(I broke this World AIDS Day into two parts due to the length)
As probably indicated by my previous post, I have a love/hate relationship with awareness events. Like most Americans, I appreciate free swag. I also acknowledge that raising awareness is a way people demonstrate their compassion towards others facing overwhelming health situations. Wearing a color or attending an annual event is a manageable commitment in this busy world. If executed well, awareness campaigns can include education and even start social change! The problem is that in a public health context, it does not work…in the long term. Unless the activity is interactive, people will not retain the information. Finally my other pet peeve with awareness campaigns, is that they tend to be an excuse for politicians to use for their own gain, without adequately supporting the people dealing with the health concern 24/7.
I plead ignorance when it comes to bizarre dynamics of South African politics. All you need to know is that KZN is VERY political, especially my corner of the province and the political drama often hinders the org’s work which agitates me. Especially the tendency to coordinating last minute meetings and expecting me to adapt to their needs, and disregard previous commitments to the community. World AIDS Day fell on a Monday this year, so Amajuba moved their events to the weekend. Thursday were the local municipality events, and ours occurred right outside the organization. Three days before we had a request for the supervisor to give a speech at the event adverting the organization’s services. Mr. Swazi thought this was a good opportunity for me to integrate. After reminding him that my isiZulu is lacking and 3 days is not enough notice to translate a speech, we decide that we will split the speech up. I will do my 30 seconds in English and he would share our organization’s services in isiZulu.
The day before the event, beloved funder decides to call a last minute provincial meeting in Pretty City (which is not even in our district) and the local office orders Mr. Swazi and his supervisor (the local AIDS coordinator) to attend, this is more important than the community event. I am still trying to comprehend the logic on scheduling a meeting for HIV programs the weekend following world AIDS day, for the province with the highest HIV prevalence rate in the country. Anyways, my supervisor delegates the speech to me and the supervisor of our caregivers. Between my extreme annoyance with yet again another last minute meeting and concern over how this will look during an election year (because unfortunately that is a factor), I was not in a good mood that afternoon.
The next morning I showed up to the organization, relieved to see Mr. Swazi is at the gate. The local office came around and he is not going to Pretty City, the local office still sent the local AIDS coordinator. We wait half an hour for the municipality to show up and start to walk to the march (a 15 minute walk to the tent). The entire municipality waits for the mayor (highest political office in the district) for another hour and then we finally start to walk. South Africa has a rich history with marches and even a health awareness event had songs and movements that clearly delivered the message. The nurses and community care workers sang about condom use, prevention of STIs, and self-care. They also simultaneously danced with condoms for both genders while singing. I hope the condoms are put to their intended use, but it was refreshing to see a lack of embarrassment with contraception.
After we arrived at the tent (right across the street from the Centre) the event began, and by that I mean speeches. The theme of the event was “Zero stigma, Zero discrimination”, and it should have been renamed into “Schnitzeland Political Show to Kill HIV/AIDS.” My isiZulu speaking ability is limited but I can understand health discussions fairly well and I can say (as Mr. Swazi backed me up on this) there was no mention of resources, speech from an HIV positive individual, and no mention of our organization. There were discussions by prominent members of the municipal government and cultural activities by the youth. I cringed the entire time a girl recited this poem, which to me adds stigma (and technically HIV would be the father of AIDS since it comes first?). I am all for giving children the opportunities for public speaking and dance performance, but it is also a good lesson for them to contemplate what message they are delivering. Meanwhile I was watching the agenda and made quick bullet points for an impromptu speech in case we had to discuss the organization.
In the end our organization did not give a speech, Mr. Swazi and I were more than a little annoyed. However the mayor finished off the parade with a speech that used a lot of humor but not a lot of pertinent health information. She also spent an entire 5 minutes getting the crowd to chant PANSI! PANSI! PANSI! Now, Pansi sounds a bit like Cansi (with the “c” click) which means sex. The mayor was screaming into the mike (my hands were in autistic position over my ears the entire time) and I could not hear the entire thing, but it sounds like she was yelling SEX! SEX! SEX! Since HIV is stigmatized enough, I was worried she was giving an abstinence only speech and potentially shaming sexual activity as a whole. That message would go over great in a community with teen pregnancy (also young girls 18-24 have the highest incidence/new cases rate of HIV in the country). I asked my host family about it, and what she was really saying was DOWN! DOWN! DOWN! Still did not make sense, but better than my initial concerns.
After the mayor finished, our local AIDS Counselor our special guests (see next post) we moved to the community hall for food and Schitzeland’s World AIDS Day 2015 Observance finished. That should have been the end of World AIDS Day 2015, but it was not. After the mayor finished, our local AIDS Counselor our special guests (see next post) we moved to the community hall for food and Schitzeland’s World AIDS Day 2015 Observance finished. That should have been the end of World AIDS Day 2015, but it was not. Enter a caption