My first direct contact with AIDS was visiting a friend over 20 years ago in the last stages of their life due to AIDS. Even though their body was ravaged by Kaposi Sarcoma they remained hopeful a cure was in sight. Tragically through the 1980’s, ‘90’s and well into the decade of 2000, there was no “cure,” only assured premature and painful death often accompanied by stigma and abandonment. I am sure you too can cast your mind back to first hearing about AIDS and know friends, family or communities who have been impacted. Or you may have been impacted more directly yourself. Since those early days AIDS spread like wildfire overwhelming millions of lives all over the globe, and none more than in Sub Saharan Africa.
After the highly lauded transition to a post Apartheid society, it seemed a cruel slight of fate that South Africa was then pulled into the whirlpool of the AIDS pandemic. From those early years the country moved through stigma, misinformation, blame and then ten years of blatant government denial accompanied by numerous court cases against both government and pharmaceuticals. Thanks to organizations like Treatment Action Campaign affordable and accessible Anti Retro Viral medication is now widely available. The last decade also saw the emergence of an “AIDS Industry” through the work of NGO’s funded primarily from overseas sources.
A few years ago UNAIDS reported that South Africa has one of the highest incidence of AIDS in the world, and within South Africa the province of KwaZulu the highest statistics of infection. The complex reasons that contribute to the continuation of infection rates are better understood due to comprehensive research. However, translating research into behavioral change has proved challenging. This has meant at the end of the day it is women, and particularly children, who have borne the brunt of the pandemic. Anyone who has access to rural South Africa knows it is women who weave social and family cohesion together, who are primary care givers of children, and who are ultimately the “back bone” of society.
Since 2000, Kittisaro and I have fund raised and help initiate and support various projects with varying degrees of “success.” We have received magnificent help from many generous friends, donors, communities and organizations. We also witnessed the death of young people we have known, and have directly seen the struggle of communities left without the proper resources to cope. A typical situation is a Gogo (granny) I visited with ten orphaned children to feed, clothe and school while living in a small hut with no electricity or furniture. On that day there was only an old sack of potatoes for lunch. Often children go to sleep on tummies filled with sugar water as no food is available.
The endless stories are usually laced with heartache, fear, struggle and defeat. However, there is also a profound shift of attitude accompanied by increased awareness, resources, courage and mutual support. A quantum learning curve has unfolded within deep rural communities where information and education, HIV/Aids support groups and access to medicines, resources and governmental aid are more available. Much of this has come about through the applied sacrifice and hard work of countless people involved in Non Profit work. Of course there are also those who have used the pandemic to shore up their own bank accounts and reputations which is sadly inevitable in any human crisis.
One woman who has unfailingly and quietly gone about responding to the crisis is Sister Abegail Ntleko who we are currently supporting as she endeavors to secure a safe house for the 21 AIDS orphans she has personally adopted. This is after already founding a caring home for 80+ children which now enjoys strong support. Sister Abegail has dedicated over 50 years in Community Service using her nursing skills and practical application of deep faith to make a huge difference in countless people’s lives. Abe does this without fanfare or any need for acknowledgement. However, in response to her huge spirit, she inspired Jurgen Mollers from Oakland to write a book of her life called Empty Hands which is prefaced by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She also inspired successful nominations for South African National Awards such as “Woman of the Year” (ShopRite & Checkers) and the Unsung Hero Award of His Holiness the Dalai Lama which she received in 2009 in San Francisco.
Today – May 7th — is World AIDS Orphans Day and I wanted to take a moment to write these few reflections in honor of all who have been impacted by HIV and Aids and to ask for your support. It is true there is “AIDS fatigue” but millions of children are still left vulnerable and orphaned who need help. The example of Sister Abegail is having an impact. We just received an order for 1,000 copies of her book from the guiding Professor of the Faculty of Health Sciences of Johannesburg’s Wits University which he intends to give to his students. In fact everyone who meets Sister Abe comes away feeling inspired to do better in their lives and encouraged by the faith to overcome adversity. We believe examples like Sister Abe’s life are important to highlight.
On this day we remember those on the front line who are responding to the Pandemic, and particularly the children who have been left orphaned and vulnerable. Tomorrow I am meeting with Sister Abegail and her children to talk over how things are going. We will also meet with our local Real Estate Agent to look at properties suitable for Abe and her children which can also host volunteers from overseas to support the children as they go about their daily lives.
We have received 70% of our Campaign goal, which alongside further donations into Dharmagiri South African account for Kulungile ( Sister Abe’s Non Profit), we are confident we can find a safe home for Sister Abe and her children. Kulungile means “All Is Well” and it is this core attitude of Sister Abe that I leave you with today.
How You Can Help
Sign: Kulungile Petition to President Obama: Keep The Light On AIDS Orphans By Increasing Global Support
Contribute: Kulungile Indiegogo Campaign
Their spirits roam,
here in the twilight
of AIDS body
no way to say body
young body gone bad body
your body, my body
millions of spirits
they roam saying