fiddlehead.....every changing, ever growing

fiddlehead....ever changing, ever growing

Monday, July 7, 2008

Journey of a Lifetime....AIDS Walk Africa

Sharing everything going on in my mind about my journey for AIDS Walk Africa in Swaziland is almost impossible. But I hope to give you bits and pieces as I go along. So, after reading this blog please go to to see the virtual walk posted by the EGPAF. They have an amazing day by day account of all the details of our walk.

Here, I would rather tell you about what it felt like for me to be apart of this journey. It really was one of those life experiences that becomes apart of your soul, which I think are the best kind. We (the staff and 19 walkers including, my Mom and cousin, Casey) witnessed so much over the course of walking the land of Swaziland in just a few days.
First, the beauty of this peaceful country is amazing and its people are incredibly welcoming and gentle. Then taking in their tradtional way of living in the rural areas wherewe walked to clinics and schools. Witnessing the children, my god, the children- with our own eyes and touch. And knowing with each time you made eye contact, smiled or touched a child that they are what this mission is truely about. Giving these beautiful children a chance at life free of HIV/AIDS!

This is a preschool (above) we stopped at to donate some clothing items, paper and coloring pencils. The teacher said her school needs a new roof. She also said that all of these children are orphaned by HIV/AIDS. In Swaziland, we didn't see orphanages, instead the children are raised by extended family in the community.
Going on this walk I prepared myself to feel a great deal of sadness, but found that while I had some moments of sadness (ex: witnessing a boy with shoes that were a men's size...but he wore them to school. Also, witnessing a boy with such severly bowed legs he could barely walk and knowing this could be corrected in the U.S.A. so easily) the sadness I felt was overpowered by the HOPE and JOY! The incredible hope that the people hold for their children to be able to live free of HIV. The hope was in their eyes, and smiles. The hope rang in their sweet voices as they sang and danced for us. The message of the children's dance was a brave say out loud HIV is killing our people, we need to make good choices and keep ourselves healthy as we are the flowers of our community.

The children stay with you. I met a sweet little girl, named Tula, while walking. She was fasinated by my sunglassess and then proudly wore my sunglasses and carried my walking stick as we walked together. She reached out to hold my hand. As we walked those hills together hand in hand, I realized these are the hills her mother walked with her and that she will likely walk with her own children one day. The terrain will not change, but the plight of the people walking this terrain can! It is possible! There is hope for her...and for all these children. I felt the hope and know it is possible to eradicate HIV.
The cultural norms and taboos surrounding HIV/AIDS must continue to evolve and the Swazi-people realize that they must happen first with their youngest generation. This nation is being destroyed by HIV/AIDS and the challenges they face are enormous. Many Swazi-men do not want to know their HIV status and continue to take many wives and girlfriends. The women in the rural communities have very few resources and so many challenges (poverty, HIV stigma and status, clean water, basic needs).

These are a traditional Swazi -homesteads with the husband's sleeping quarters, the wife (or wives) have their own sleeping hut and a seperate kitchen. Swazi's prefer to have the main home round as to keep the "evil spirits" from hiding in corners.

The next time you take your car to a Dr's appointment and wait to see the Dr., think of this. As we walked the miles and miles through the hills you couldn't help but imagine yourself a Swazi-women: barefoot, pregnant, not feeling well from HIV/AIDS and carrying a child with her walking miles on very rugged terrain, and steep hills to get to the clinic for medical treatment for herself and her child (preventing mother to child transmission, prenatal care, her own HIV treatments. Below is a photo of some of the roads walked, a mother and baby waiting in the clinic, and an outside shot of the clinic where they provide soooo much to the community on limited resources. The EGPAF provides the support to help prevent mother to child transmission and treat HIV/AIDS.

The mothers often wait all day to be seen and will sometimes sleep on the grass outside until the next morning. The Swazi-women are no different than all mothers who deeply love their children and want their children to have a healthy start in life... to be born free of HIV. Like all mothers, they too want to be healthy and be able to raise their own children, but are fighting against many challenges to do so.

There were countless moments that have stayed with me. Some are the amazing walkers I met who really use their lives and are so inspiring! But for me what comes to mind first are the interactions with the children. We met so many. I liked to teach them to do a "high five". They would hesitate at first and then doing the high five brought a big smile and giggle. Sometimes we would do patty-cake too. Some of the girls love to dance and we twirled them, which they loved They especially loved to have us take their photograph with our digital camera and then be able to look at their own image.

I had heard ahead of time that the children will want to look at our camera's images and then the idea came to me to take that one step further. It was absolutely one of the most joyful moments of my life was being able to pull out my polaroid camera and take photos of the children and mothers. I was able to witness the pure wonder of a child as they looked in total awe at this photo developing right before their eyes. They clung onto their special photo as if it was gold. I was able to bring 80 photos for the polaroid and each time I took a photo I felt such joy in being able to give them something meaningful that they will treaure. And for me that is one of my greatest treasures.

I will have more to share with you soon!

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