nkandla-hivisrealI had to tell a young girl that she is HIV positive today. I can't even describe to you how unbearably heartbreaking it was.

There was a team of caregivers going to a high school to do peer education (teach about HIV/AIDS etc) and then offer VCT (Volunteer Counseling and Testing) so I tagged along. I knew I wouldn't be able to understand the speeches made by the caregivers, but I at least wanted to go to the assembly/panel and see how the students responded and offer my help in doing testing if they needed it.

The assembly was really great. The students interacted with the caregivers, asked pertinent questions and seemed genuinely interested in learning more about the transmission of HIV, testing for it, etc. Towards the end, I suppose the students were itchin to know who the blonde-haired blue-eyed girl on the stage was, and so asked the panel if I would get up and say something to them. Goodness, I was so caught off guard. Of course, I didn't have anything prepared and being that the entire panel was speaking in Zulu, I had no idea what the caregivers had already told them, so I didn't really know what to add. Despite this, one of the caregivers encouraged me to get up and say something, because he said they "just wanted to hear my voice."

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nkandla-kittenI rescued a kitten today! Omigoodness she is absolutely precious and wonderful. She's actually cuddled up on my shoulder as I'm typing this. I was walking home from the center after working then playing with the kids and along the road I all the sudden noticed two baby kittens (no more than 3 weeks old) snuggling on the side of the road.

When I got closer, I noticed that one of them wasn't breathing....oh man it was so incredibly sad. This one little kitten was just snuggling up against her dead sibling. Of course I had to take her home. I knelt down to pick her up and she went limp in my hands and immediately started cuddling with me. I took her back to the convent, and she's basically been purring in my arms and on my shoulders ever since. Oh man I would take her home with me in a heart beat if customs would let me keep her. She is absolutely beautiful; all black with glowing blue-green eyes. Unfortunately, there are too many animals here at the convent for the sisters to take care of her, so we are going to take her to the highschool and either have the principal or one of the teachers look after her. Being out here has made me want animals so badly. I've always been crazy about animals, but now all I can think about is someday having a BIG yard with dogs, cats, goats, and pot-belly pigs!

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nkandla-hivisrealI went out with one of the teams on home visits for the first time yesterday (Monday). All the work I've done before for Sizanani Outreach has been strictly for AIDS patients. These home visits are different in that we follow up on people who were either referred by others in the community (usually children whose parents or guardians have died), or on those either too sick or too far away to visit the clinics.

At each of the homes we visited I was shocked to see just how many toddlers there were running around, all with dirty and/or improper clothing, and almost always malnourished. A lady who is HIV positivie with seven children was feeding her 9 month old porridge with a huge spoon. This baby was about the size of a 6 month old. We tried teaching her about the nutrition that the baby needs, but she didn't really listen. I thought that the area of Nkandla that I am in living in was poor...I had no idea how bad it could really get until Monday. Some of the homes we visited were only four wheel drive accessible and took over an hour to get to (by car) from town. Most of these people have hardly any food, no livestock, no gardens, and no water close by. I have no idea how they survive. For homes such as these, the Sizanani Outreach program gives food parcel packages, but of course it's only enough to sustain them for a short time. Like I mentioned before, almost all of these people rely on the government for Disability Grants to pay for food.

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iStock_000001821815XSmallI'm at the orphanage right now.  It's the only place with wireless internet (the Sizanani Outreach offices are here too) and I'm literally surrounded by TEN kids haha. They're loving this laptop I am using... kinda making it hard to type. I put on Disney songs so they can enjoy. They are seriously so cute. I love them all and I want to take them allllll home with me.

I'm sitting next to a little 13 year old boy who is reading this email as I type it. haha. He wants me to tell you all that he says hello. All of the other kids say hello as well. Man I cannot describe to you how awesome they are, and so beautiful. One of my favorites is a little six year old who has AIDS and so is the size of a 4 year old. He is extremely smart and always goofing around. To be honest, all the kids are my favorite.

They all have such good little hearts and despite their circumstance, they are all fairly well behaved and happy. It's amazing what people can do with so little. Makes me really realize how incredibly spoiled I am.

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6290_505309147570_330900025_142048_2899708_nToday (Thursday) I went out to a rural clinic. This was my first time in one of their "taxis," and I would not recommend it to those with a sensitive nose. I feel bad talking about it, because I really just need to get over it, but to get through it, I had to concentrate on taking quick and shallow breaths so as not to fill my nostrils too much. As one could imagine, people who live in tiny mud huts don't typically have showers or access to running water of any kind. If they do get a chance to bathe, it is often without soap. Then, they cram 15 people into a tiny van and OH MY GOSH!  (Am I sounding like a spoiled American here? Probably, but part of the reason I am writing this is to document a growing experience, and getting over or dealing with my sensitivity to smells is a big hurdle for me).

At the rural clinic, I visited a support group, another crowded room, over 20 people in a 10' x 10' room (another growing experience?). They were all speaking Zulu, so I obviously couldnt understand a word, but one of the counselors was nice enough to translate every now and then. They were all AIDS patients of the clinic and were meeting to discuss the death of two other patients in the last week. They discussed gathering money for the surviving families and other ways they could help. Every few minutes they would all break out into song.  I am told that the Zulu people pray through song -- it's really beautiful, actually.


nkandla-sisterellenThe last couple of days have been really cool! Yesterday I was able to go to one of the clinics with Sister Ellen and one of her assistants who is a health care worker. The clinic was packed with people seeking medical aid. The purpose for our visit was to meet with clients that are currently on antiretroviral therapy (ART). Our job was to check their adherence to the regimen and to follow up on their blood work and modify anything if needed. In South Africa, the CD4 count must be below 200/mm3 in order for the clients to qualify for ART. In other words, these people have to be VERY sick before they can get the medication they need.

While a third of the people here test positive for HIV, the number one killer is Tuberculosis. Luckily the Sizanani Outreach (who I'm working for) also does TB testing. The types of patients we saw yesterday ranged from a lady with AIDS that came in to apply for a Disability Grant (because over 90% of the people here are unemployed, the government has to subsidize most of their living), to a 13 year old boy with AIDS needing a refill on medication (he came alone to the clinic).

Sister Ellen is an incredibly hard worker. She was a doctor in Germany and has been living here for almost 30 years. I can't imagine the things she has seen and has had to do.

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