Sunday, 3 July 2011

Site visit - Yabonga!

Material resources, raw personal commitment, and experience: in a very basic sense, they’re the three fundamental elements on which many public health ventures are founded. Ideally, dedicated and trained staffers work in pristine facilities, distributing baby formula, scheduling shots, or explaining STI prevention. Frequently, though, one finds a partial admixture of the three. The employees may have little experience in public speaking. Or maybe they’re interns who aren’t fluent in the local language. Or they work in a crumbling structure hardly able to cope with the crowds who need help.

Last Thursday offered a view into the different sorts of arrangements that can exist, as we visited two sites in the township of Samora Machel. The first was a clinic overseen by Yabonga, a local organization that offers a range of services but that focuses largely on AIDS transmission and therapy. Most of the staffers are in fact HIV-positive, and are thus able to partially dissolve, through their very presence and energy, suspicions that AIDS is simply incurable. In speaking about their experiences, moreover, they attempt to dispel the powerful local stigmas surrounding the virus. While we were there, we also saw an educator speaking to a group of new mothers, who were gathered in a relatively spacious waiting room that doubles as a lecture hall. The picture was generally rather impressive: committed, experienced individuals working in a healthy environment, replete with colorful posters and posted reminders.

But a second stop revealed that significant contributions can also be made in the absence of splashy resources. A few blocks from the clinic, a local woman ran a safe house for roughly 25 local kids between the ages of 5 and 13. Safe house, though, is perhaps overly generous: it was a single, low-ceilinged room at the back of a small township abode, erected directly on the sand dunes of the Cape Flats. We pressed to see, but the room could only house about nine adults at a time. And instead of featuring professionally produced posters, the walls were hung with handmade illustrations, and a few handwritten songs. Overseen by a single female volunteer, the room embodied a sense of necessary modesty.

Was the second site thus less significant, or less effective, than the first? Not, it seemed, if judged by its goals: not for a preteen surrounded by violence, or for a seven-year-old whose father worked in the distant city and whose mother was attending a lecture at the clinic. Sure, it had less in the way of resources. But the sheer commitment of its overseer, and her clear experience in entertaining children, seemed to go a long way in offsetting the limitations of the structure in which she worked.

Guest blogger: Kerr Houston

No comments:

Post a Comment