A heart for change

In Lower Illovo, there is a “Tree Clinic” run by Operation Bobbi Bear. The Tree Clinic is basically a gathering of rural woman under a Natal Fig Tree (Ficus natalensis). They meet once a week to support each other, get treatment for minor ailments, receive HIV/Aids awareness education, talk about their issues, get advice and assistance with social problems, grants, child care and many other things. Operation Bobbi Bear also hands out second hand clothes and some food items that have been donated by private people and companies. This is one of the Zulu spiritual leaders at the Tree, addressing the woman before a blessing was given to an unborn baby. Some representatives from Keep a Child Alive (one of the funders of The Tree Clinic and OBB) were also visiting that day. The weather was beautiful, and Mrs Ndandwe was excited to see all the woman with a heart to change their communities.

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What it Means to Buy Life

Alicia Keys - Buy Life (From KCA site)

Alicia Keys - Buy Life (From KCA site)

Tomorrow, the most well known Celebrities, such as Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian, Lady Gaga, David LaChapelle, Justinn Timberlake, Usher Raymond, Serena Williams, Elijah Wood, Ryan Seacrest, Jennifer Hudson, and a few others are giving up their digital life to raise awareness and funds on World Aids Day. The Premise is simple, on the 1 December, they die (digitally). They will cease all social network communication until such time as enough funds ($1 million) are raised to buy back their digital life, at which stage they will return and continue as normal.

My heart is heavy as I think about it. Not because of their digital death, but because of what it represents, and people I know in the real world who have died. What you are actually doing by donating, is buying the real life of a child, in a third world country. A child who would die in the real world without your help. You see, you are paying for ARV’s for children, pregnant women etc, you are buying them life. ARV’s mean that people do not need to die of HIV/Aids. This money will not only be used for ARV’s, but also funding for various NGO’s in many third world countries, who do many things to combat the spread of HIV. What a great way to raise awareness and do something tangible to help on World Aids Day: Buy Life.

As I think about how much I admire the Keep A Child Alive’s influence, and how brilliant this Buy Life Campaign is, I think about a woman who had the same goal, but gave her life trying to achieve it. As I look out of my window, at the sea, at the “steady waves of fearless hope and grace”, I am thinking of a woman I admire perhaps more than anyone I know. A fearless woman I never met. A woman who once lived not so far away from me. A woman who paved the way for many other South Africans. A woman who empowered other women. A woman who brought a wave of change, that we can all see evident in every community in KZN as World Aids Day approaches tomorrow. She was not a first lady. She was not a well known Actress or singer. Most of the World outside of South Africa, and probably including quite a few South Africans, have never heard of her. They do not know how much she sacrificed, or how strong she was. Her name was Gugu Dlamini. Remember it: She deserves to be remembered.

Close to this time in December of 1998, a woman who was not a celebrity, who if she lived today, wouldnt have had millions of twitter and facebook followers, did what these celebrities are emulating. She gave her life for a cause. Despite death threats, GUGU DLAMINI, of KwaMashu in KwaZulu-Natal, the province with the highest HIV infection rate in the World, continued to raise awareness and call for the stigma attached to HIV/Aids to be torn down. She was the one of the first woman in South Africa to be open and honest about her HIV status, publicly! She told everyone who would listen, to try and raise awareness. In those days, you just didn’t talk about HIV/Aids in South Africa, and it is because of this our infection rate is so high. She opened the doors for discussion and she paid with her life.

On the 12 December 1998, she was beaten to death in her community, for bringing “Shame” to the area, by openly admitting she was HIV positive. If I am honest, the police failed her. After she was beaten, they took too long to arrive and she didn’t receive treatment soon enough. She had reported the death threats and they did nothing. After her death, people were outraged, and began to realize just how deadly “stigma” can be. More deadly than the disease itself. She was only 36 years old. She did not need to die. It was a sacrifice she willingly made. She said she did not care about what people thought, she wanted to raise awareness. I am sitting here and my eyes are welling up, because I remember when I heard of her death. I was still in school, 12 years ago and I remember my Aunt telling me about it. Today in South Africa, many people are raising awareness, especially around World Aids Day, but very few remember the woman who started it all. An Aids activist who fought with her life to bring freedom, freedom to be open about HIV/Aids, and to talk about it. Freedom that will save many lives.

Local celebrities are being publicly tested, to encourage others to know their status. Knowing your status not only saves your life, but the lives of others. It brings down the infection rate. This was Gugu Dlamini’s message! People die needlessly because of the stigma attached to the disease. They do not want to be tested, so they do not know there status, and do not seek treatment. Not knowing your status can be deadly.

A woman I volunteered with, at an Aids Clinic, found out she was HIV positive when her child died of Aids. If she knew her status she could have taken ARV’s, and saved her baby, although in those days, there was no funding available. As far as I am aware, she had slept with two men in her whole life. Her first husband, who died in an accident, and her second life partner, with whom she had the child. She had nothing to be ashamed about, but she never in a million years thought she could have the disease, so she never got tested! Ten years after finding out, she was provided with ARV’s, but funding ran out and soon after she could no longer take them, she passed away, and every time I think about her, I am heartbroken.

You see, because of the work Keep A Child Alive does, women like her, and her child, no longer need to die. People die needlessly every day, innocent children die needlessly every day, of HIV/AIDS complications, because they simply cannot afford the treatment. This is what Keep a Child Alive fights for! The best gift you can buy this Christmas is Life! (Obviously I do not work for Keep a Child Alive, I just believe in what they are doing)

[http://www.youtube.com/user/KCADigitalDeath#p/a/u/0/ylmmkQWd22s]

Kim Kardashian is Virtually Dead....

Kim Kardashian is Virtually Dead....

For a second, think about what it means to be reading this blog…..

If you are reading this blog, it means that you have access to the internet and a computer, and are somewhat literate. This means that you are part of the richest 10% of the world. If you can choose what you have for dinner and you can afford more than one meal a day, you are in the richest 5% of the world. It kind of puts things into perspective doesn’t it? It is so easy in our every day lives to forget that there are problems out there that are bigger than what we will ever face. Movies like Blood Diamond, make us care for a few days, but pretty soon, we block it out cause it makes us uncomfortable. I believe that it doesn’t matter what your problems are, big or small, but if they are your problems, they matter to you, and are therefore important. Having said this, I feel like sometimes we get so caught up in our lives, that we forget to care about anything bigger than ourselves. Its especially difficult when we are not confronted with them, when they are not on our doorstep, not in our neighbourhood, and not in our country.

My family was once poor. I can remember not having money for school fees and being sent home. I remember sometimes not knowing if there would be supper, because there was no food or money in the house. Then someone from the neighbourhood would drop by and say GOD told me to bring this by, and we would have dinner. I hope someday I can be that neighbour to someone. I hope you who are reading this, will be that neighbour. I hope I never lose the humility to understand people less fortunate than me. I remember getting into trouble at school because my shoes were scuffed and my parents had no money for new shoes. I never really knew what it was like to have new clothes until I was in my late teens.  I had a family that was strict, a family that was poor, but a family that loved me and parents that would do anything for me. I saw miracles that only someone who has been poor realizes. A very small piece of meat, one portion at a restaurant – feeding and statisfying a whole family. You can be this miracle for someone else. Eg: If you don’t finish your food in a restaurant, take a “doggie bag” and give it to someone homeless.

My dad once pawned his guitar for that R5, his most treasured earthly posession, so that I could go on a school trip. Those were the kind of parents I had. Things turned around and we finally had our own house, a car that did not break down and the surety of food every night. My sister and I remember the hard times as a distant past. My little brother doesn’t remember them at all.

The reason I am telling you this, is because as hard as it was back then, and as much as the neighbours in our “white” area looked down on us, there were people living 5kms down the road, in the “Township” who dreamed of a life like ours. We were constantly aware, because no matter how poor we were, my parents always tried to help those “less fortunate” than us. I went to school, I had school shoes, I had two parents, I only once felt the hunger in the pit of my stomach that hurts so much it kept me up at night. To think that there are children who have that feeling most nights, breaks my heart. Children who live in fear because their parents abuse them. Children under 16 who look after their siblings because they are orphaned by HIV/Aids. Children that are my neighbours. This is the reality of living in Africa. Many children do not have the luxury of growing up, they have to be responsible for more than the average parent living in the Western World.  For those who do not ever see these problems, people in other countries and my neighbours who do not care to look, I would like to highlight some causes.

I feel that every person who is in the richest 10% or 5% should pick something, even if it’s just one thing, to care about and to try make a difference for.  You can donate (what can buy you a MacDonalds meal could feed a child for a month), you can physically help (volunteer, write and raise awareness), but sometimes, something so passive as talking about these issues and motivating other people can make a big difference.  Especially if it involves things the media doesn’t present to you. Be an OPRAH – remind your friends of the stories that need to be told. I will be trying to highlight some things close to my heart as and when I have time.

The first is a non-profit organisation started by Jackie Branfield. The Bobbi Bear foundation. It is very close to my heart because it is an organisation that provides practical and emotional support to abused children. The organisation is centred around a toy bear. How can a toy bear save lives?  This bear is a device used in courts and councelling as a post-abuse communication device that children can use to explain what has happened to them. The evidence provided by writing on this toy and using plasters etc to explain, has aided in justice and healing for abused children. The organisation is based in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, and has received a lot of recognition for the AMAZING work they have done. Not only rescuing abused children and sticking with them until they see Justice, counselling them, supporting them and getting them back to a place where they can be children again, Bobbi Bear has also been involved in teaching HIV/Aids prevention in school. I have witnessed with my own eyes, the difference they have made. “Nonni” who was beaten and abused and hardly spoke english, went from being a sad, lonely, unloved, quiet girl, to a loud, bubbly girl, who has come to know the love of a family, and is getting an education that will build into her future. Wouldn’t you like to make a difference like that? Change the course of someone’s whole life? You can! Go and get involved in a project near you and if there isn’t one – START ONE. If you are reading this, you are almost certainly one of the richest 10% in the world – people need you to make a difference for them.

As far as Bobbi Bear goes, They are still under-funded and need any help they can get. Due to the recession a lot of funding has been cut! Thanks to “Keep a Child Alive” giving donations, they are able to keep going and most importantly, pay staff salaries. KCA is one of the main funders, however, more donations mean that the work that Bobbi Bear does, can be perpetuated in their satelite branches which have now been established, and perhaps in the future, Bobbi Bear can go global and help children in other areas of South Africa and the world.

If you want to see it for yourself, they have had a documentary made about them called Rough Aunties.  Rough Aunties received the “World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize“ at SUNDANCE. They did not receive any of the proceeds and still need donations in order to continue running. Please try and get hold of the film. To me it is not raw enough, seems slightly sugar coated, but that is because I know the people and what they went through better than what the film can portray. It is a brilliant film and will make you cry. If you are not in South Africa, if you would like to find out how else you can help, please email me at sara8pies@gmail.com . You can also donate through Keep a Child Alive (for USA and UK residents). There are many things you can do besides just donating money. Please, Please, Please- take a few minutes to look at the videos I have included. Please vote in the poll!