Sunday, October 30, 2005

Touch down

I still can't spell the words that are used to greet here, so I won't try yet.

So hello and greetings from South Africa! I have landed safely, and I am now at my first internet cafe here. In a mall, oddly enough. Africa is full of paradoxes; fully-equipped North-American style malls just 5 miles from an impoverished village. My living arrangements are great. I will write more next week. I just wanted to make a quick post to say the weather is beautiful and hot, the air outside my room smells like flowers due to the iris tree growing there, and that I am due to begin my work tomorrow. I have little or no jet lag, and my bags are unpacked. For all of you who are praying, thank you for your prayers! I love reading people's comments, so pelase continue to post!

More to come next week. As they say in South Africa, go well.

grace and peace,

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The things that drive me...

So this is my first real post. my hope for this blog is to inform you about what I am learning, to incite challenging discussion around these issues, and to communicate the stories of those who I come to know and love. I invite you to journey with me, to hold my hand across the miles as I adventure into faith and the unknown of the African experience. Feel free to ask questions, to ask for clarification, or to ask personal questions about what you read or learn.

I leave in 0.5 days now. My ticket is in my hand...

Many people have been asking me the same type of questions over the past few weeks, so I thought that I could have a FAQ (frequently asked questions). That way, whether you have know me for a year or for a few weeks, you can know the background behind this blog and behind my journey. The last question is going to have a little photo album section, so if nothing else, scan right to the end to see the pictures from my work in Uganda last summer.

Question #1
What exactly are you doing?
I am moving to South Africa to work with an African non-governmental, faith-based organization called Hands at Work/Masoyi Home Based Care until September of next year. In English, it is a group of national South Africans who do not work for the government, and they believe in Jesus. They do not require the people they help are of the same faith, but their core motivation is their faith. The organization works in a region with 34% HIV/AIDS prevalence. Specifically, the coordinate home-based care for individuals with advanced HIV/AIDS, orphan care for the children who are left behind by the virus, orphan empowerment and skills training, and food distribution for those infected and affected by AIDS who cannot provide food for themselves.

So what will I be doing? First of all, I will be learning. Although I have an undergraduate degree and I have worked for 2 summers in Africa, I feel that I know very little about what is being done and what needs to be done in regards to HIV/AIDS in Africa. I need to come along side people who are involved in effective work and learn from them.

Practically speaking, I am going to be working with the home based care program, visiting the homes of those in the advanced stages of the disease. It is estimated that 90% of those infected with AIDS in Africa do not receive medical care. The health care infrastructure in many areas of Africa is simply not developed. The AIDS pandemic has put extra strain on these resources as well. I won't be providing healthcare, because I am not trained to do so (although I will get training in basic home-based care), but I will be working with a team who delivers pain killers, assesses the patient's health (if they have signs of pneumonia, tuberculosis, etc.), and just clean up the house and help with food prep. As people advance in the stages of the virus, their immune systems are weakened so much that can get sick really easily. Daily tasks like cleaning and preparing food become nearly impossible, and this assistance is critical.

I am also potentially working with the orphan empowerment program. I say potentially because anything can happen in Africa. Every day is truly a new adventure... This would include basic skills training for orphans; sewing instruction, etc. In Uganda, I worked with skills training and empowerment for HIV/AIDS widows and orphan care-givers, so this work should be similar. I am not sure exactly what I will be involved in, because I haven't seen the programs yet. But I will keep you posted! Get it. Posted, like a blog post. Ha. Okay, maybe that is only funny to me.

Question #2
Why in the world are you doing this? Don't normal people your age date highly attractive men, purchase a house with a walk in closet, and a compact car with good gas mileage?

I am doing this primarily because of my faith. I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and my faith in and experience with Christ is central to all of my actions. I have not been a person of faith all of my life; it started when I was 16. My goal in life then was to become the first female president of the USA, and to get enough plastic surgery so I could go into modeling. No joke. Since then, as I have journeyed closer to knowing God, and I have been changed. How I see people, the world, everything has changed...I have learned about how much the God of the universe is concerned for those who are unable to care for themselves. Specifically, the widows and the orphans. When I worked with my women in Uganda last summer my heart was broken by the desperation that these women are living in. But the God I believe in is a God of hope in all circumstances, and He will change both me and those whom I serve this coming year.

The second reason that I am doing this is because of how the impact of HIV/AIDS has been largely neglected in the eyes of the world. The World Vision commercials numb the North American brain to see the problems created by HIV/AIDS as insurmountable...There are too many mouths to feed, too many compounding problems like education and healthcare and the like...And it is not the type of issue that can be solved with a one time donation or a relief package. The statistics are overwhelming: 6,700 die in Africa alone every day. The pandemic is ongoing and growing, and these deaths go largely unrecognized. The reality is that one person's life is invaluable, and changing one person's life is what is important. I feel there is a great chance to change the life of one, and that is my focus...Which brings me to my final reason...

I do this because of the women that I have met, that inspire me and make me want to do this work all of the days of my life...

This is Teddy Kwagala. She was the woman who worked alongside of me in Uganda, setting up the accounting procedures for the women's group and purchasing all of the supply needs for the women's empowerment program. She is 28 now, and she was one of my most trusted friends...She always wanted to be learning, advancing herself. She was the youngest of 7 children, and all 6 of her siblings had died of AIDS. For some years, she cared for the orphans, but they now all live with extended family members. Teddy made me laugh SO much because she wanted to marry an American black man, because they were funnier than Ugandan men. Oh jeez. Specifically, she wanted to marry Eddie Murphy. I informed her that he was taken....
Teddy inspired me because of her perserverance, her hilarious laugh and her tenacity to learn.

Harriet was my best friend. She had the BEST laugh, like this deep rolling thunder that would erupt from her very soul...She would always chase the other women during our meetings and play games like a school girl. The women in Africa work hard, carrying firewood and water many miles, preparing food all day, tending the garden, caring for children, and for sick family members if needed. The women's group was often their only social activity, their only escape. Harriet was their leader. She would faithfully visit their homes, delivering the supplies for the crafts we made. Harriet was sick, meaning she has AIDS. Because of the social stigma surrounding the virus, many people will not openly admit to having HIV. They risk alienation from family and friends if their status is known. She was also 28, and had a bad cough, which probably meant pneumonia or tuberculosis. Her youngest son, Deda, was also sick. The thing that caught me off guard with all of my women, but especially Harriet, was their absolute vigor for life. She wanted to do EVERYTHING to get her kids in school, to provide shelter, to support her husband...Harriet's love of life strengthened me on my rough days.

Well, that wasn't exactly the photo album I promised, but it is a start.

My mind is spinning tonight with uncertainty...Who will I meet? How will I change? Will my friends and family recognize me when I return? What are the plans of God in this next year? Did I pack enough deodorant? Will my luggage meet the weight requirements?

so for now I will sleep..Thank you all for reading and I will update again upon my arrival...

grace and peace,