday, a special day. We really would love to keep Baba in Limpopo, we would present him with a piece of land and the community would build him a house.” That’s what one of the grandmothers said. A representative from the city hall speaks. “Don’t get emotional” I whisper to myself. I keep my eyes closed, face up, concentrate and wait until my emotion is under control. I really don’t know what to say; a simple and sincere thank you seems the best option. More singing, dancing and… a delicious meal. Fantastic!
Ntemby indicates that it is time to continue with the next part of our programme, an HIV-testing campaign at a middle school (Mukula secondary school). Many teenagers are waiting for us, more than 500. Mokgadi takes the microphone and starts to share information. They conduct 48 tests, luckily, the results are all negative. Three teenagers received a positive pregnancy test result. The sun was too strong to keep the teenagers waiting much longer. I am glad we can reach the adolescents and raise awareness of hiv/aids. I always say our projects start with testing and that is what they just performed.