A Community Responds to HIV/AIDS
I’m immensely proud and honored to be part of an organization that’s putting their heart and sole into combating the AIDS pandemic in South Africa. When Banks and Jake founded the organization, their vision was to educate children. But in 1999, at a community meeting, a woman stood up and said, “It’s all very well to put computers and libraries in our schools, but our kids are dying of AIDS. What are you going to do about it?”
So in 2000, Ubuntu Education Fund’s, Mpilo-Lwazi Health Initiative was initiated. This innovative health program arms people with the knowledge they need to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and lead healthy lives by disseminating life-saving information through school-based lessons, outreach workshops, case-management and counseling services. Although our primary HIV prevention efforts are in the schools, where we educate 40,000 vulnerable children, we also reach nearly 20,000 adults. Our classes and clinics focus on the development of knowledge, attitudes, values and life skills needed to make positive, health-related decisions.
Malnourishment, a serious concern in Africa’s AIDS epidemic, malnutrition is a major factor, especially for the townships of Port Elizabeth, where we know that children are lucky to get one meal a day. Something drastic had to be done, so this year we developed three organic food gardens on elementary school grounds, plus a nursery and demonstration garden at our Zwide Township headquarters to help provide nutritious food and hopefully income generation in the future for these vulnerable households.
All three of our community gardens have been such a huge success that they’re now providing 900 meals a day for orphaned and vulnerable children in the schools. Each day, the children receive a nutritious stew from the gardens prepared by the gardeners themselves.
Our goal for 2006 is to extend the organic gardening program beyond the school setting. We have been asked to pilot the development of an organic community garden at Kwa-Zakhele Day Hospital, with support group members enrolled in the hospital’s Antiretroviral (ARV) treatment program. These members will receive extensive hands-on training during the establishment of the garden provided by the Ubuntu gardening team, which also provides the seeds, seedlings, fruit trees and shrubs to establish the gardens, plus compost to improve the soil. The garden’s harvest will be used to provide a steady supply of fresh produce and income for support group members, as well as a meal for their weekly meetings. This process is well-documented as a best practice that encourages attendance, improves nutritional intake of members and has important psycho-social benefits.
The program can make a huge difference to the health and nourishment of the community. This is crucial because as Antiretroviral (ARV) therapy is beginning to reach the township communities where we’re based, finding effective ways to deal with the malnutrition is essential. Simply handing out HIV drugs to poorly-nourished patients not only proves less effective, but could cause serious side effects.
Ubuntu continues to make a difference
Our Mpilo-Lwazi Health Initiative is also joining forces with local clinics to pilot an innovative Access to Treatment project. The clinics are overwhelmed by patient demand and severely understaffed. To increase their capacity, Ubuntu Education Fund counselors provide voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) services in conjunction with the clinics. With our additional human resources we’ve increased the number of people receiving VCT by 150% and reduced bottlenecks in the treatment preparedness phase. The counselors explain that living positively is an entire lifestyle change.
Ubuntu Education Fund is strategically positioned to support a holistic treatment process in Port Elizabeth through our organic gardens, community outreach, counseling and training services. While our work is geographically contained, our program models can be replicated in any community around the world. The food garden at the hospital in particular could become a model for all of Africa, not just one area, as I strongly believe that treating malnutrition is an essential component in HIV management.
Ubuntu needs YOU!
With over 6 million South Africans living with HIV, we mustn’t let AIDS destroy the country’s tremendous progress. I urge you to join us in helping a free South Africa become a thriving, healthy South Africa. Your investment in our worthwhile cause will make an immediate impact in saving lives as we expand our health services, build new gardens and partner with local clinics to provide free access to HIV/AIDS therapy. You CAN make a difference and you can start with Ubuntu. Even a small amount does a world of good. For more information on Ubuntu Education Fund or to make a contribution, please visit http://www.ubuntufund.org/.