Sizanani Outreach, Diocese of Eshowe

World AIDS Day,  Sizanani Outreach Programme, Diocese of  Eshowe, December 2012

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Our theme: “Dropping to zero percent, one person at a time”. We arrived at our theme after reading a report from UNAIDS, which demonstrated that over the last ten years the landscape of national HIV epidemics has changed dramatically, for the better in most countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. This had resulted in 700 000 fewer new HIV infections across the world in 2011 than in 2001. Our attention was focused on the situation in our own community, in which the HIV infection rate in new born babies has been reduced to 0.7% at the Nkandla District Hospital, which means that 99.3% of children born in this hospital are HIV negative. We realised the impact of the prevention work done 365 days a year in Nkandla by small organizations like Sizanani, which work alongside the government sector.

Our theme emphasised the worth of each individual, and focused on prevention while supporting those who are infected with HIV. Sizanani Outreach is committed to decreasing new HIV infections in Nkandla to 0% by targeting the attitude, knowledge, behaviour and values of one person at a time. The theme encourages the entire community, the congregation, and people living with the disease and leaders in the ALL sectors to fight against new infections by taking responsibility for their lives as it takes one person to decrease or increase the rate of new HIV infections.

Even though geographic inequalities continue to exist, SACBC has ensured that this prevention work continues to infiltrate the community’s vulnerable groups such as children infected and affected by the HIV epidemic in rural areas.

The day’s activities began in the morning. When the children arrived they were entertained by Sr. Hedwig who led them in song until the commencement of the day’s programme. In the explanation of the purpose of the day, those present were addressed on crucial issues, such as some of the ways to prevent HIV infection, and the irrational and unjust discrimination sometimes faced by people with HIV. Advances in prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) were also explained.

The event emphasised participation by the children, who contributed with touching poetry about HIV, songs, and prayers during the candlelight service. The Sizanani Child & Youth Care Choir lifted our spirits with a song.

Sizanani’s peer education team put on a play on the importance of HIV counselling and testing, as well as the importance of adhering to one’s medical treatment. The play contained a lot of information on positive living and sustainable livelihoods, including food gardening, creating social support networks, the roles of treatment buddies and the importance of disclosure.

Mr Khanyile, who is a Sizanani client and a parent, moved the crowd when he spoke about the way he accepted help from Sizanani, in spite of the advice given to him by those who feared that association with Sizanani would result in stigmatisation. He spoke about his hardships and how he managed to conquer them with the help of Sizanani. Basically he was saying the first step to recovery is allowing someone to care for you.

Following the formal programme, the children took part in various games, including hula-hoop games, an egg and spoon race, racing on wooden skis, and group activities. Those present were also treated to a light lunch, in addition to which the children received fruit and a snack-pack.

HCT stations were set up by officials from the Department of Health, so that anyone who wished could check their HIV status. A room was set aside for this purpose, to guarantee the confidentiality of those who used these services.

The event was attended by 154 community members. Two thirds of those who attended the event were children (67%) while the remaining 33% were adults, including parents, Sizanani clients, Nardini Sisters, a few congregation members from the Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, stakeholders and Sizanani staff members. The vast majority of the children who attended were aged between 6 and 12 years.

The children were issued with VIP cards at the door. Emergency numbers were printed on the reverse side gave these a secondary function. The older children were especially delighted to receive the cards, which were pinned to their shirts.

Another highlight for the children was a music system, which entertained them.

The highlight for most of the people who attended was the candlelight service, which served as a commemoration of those whom we’ve lost to HIV and the individuals and families who are struggling to cope with the disease. Prayer was also dedicated to loved ones who are living with the virus. The main theme of the candlelight service was God’s love for his people in their different situations. The scripture reading was from the book of Ezekiel (chapter 34, verse 16). The prayers that were uttered by those present were very sincere and revealed deep emotions. This was also the case with the children.

The talk given by the motivational speaker was well received and highlighted important issues for those present, especially the children. The focus was on helping the children to realise that they need to be forthright in asking questions, and in asking for help. Abstinence from sexual activity was strongly encouraged.

The games after the programme involved everyone, including the young and the old. This produced a strong sense of unity among those present. The children had fun; they really enjoyed the games.

Personally, my highlight was HCT as I had my whole family there and we tested as a family for the first time. This was the most exciting part of the event for me as the nurses who tested us were very friendly, accommodating and they made the testing also child-friendly.

World AIDS Day 2012