One Nation, Under 11 Languages

Blog-Challenge-2016

This entry’s prompt for the blogging abroad challenge: quotes (aka the concise phrases of wisdom from our host cultures). I wanted to have fun with this and put my calligraphic doodling hobby to use! Here is a quote  (with a bit of background) that demonstrates one of the many lessons South Africa can teach the world: linguistic diversity is awesome because it does not compromise cultures but continues their development!

South Africa is unique in many respects from having 3 capitals, 1 country (Lesotho and almost 2 if you want to consider Swaziland) nestled inside its borders, and 11 official languages plus South African Sign Language. Yebo/yes, that 11 is not a typo. The spoken Languages include Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Sepedi (Northern Sotho), Setswana, siSwati, Sotho, isiNdebele, isiZulu, Afrikaans, Xhosa, and finally English.

Here is an example of this linguistic spread using a word PCVs are quite familiar with (note many of the languages are similar and in this case both isiNdebele and isiZulu use ukuthula for the same concept). Trust me, the languages are still different. Last month, I participated in a dozen practice classes (Xitsonga, Ndebele, SiSwati, and Sepedi) for Language and Culture Facilitators (LCFs) at a Peace Corps training!

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“Peace” in the Linguistic order mentioned above. With the exception of Xhosa and Afrikaans, current SA PCVs speak each of these languages!

When people say South Africans speak English, it is misleading in a Peace Corps context. Yebo/yes, we do not aggressively work towards Portuguese or French proficiency in order to swear in (the case in other African posts) but there is a reason why we spend a good portion of PST in language classes. In the rural areas where we serve as PCVs, English is not a guarantee or the most effective way to connect with the communities. Nelson Mandela summarized this in his typical eloquence.

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“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” ~Nelson Mandela

Even if people in the communities are capable of Basic English, I have yet to encounter a South Africa town where understanding the local language is a detriment. Making the effort to learn at least the basics is a small but powerfully gesture to communities where less than two decades ago, strong attempts were made to wipe out their cultures. Participating in their language helps preservation and healing from Apartheid. Plus I love seeing a gogo/granny’s eyes light up when they realize I know a few isiZulu phrases!

Understanding multiple languages is a source of national pride, from the noteworthy 5 languages included in the national anthem to a critical aspect to include on CVs (resumes). This is a completely different attitude than certain loud Americans (apparently unaware of their surroundings) who felt it was acceptable to panic over Spanish being incorporated in schools activities or public signage back in ironically New Mexico (where all major geographic landmarks have either Spanish or Indigenous names).

If these individuals came to South Africa, those tirades over the “Pledge of Allegiance” said in Spanish would seem rather sheepish. Go into any government institution and you will a trilingual display like this:

Tswana and English welcome to PTA

Setswana, English, and Afrikaans, directing visitors to the National Botanical Gardens in Pretoria (aka the City of Tshwane….it is a Setswana area.). This was protecting a fake waterfall with opaque views. The signage worked as no one braved the body of water!

Three languages on government signs and South Africa is still standing.

The Policeman and the Provocative Question

Blog-Challenge-2016

This Entry’s Theme of the Blogging Abroad Boot Camp Challenge: crazy moments (aka 90% of this blog’s content). Just for clarification, the amaZulu and Republic of South Africa are not the crazy parties. I am the crazy one, bumbling around rural KZN to the lighthearted amusement of my communities. South Africa is never boring and it always keeps me on my toes. Every day there is at least one cultural curveball from the Rainbow Nation. These moments come in many forms including conversations where English is a second language for one of the participants, which was the case last Monday…

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Washing day for the cars of Schnitzeland’s SAPS (South African Police Force) office. You can see the distinctive trapezoidal shape of SAPS cars.

Here in Amajuba, a policeman visits my house once a week. It is actually a spontaneous arrangement I am happy with, as at site 1.0 the police did not know I was in the area until our Safety and Security Manager visited due to a sudden escalation of violence in the area. If another PCV supports this organization, I will certainly have a discussion about boundaries and how they with differ with each person. For now, Sargent is very respectful and never enters the house. He always stops by in the early evening on his way home so I can anticipate the brief visit which usually consists of exchanging greetings and I confirming there are no concerns.

Last Monday, our conversation was a bit longer than usual as he indicated there were problems at the schools with feminine hygiene products being stuffed down the toilet. I offered to join him on visit to the schools and see what was going on (because if a policeman lectured me about my menstrual behaviors at age 13 it would have intensified my existing embarrassment). Puberty was not that long ago for me and sensitivity to the mater could move towards a solution with minimal hurt feelings. Anyways he was open to the idea and while plans were made to stay in contact(will keep y’all posted if anything comes out this…I am still trying to understand why the police monitors the female toilets) we joined my host family’s spirited conversation under the rondavel’s shade. 5 minutes goes by and the isiZulu translation part of my brain reached daily capacity. So I zoned out, until Sargent asks me a question that I did not anticipate.

“Simphiwe, do you have AIDS?”

Now there were 3 thoughts that flashed through my mind..

1.) That was a very forward question in a valley where stigma is so prevalent that patients will not openly declare they ae picking up ARV (antiretrovirals) prescriptions, at the local clinic. They will say “pansi/down” gesturing to the HIV ward but never describe the amaphilisi/pills with “HIV” or “ARVs.” Also, World AIDS Day 2015 in Schnitzeland did not feature a single speaker who talked about being HIV positive.

Then the more irrational 2.) Crap. They know about autism (which I keep private at site…post explaining why is coming within the month) and have extrapolated my life experience to the prominent life-threating condition that also starts with the letter “A.” Great.

Finally 3.) Eish, South Africa. How do I respond to this without adding to stigma? I have every reason to believe that I remain HIV negative, but taking the literal interpretation of the question and firmly responding “No” could indicate that HIV is something I consider shameful. Not the accurate let alone productive message I want to portray in the community.

Once I remember that no one could find out about my identity as an autistic as the internet capabilities are limited in my area (let alone I have not divulged any hints), I use my 1-year-in-country knowledge to determine that no one would openly diagnose a community member in South Africa outside of a clinical setting (and Sargent is not a sister/nurse at the clinic). He meant to ask something else and I calmly ask him to please clarify.

“Do you have American Money for HIV/AIDS?”

Turns out a creshe serving orphans and vulnerable children just lost funding and Sargent wanted to know if there were American based options. Still not a fun conversation to have  but a dramatically different request. I tried to explain the confusing situation through a 1 minute summary with basic English. In a sentence, there is limited HIV related funding available in South Africa and organizations in Amajuba do not currently qualify for assistance because we have one of the lowest HIV prevalence rates in the province. Sargent apparently understood, as he responded by saying we should write a letter to Obama. Eish, if only international aid was that simple.

Another day in South Africa with another Eish inducing moment. Life is never boring in the Rainbow Nation.

The Smallest Unit of the “Rainbow Nation”

Blog-Challenge-2016This entry’s prompt for the Blogging Abroad Blog Boot Camp: details (aka the small aspects of life that we tend to overlook). While reflecting on this prompt, I tried to think of the smallest element of amaZulu culture or the vibrant “Rainbow Nation.” Then it hit me: beads.

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Traditionally composed with glass (I have yet to see glass beads used here), products embellished or composed of plastic beads are ubiquitous throughout South Africa. Women are the main participants in beadwork and vendors in urban and rural areas offer a variety of beaded objects from cups, food protectors, embroidered clothing, and traditional costumes. Yet the most common use for beads in South Africa is jewelry. All basic forms of jewelry are produced with beads including brooches, earrings, bracelets, hairbands, traditional headpieces, and necklaces.

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This was made by a Vhavenda woman from Louis Trichart (near the Zimbabwe Border in Northern Limpopo) and sold in Pretoria. This style of  necklace  is found through Limpopo and I have even seen similar necklaces sold in Duke City here in KZN.

 

The amaZulu undeniably excel at beadwork, but most tribal cultures in South Africa incorporate beadwork into their traditional costumes especially the Nguni tribes (language family of isiZulu). My first encounter with South African beadwork was through my amaNdebele host family during PST (Pre-Service Training). My great aunt was a beader in the community and for our Host Family Farewell, she made me a beautiful jewelry set. After the event, I had a chance to thank host aunt in person and she showed me her entire range of beaded items. I was unaware of the adaptability of beads.

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A small sample of my host aunt’s capabilities. Yebo, those are shoes. Women like to wear embroidered sneakers with their traditional short skirts (common in both amaNdebele and amaZulu dress) especially around Heritage Day in September

She also demonstrated how she made bracelets by tightly folding plastic bags (or plastics here in South Africa) until there was a circular band. She would then use thread to bind the design to the base.

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Bracelet made by my amaNdebele host mam. You can see the string wrapped around the base composed of plastics.

 

Necklaces are a different and intricate technique, especially traditional amaZulu collars. Using a combination of knots and bead strands, women develop nets of diamonds. I have seen necklaces long enough reach the shoulders and middle back.

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Example of a diamond pattern bead necklace, made by my amaNdebele great aunt. This design is what I have encountered most often in South Africa.

Another design is embellishing larger beads. At site 1.0 my neighbor’s wife (married to the iduna/local amaZulu branch of chief) made necklaces similar to the one below. She threaded a strand of beads and wrapped it around a large plastic bead. She continued the process until the bead was covered. Once she had enough large beads, the iduna’s wife would bead her pieces into a complete necklace.

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Necklace made with bead embellishing techniques. Made my former amaZulu neighbor in a rural tribal authority.

The meticulous process to make jewelry is not the only incredible aspect of beadwork. Another shocking element is how many beads are involved; a single necklace incorporates at least a 1000 beads. Not only must a beader contain 1000s of beads as they work but they organize the colors into geometric patterns. For a sustainable Income Generating Activity (IGA), they will generate at least several necklaces a month. Taking this to another level, if you look at Ndebele traditional dress I would bet this blanket alone has 10,000 beads.

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A beaded amaNdebele blanket that physically strong women can wear for hours. I was done after five minutes.

 

Combined with the traditional skirt and body rings, a woman could wear over 100,000 beads at once.

In the world of fashion beads are either loved or shunned for precious stones. My time in South Africa has firmly placed me in the bead lover camp for a variety of reasons. Jewelry made out of beads are a lightweight pop of color to daily outfits and travel well. Beadwork is a culturally appropriate way to preserve tradition while ethically supporting a local economy (as opposed to gemstones). Also after a year in country, I learned that beads help me connect with the community and do my job. When I conduct health focus groups with community members, I always wear a beaded necklace or hairband because it helps break the ice. Indirectly, wearing beads acknowledges an appreciation for a dynamic culture that is not reduced to derogatory public health statistics.

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My service in a photo: HIV awareness pin made by my cohort mates’ (awesome married Couple current serving as PCVs near Durban) amaNdebele host gogo from PST.

 

 

People in the Townships Leave the “Harbor” Also!

Eish. It has been a difficult two weeks for my municipality and South Africa. Two Mondays ago, there was a horrific car accident right outside of Schnizteland where 5 learners and 1 teacher were killed. This plus heightened cases of typhoid fever in the country (no one wants to call it an outbreak yet) combined with terrorist attacks that have wacked the public health and international development fields the past few months…I rest my case. I needed slices of humanity.

Then South Africa shared some good in the world. The first school for Autistic children in Soweto opened and my favourite magazine in South Africa (FreshLiving) had a heartwarming feature in their January edition. I tried to find an online version of the article but below is a picture of the story (apologizes for the quality I owe y’all a scanned edition once those capabilities are available). A few notes: “domestic worker” is the South African term of decorum for maid and Gugulethu “our Precious/treasure” is a large township outside of Cape Town.

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All credit goes to the FreshLiving Team for the uplifting story. I am making no profit off of this share, I just wanted to share with others outside of South Africa.

Traveling is viewed as a privilege, an experience that only people with money and education are able to access. This article reinforces how traveling benefits everyone, even those with high school diploma benefit from traveling. When people step outside their comfort zones and learn from other nations, there will be additional cultural understanding in the world. Cultural understanding kills prejudice and as long as people continue to go abroad, people motivated by hate cannot win.

The study abroad coordinator at my alma mater closes her e-mails with this quote:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
—Mark Twain

When Mark Twain wrote his novels, America was in a transition similar to South Africa’s current state. The Civil War fractured society and everyone was trying to piece the American psyche back together with the new perspectives. Now, youth in South Africa want to learn from other cultures and how they incorporate all the identities into one nation. Most South Africans that I talk to dream about traveling the world or seeing their neighboring countries. It is easy to remember how privileged I am and forget about how the community members I serve share my dreams. They also want a fulfilling life, to see the world outside rural KZN and learn as much as possible.

Hopefully we continue to move towards travel as a “human right” as opposed towards a privilege, but granted we have enough development goals to keep us occupied in the meantime.

All the best,
Katey-Red

We Want Your Mental Health Experiences (Please!)

 

Sanibonani,

Over the past few months I have had incredible opportunities to interact with PCVs all over the world. One of them is Char in Nicaragua, the gifted writer behind “The Vulnerable Traveler” (for those of us who admire Brene Brown’s work, Char picked the coolest name for her blog). Char is also passionate about mental health concerns abroad. We are considering a column/blog feature about PCVs who are open about their chronic mental health needs and how they navigate their needs abroad.

If you would like to contribute your life experience to this much needed conversation, feel free to send me an email. If you know another PCV at your post who might be interested, please send this post to them. Right now we are just measuring interest in this  idea. Thank you for the consideration!

Also, I have had a few requests for more “PCV with Autism” posts and a few will come next month. I do have a “Peace Corps Autism Style” tag for all my random reflections, but I have noticed that my tags and categories are a mess (5 years on WordPress and I just found out their actual functions…typical Katey). I will try to fix it over the next month to make autism an actual category and the blog more navigable among a few other format changes.

All the best,

Katey-Red

Amagwinya: Edible Gold

 

Blog-Challenge-2016

This entry’s theme for the Blogging Abroad Boot Camp Challenge: Money, money, money (aka rand, rand, rand, or what PCVs and their communities need for subsistence in 2016…also cue the Abba)!

The currency of South Africa is the rand (ZAR), short for Witwatersrand, an Afrikaans term meaning “White Waters Ridge.” The Witwatersrand is where Johannesburg and most of South Africa’s former gold deposits. Actually the isiZulu name for Johannesburg is eGoli, “the place of gold” where young men left home to try their luck.

Eish. Money is a touchy subject right now because South Africa is hitting a recession.  Right now the 1 South African Rand (ZAR) is worth about $0.06 USD or on the flip side, 1 USD equals over 16 ZAR. The school year started a few weeks ago with news stories reiterating how spending is down on supplies and will sales are not expected to rise soon. As the economic powerhouse of Southern Africa, the monetary changes are impacting other African countries. I have a friend serving as a PCV in Northern Mozambique, and last month during a skype call (where hilariously both of us lost connection 5 times because of our countries’ respective utility Olympics), she made sure to ask me, “What is going on with the Rand?” She was noticing price inflation on basic items like bread.

The people of my community know how to adapt to financial hardships. In both sites, there are high unemployment rates and most of the population are dependent on government grants. Just like the United States, these grants are not meant for subsistence and to generate extra income people come up with creative side businesses. The most memorable business I have encountered was my Aunt X.’s informal food service.

A bit of background: For the first 5 months of my service, I lived in a beautiful and remote valley in the Drakensburg Mountains. While I was there during South Africa’s winter, the area was getting the brunt of South Africa’s drought and food access was difficult. There were tuck shops in most of the 18 communities, but these provided basic non-perishable goods (produce was seldom available). The closest and overpriced grocery store was at the base of the valley (a 12 ZAR trip) in an unsafe intersection. Shopping town 1.0 was an hour away and the sporadic taxi service to South Africa’s grocery store chains was 21 ZAR for a one way trip. When food is a challenge to obtain, you can see how Aunt X. easily made a profit off of her amagwinya.

Amagwinya (the term from Gauteng townships for fat cakes which comes from the Afrikaans Vetkoeks) are fried dough balls, like unsweetened doughnuts with less dense of a texture. They are far from nutritious but these days any homemade carbohydrate serves as my comfort food. Aunt X. made these big and fluffy amagwinya the size of my hands that she would sell for 3 ZAR. I have sampled my share of the delicacy in Southern Africa and nothing comes close to Aunt X.’s quality. Her amagwinya alone made a profit but Aunt X. added more options. She also offered sides of polony slices (pink tinted processed meat, but an invaluable source of cheap protein) for 2 ZAR and mango achaar (an Indian influenced condiment that infuses pickled mango with chile pieces…in other words delicious) for another 1 ZAR. Amagwinya alone are an energy dense meal in the mountains and adding the achaar with polony touches two other nutrition areas.

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The entire spread of Aunt X.’s business

The community loved Aunt X.’s amagwinya. She is also a caregiver for organization 1.0, and every staff meeting Aunt X. would haul her Pick n Pay cooler filled with fresh amagwinya. I learned to race to the front room with my rand in hand, once I heard the end of the meeting amaZulu hynms. When I was slow, 25 caregivers would purchase Aunt X.’s entire stock within 2 minutes! On pension days when a market formed at the community hall, Aunt X. would provide another batch and sell out within an hour.

While I never learned what made Aunt X.’s amagwinya special, I know the main ingredients are oil, water, flour, sugar, and baking soda. In term of access, the one common problem Aunt X. could run into is if the water was cut off for a few days, as the rest of the ingredients are relatively inexpensive. With the compound structure of households, amaZulu are fans of purchasing in the bulk to feed all the family members (plus friends that visit unannounced and still get food). Most amaZulu women already have large bowls and pots required for the cooking. She would just have to obtain tiny plastics (plastic bags) for each item. Below is a breakdown of ingredient prices (and all ingredients would be used for basic cooking beyond amagwinya creation).

 

Ingredient

Price Range in ZAR

USD as of January 27, 2016

10 kilogram bag of flour 50-60 ZAR $3.05-$3.66
5 liters of oil 70-80 ZAR $4.27-$4.88
500 grams baking powder 20-30 ZAR $1.27-$1.82
5 kilogram bag of sugar 50-60 ZAR $3.05-$3.66

 

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I did not get my act together to get a photo of the 10 K bag of flour but this is an empty bottle for 5 L of sunflower oil. Picture this filled to the top with yellow liquid. This is how amaZulu buy in bulk,

 

So if you do the math, at minimum if all 30 amagwinya were sold at 3 ZAR, that is 90 ZAR. If she did that 5 times a month, that would be 400 ZAR. For a year 400 ZAR per month would be a total of 4,800 ZAR. As of today (January 27, 2016) that would be over $24.00 ZAR a month or roughly $292.85 in USD annually.

In the best case scenario if every amagwinya sold with all the fixings (polony and achaar) for 6 ZAR, 30 amagwinya would make 180 ZAR. Under the same optimistic circumstances, that would be 900 ZAR a month and the projected annual total would be 10,800 ZAR. In USD that is currently an estimated $55.00 a month or $658.25 per year.

Compare this to the theater concessions business my friend and I ran for a summer (our staples were brownies and chocolate chip madeleines…the later was my pretentious idea). Between splitting our profits and purchasing ingredients, I earned about $200.00 USD for 3months of work. It was right before I moved to college and the money went to dorm supplies. Aunt X. generates more cash to replace her ingredients and fuels demand with a culturally accepted food. I can see how her business would generate enough money for basic groceries, taxi fares, or if she saved a small portion of her profits each month, her sons’ school uniforms.

When I return to graduate school, I may enter the amagwinya with the fixings market stateside for year. $292.00 is substantial textbook money!

Besides, they look gold on the inside just like the currency’s namesake! Amagwinya basically emulate money!

An Unfiltered Glance of Carers for Orphans and Vulnerable Children

Blog-Challenge-2016

This entry’s topic for the blogging boot camp challenge: community member profile (aka interviewing someone that resides in my current home).

Interviews are a significant but unwritten part of my current job description. As a health extension volunteer, I frequently interview community members for informal needs assessments as I try to get a grasp on the current situation. Since my service I have coordinated focus groups of teen mothers, people living with HIV, and the largest source of pediatric health knowledge in rural South Africa: Child and Youth Care workers. (CYCWs)

I have the public health context behind South Africa’s response to the HIV epidemic at the end, but for now I will yield to the real expert in my area of Amajuba: a woman who serves as a CYCW for my organization. We did this interview in broken English, so her words are not verbatim (we are working towards an isiZulu tutor, it still may take a while) but I tried to maintain her thoughts with as much of her sentence structure as possible. Take it away inkosazana (fair maiden in isiZulu).

What do you do as a Child and Youth Care Worker (CYCW)?

As a child and youth care worker, I work with children. We do home visits and a lot of primary school visits. We especially support orphans, as many of them are HIV positive.

Who is an orphan in South Africa?

Orphans have both parents’ dead. Usually they live with a gogo/granny. If one parent is alive but they are not present in the child’s life, they are considered OVC (Orphans and Vulnerable Children).

How did you become a CYCW?

Amajuba District started the program last year. Other districts in KZN province have had CYCWs for a while, but my guess is our schools started to overwhelm the government social workers with cases. So they started to train workers at Drop-in-Centres (DICs) who were already working with OVCs directly affected by HIV.

How did you first encounter HIV in the community?

I would say the schools, because HIV is taught in the local schools. Also the local clinic.

What was it like when HIV first came to Amajuba?

It was awful. Many people died before resources were available. However after about 2007 when ARVs (antiretrovirals) and VCT (voluntary counseling and testing) things got better. People are still scared to get testing but peer pressure from the schools, where children talk about their HIV positive family members.

What was our community like before Child and Youth Care Workers?

Not good, because referrals were slow, if there was a concern. The Social Workers did not have the time to investigate the school’s concerns. Now CYCWs can visit the schools and refer if needed. It is much better.

What do you like about being a CYCW?

I love working with children and being a support. The children are too scared to talk to their granny so I play with them. Then they talk to me about their problems.

If you could change one thing about the CYCW program, what would you do?

I would get the government department to try and provide emergency money. Sometimes a child needs food now, and I use my own money for an emergency food parcels.

What do you want Americans to know about South Africa?

We became free but we still suffer.

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Checklist the CYCWs use during home visits

 

 

In the South African context, Home Based Cares (HBC which provides care for people living with HIV/AIDS at their homes) and Drop-in-Centres (DICs places that provide psychosocial, homework, and nutrition support for OVCs directly impacted by the AIDS pandemic or OCVs) were established as the model for the governments delayed response. The history of South Africa’s, the response to AIDS is a tragic story. The first documented deaths in the country connected to AIDS occurred in the early 1980’s, when South Africa was still in the grips of apartheid. In 1994 when apartheid rule dissipated, the government had the tedious task of restructuring the country. Until 2008 government officials denied that AIDS was caused by HIV, and through policy treatments like ARVs were not widely available in the country. The result was that HIV and deaths were rampant in communities. After 2002 the government prioritized the care of HIV positive individuals, increasing lifespan for people living with HIV. Today, South Africa is the nation with the highest population of people living with HIV in the world.

Currently, South Africa is in the midst of an international conversation over the effectiveness of Home Based Care, and funding towards HBC and DICs reflects the changes. The majority of organizations CHOP (Community HIV Outreach Project) PCVS are partnered with are a mixture of HBC and DIC(both of my organizations implement both models). Regardless of their future, these organizations have shaped the communities of rural South Africa for the past decade, helping families heal, grieve, and thrive in the midst of the HIV epidemic.