Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Lutfotja Testing

Today I went to Lutfotja Primary school in Luve. The HIV testing organization was coming to test parents and children. Actually I was amazed that the date was actually scheduled while I was in the States. But I was not happy that the testing was going to be done with no plans for follow-up support of those that may find out they are HIV positive. The testing organization said they would be at the school at 8:30. So I figured if the two ladies from St. Paul’s, a nurse and the other a Manyano lady who is the social concerns person, left St. Paul’s at 8:30 getting to the school about 9:00 we’d be right on time. This is Africa and Africa time, but when we arrived at the school there were only a handful of parent and the testing people hadn’t arrived. I was less than confident that the day would be successful. By the time the two people from the testing organization arrived, we talked a little about what our goal is and what would happen, chairs were rounded up, etc. it was 10:30. About 20 parents came into the meeting room. I was impressed that the number had grown. By the time the meeting was over there were at least 30 parents and several teachers in attendance. The two people gave an educational talk about HIV, how it is spread, prevention and the importance of HIV testing. They spoke in Siswati so I didn’t understand what was being said but bits and pieces of the talk were quietly interpreted for me. I was very impressed at how they engaged the parents in the discussion and tag-teamed the presentation. They were very confident in what they said, spoke very matter-of-factly and didn’t shy away from any of the comments or questions. There was one man, obviously a community leader because he wore traditional dress indicating his position in the community, spoke up asking “What if I have 3 wives and I want a child by each wife yet I am told I must wear a condom and that I should be tested?” I thought he was resisting the idea of being tested but I learned later that he was bringing the topic up to stress the importance of having everyone in the family tested especially if there are multiple partners. It was very, very interesting. But what amazed me most was that as soon as the educational meeting was finished, one woman jumped up and almost ran to the table where testing would be done and firmly sat in the chair next to the table. She said she wanted to be first. Several of the women were so grateful for the opportunity to be tested. I wish you could have seen their faces and their resolve, but of course pictures would have been inappropriate. Approximately 18 adults and 7 children were tested. The dedication and professionalism of the two young people who did the testing was very impressive. They will come back next month and feel certain we will test more people. Now our committee has to get to work quickly to come up with the support plan for those who found out they were HIV+. It will be difficult to offer support because of course we can’t know who was identified as being positive. It is up to the client to seek follow-up medical help and assistance. It is such a complicated situation and the stigma is so great.

As the testing was going on the Manyano woman and I walked around the school talking to teachers and children about the situations and needs. The needs are so great and so overwhelming even for those who live it every day. Where does one start? How do you determine who needs help more or what type of assistance can be the most beneficial? On the wall in one of the classrooms was the following prayer. It touched my heart and made me realize once again that all though we are all the same, with the same problems and issues, there is a subtle, unexplainable difference in how many of us look at life and death. Death is always present here. It is not kept secret or not talked about. It is part of life especially in the country with the highest HIV rate in the world and that doesn’t include the associated often fatal diseases such as TB.

No comments: