aB South Africa: ‘Nothing we do will be as noble as what these people do’

Nine members of the university community made FIU alternative Breaks history April 30, 2013, when they departed for South Africa to work with children and adults with HIV/AIDS. Theirs is the first aB group at FIU to travel to the African continent. FIU News will be following the team’s journey.

May 2, 2013

The Blue Roof Wellness Centre

aB orientation trainingToday was our first day of service at the Blue Roof Wellness Centre.  Not knowing what to expect, we arrived around 8 a.m. for our orientation. Tessa, the director, oriented us toward the work of the centre and put this in the context of health care and politics in South Africa. This was an “Introduction 101” to the politics of health care and HIV in South Africa for all of us. In a nutshell, health care in South Africa is funded at the federal level, but is the responsibility of the local municipality governments. The primary health care professionals that populate the clinics are nurses. One doctor visits each clinic about once a week to write prescriptions and perform other duties that only doctors are legally able to perform, but nurses are the primary care givers in these clinics. The Blue Roof is one of the many non-governmental, local clinics in the area, meaning that the funding for the staff comes from sources outside of the federal government. The Blue Roof Wellness Centre is devoted solely to HIV treatment and health issues surrounding those with HIV. These clinics, governmental and nongovernmental, are free to the public, and all peoples must go to one of these clinics prior to being referred to a hospital for more serious conditions (if necessary). This approach provides a model for keeping health care costs down in South Africa.

We had a quite poignant moment in the orientation, when Tessa asked the students, “What happens in the USA when people can’t afford healthcare?”

The point, of course, was to show that everyone in South Africa has access to free health care, regardless of ability to pay for treatment. Specifically, everyone that the clinic treats receives their monthly HIV medications and other treatments for free. Not only this, but they have a cafeteria that feeds the patients and their families who are visiting for regular check ups—for free! As Tessa stated, South Africa’s model of health care will be a model for the rest of the world.

A second poignant moment was when one of the workers (we will call him M) at the Blue Roof and also a patient of the clinic recounted his own story. The Blue Roof actually used to be a shebeen, or huge night club. At one time, it was a place where (because of high drug abuse and rape) HIV was actually spread  It was then that the Keep A Child Alive foundation turned the shebeen into a wellness centre focused on HIV care and prevention; it was also then that M began treatment with the clinic and began working for the clinic. Once homeless and self-reportedly “waiting to die,” he began to work for this organization to try and change the lives of people like him living with HIV in South Africa.

Though nothing we do will be a fraction as noble or incredible as what M has done, or what the nurses who work in the clinic do (they have a nurse-patient ratio of 1:90!), we all do feel honored to work alongside these people and help out in some small ways. Tomorrow, we begin our three major painting projects: the outdoor entrance area to the clinic, the entry space to the clinic where children play while they or their parents wait on nurses, and two other children’s playrooms located in the back of the clinic. Then, we will move on to our gardening and computer lab projects. Below are a few “before” pictures of the areas where we will be working.

aB Before Collage-1

In closing, it was a very informative day and I think we all had moments of re-grounding our conceptions about the place where we will be working. In other words, everyone had an idea about what Durban would be like and what the clinic would be like. Some of these ideas were accurate, others were way off base, and others were confirmed. Regardless, we all feel much more grounded in and by what we will be doing over the coming weeks.


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