fiddlehead.....every changing, ever growing

fiddlehead....ever changing, ever growing

Monday, July 4, 2011

AIDS Walk Africa....3 years later

It was 3 years ago......that I went on the journey of a lifetime to Swaziland to participate in AIDS Walk Africa for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.  
Why Swaziland, a small kingdom between South Africa and Mozambique?
 Did you know that 3 years ago that 33% of the population of Swaziland was infected with the virus....33%.  That is why.

That is 1 in 3 of these school children....
AWA was 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.  Here we are...
This journey was about witnessing.   The country, the culture, the disease in pandemic proportions.
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.  Witnessing the work to give these beautiful children a chance at life free of HIV/AIDS!

This is a preschool (below) 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).

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).

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.

3 years ago....I walked the paths that those mothers walked.  And today I remember and share it with you to bring you closer to those mothers and children and the hope for cbildren all around the world, to be born free of HIV.


S said...

Your photos are beautiful. Thank you for sharing this...all of it and for taking part in that walk.

The Lost Planetista said...

Wow. Beautiful photos. Thank you for sharing your walk across Swaziland. That sounds incredible on so many levels. Have you seen the documentary about the King of Swaziland? I watched it on netflix a few years ago, and it's always stuck with me. I'll rack my brain to think of the title if you haven't seen it.

Chatter said...

What an amazing & incredible experience that must have been. You take beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing your experience! (and for stopping by my blog).

scooping it up said...

wow. feeling a bit weepy. Thank you for sharing. what an amazing experience, to be a witness.

Thank you for visiting the fiddlehead report!