When the first individuals suffering from AIDS were discovered in the United States in 1981, there was no such thing as World AIDS Day. These individuals suffered in a silence that surrounded HIV/AIDS for years, particularly in America but also throughout the world, until the first World AIDS Day in 1988.
For us at African Impact – St Lucia, the 1st of December is likely the most important date on the calendar. It’s a line underneath all of the work we do throughout the year with AIDS orphans, HIV education and support groups in the communities in which we work.
Worldwide, an estimated 33.3 million people are living with HIV, and more than 25 million people between 1981 and 2007 have died from the virus, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.
Sub-Saharan Africa remains the main battleground in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS, and South Africa is an important area to work in because of the large number of individuals living with the virus. Our message on World AIDS Day was one of education – particularly surrounding HIV prevention and positive living.
An important part of raising awareness in a province whose HIV infection rate is approximately 39% is getting tested, knowing your status and living positively. Living in an area where life-saving antiretroviral treatment is available means individuals can still live long, healthy lives with HIV, and prevent transmission to their partners and children.
After a very successful World AIDS Day campaign in 2011, we decided to join forces and hold an event in partnership with the Sipho Zungu Clinic in Khula Village and Peace Corps volunteer Danielle Piccinini. The end result was a day filled with local talent, speakers and activities for kids and adults.
36Alongside the main event, the clinic and local NGO the Africa Centre held testing and counseling for HIV/AIDS and promoted sexual health check-ups for women and men.
Volunteers and staff spent the morning preparing food and setting up the event, which lasted the majority of the day and hosted over 400 people. With healthy living parcels to give out (which included toothbrushes, toothpaste and condoms), the volunteers also tested the crowd on their knowledge of HIV and gave out prizes for those who could correctly put a condom on a wooden penis.
This year’s UNAIDS Global Report detailed an epidemic that is on the decline, but there is plenty more to be done in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Travel restrictions on the HIV positive, human rights abuses in a number of nations and the ongoing battle to educate individuals on prevention and treatment remains paramount if next year’s figures are to show a continued decrease in the epidemic’s power.
We were proud to do our part this year in an area of the world where education is so needed, and although we work towards the goals of World AIDS Day every day of the year, to be able to celebrate with the rest of the world gives us a real high.
World AIDS Day is not only important for those 33 million HIV positive individuals living on all corners of the globe – it is an important day to remember those who perished first without the worldwide support of a day to encourage acceptance and spread knowledge.
Read more from our African Impact – St Lucia projects on our official blog.
We were Live Tweeting from our World AIDS Day event!
Check out the full album of photographs from the day here. 

Cookie monster wisdom

A gem of a photo, shared by friend Xenia Rybak.










Still no leopard…

We all know I’m a little lazy at writing blogs, but I really thought these past two weeks couldn’t go by without me giving you some insight into why I Tweeted about what an interesting week I’d been having.

In reality, it was probably more like the past two weeks, and this is only a handful of what has been going on, but I think you’ll enjoy the perpetual randomness (but also awesomeness) of life in South Africa.

Auntie Deb and I at Mission Rocks in iSimgangaliso.

First, my aunt and uncle came to visit! Since my parents visited in August of 2011 I haven’t had any other family out here, partially because I’ve been back to Canada twice since then. However, Deb and Jody made the long trip down to Cape Town and travelled up the Garden Route before heading to St Lucia.

The first thing Deb said to me when I asked her how their trip had been was: “It’s amazing, I’m not leaving.”

Now we know where I get it from!

It was great to be able to show them around some of our projects (including Inkanyezi Creche) and to be able to show them through iSimgangaliso Wetland Park, which surrounds St Lucia.

Female lion relaxing at Thanda Private Game Reserve

A day after they had arrived, Deb, Jody and I headed to Thanda Private Game Reserve, about an hour north of St Lucia, for some game viewing and two overnight stays at the lodge.

Staying two nights meant we had four game drives ahead of us, and they certainly did not disappoint. We saw an incredible mixture of lion, black rhino, white rhino, jackal, cheetah, buffalo and many birds. However, the best part was just being able to experience how excited Deb and Jody were to even spot zebra, impala or giraffe. Living here and seeing these animals all the time, sometimes one needs a bit of a reminder of just how magnificent the wildlife can be.

Despite some incredible sightings, my curse still remains – I have yet to see a leopard. This is becoming a serious issue. I’ve lived  in St Lucia a total of nearly 21 months and although I know leopards are amongst the most illusive animals to spot, I continue to see wild dog and black rhino without trouble. By now it’s just become a joke, and no one wants to bring me on game drives for fear the curse will affect their sightings!

Miriam, Carla, Sofie and I at Quiz Night.

Anyways, although we returned from Thanda sans-leopard, we did so in time to participate in the Happy Africa Foundation Quiz Night that Miriam had put on at a local restaurant. Although our team didn’t win (that’s an understatement, we were slaughtered in the final round) we had a great time and raised a great amount of money for our medical project.

Then came this Tuesday, where the police arrived at our doorstep to hand me a subpoena – now that was a new experience! In connection with the break-in at our house in Monzi, I must appear in court as I was the first on the scene in August after a local friend saw our house had been burglarised. I’m sure an entire blog will likely be dedicated to my experience in a South African courtroom – so stay tuned.

This morning at the volunteer house.

Other eventful occurrences from the week include planting banana plants at our Support Group garden in Ezwenelisha, which was a blast. I also got the chance to run Reading Club on Friday at our container-library in Khula Village, which was great as over peak season I didn’t get a lot of time on project in the communities.

I was also able to change a flat tyre all by myself at the side of the road, much to the amusement of our employee Zakhele, who arrived too late to help me!

I also made a trip to the doctor with a volunteer, where we were graced with an impromptu sermon delivered by a pastor who said modern medicine wouldn’t cure us if we didn’t “have Jesus” – which I thought not very fitting for the waiting room of a doctor, but that’s just how things go.

To top everything off, rainy season has hit us with a vengeance, and we had to retreat from both Thursday and Friday afternoon projects early due to severe thunderstorms. Even this morning we were all trapped in our room as the rain poured in over the sides of the house.

Never a dull moment, and I love it!

The great escape

Don’t let that look fool you – he’s not so innocent!

As many of you may already know, Chris and I got a dog at the end of last year. Maverick, a German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP), is now 11 months old, and living with me in Natal while Chris is working in the Northern Cape.

After much discussion, we decided I would keep the dog because Sofie and I were living out at the house in Monzi and Chris thought it was safer that we had a canine companion.

Turns out he sleeps like a rock so he’s really of no help in that department, but he’s cute and likes to cuddle (and Sofie says he snores like a man which comforts her) so we put up with him.

Anyways, he’s already gotten a few shout-outs in the guestbook from volunteers when they leave, which is nice, and he’s become a nice little addition to our team.

As I’ve come to discover, GSP’s have a lot of personality. A lot. Fixated on chasing sticks (or branches, or palm leaves, or butterflies, mosquitos or really just about anything that can become a projectile), Maverick is a never-ending source of entertainment and unbridled energy.

And one day he proved himself to be also quite deft.

The volunteers and staff members headed out to a traditional Zulu Wedding (a post about this will come later), that we had been invited to by one of our local caregivers. Eager for the opportunity to partake in a traditional ceremony in the community in which we work, we all piled into the cars and headed off.

I left Maverick in the safety of the yard that I’m currently living at, a few blocks away from the volunteer house. He’s got other four-legged friends there and, up until this particular day, had spent quite a number of hours lazing about while I ran errands, went out for lunch, and the like.

However, about two hours into the Zulu wedding, I get a missed call from our cook, Nonhlanhla. When I call her back, she’s out of breath and sounds worried.

“Alanna, Maverick is outside! He escaped!” she yells into the phone.

It takes me a few seconds to realise he hasn’t escaped from our volunteer house – he’s broken out of the other yard a few blocks away. This is a problem.

Maverick had dug and crawled under the fence at the flat and made a beeline for the volunteer house, where he attempted to dig himself under the gate. Upon the realisation that he couldn’t make as clever an entrance as he had an exit, he promptly scared the neighbour and ran into the bush, presumably to chase things.

One call from Nonhlanhla and he rushed to be let into what is apparently his favourite house.

I have a feeling this is only the first in a never-ending saga of our dog pulling a Houdini.

To see more videos and read more about our African Impact projects in St Lucia, visit our official blog

Watch this video, created by the volunteers in May, of what it’s like to be on our community project. Most days, the volunteers on our community project spend their time at one of the day care centres in Khula Village. On this particular day, three of our volunteers from The Netherlands teach the young ones at Simunye Creche.

If all the luck I had at Home Affairs were a horseshoe, this upside-down, decomposing one would be it.

It’s back-to-school time, which means procrastination time, which means blogging time.

So I will update you on the latest story.

Everything always goes pear-shaped when it comes to my South African visas. Ever since my first visa extension took six months to arrive, essentially screwing any chance I had to use any of the documents I’d gathered while at home (they would expire while I waited out my long-awaited extension), my luck at Home Affairs has been like an upside-down horseshoe.

So as the date of my visitor’s visa’s expiration drew closer, Chris and I made the decision to get me a life partner visa, so I could continue my work with African Impact as well as study for school in South Africa uninterrupted by trips home every three months. Instead, the life partner visa would last for two long years, and enable me the chance to apply for residency and a work permit.

After three separate trips to Home Affairs (the nearest one being an hour away), I discovered Chris needed to be present when I filed my application – and thus began the discovery of just how exhausting this visa process would be.

Currently working in the Northern Cape, Chris made his way to KZN during the second week of September to visit with a lawyer for a notarial contract, which was required for my visa. Already the word “attorney” being thrown into the visa discussion had prompted an “are you sure you want to do this?” phone call on my part, but on our first full day together, Chris and I trekked to Mtuba to visit the nearest one.

Settled into the lawyer’s office, we got the news that a special “notary” had to write our contract – the nearest one being another hour and a half away. After making an appointment, we retired for the day, feeling a little discouraged but nonetheless ready for the next day.

Our “Life Partner” party, hosted by Carla and Miriam, with a cake and all.

And ready we would have to be, as we got up bright and early to head to Empangeni to Chris James’ office, where we were welcomed into a helpful and quick-paced meeting.

(Spoiler alert: This is the only time I will use “helpful” and “quick-paced” in a sentence relating to my visa).

A notarial contract drawn up and a trip to Nando’s later and we had a document securing the legality of our “committed relationship.”

On to the hospital we went, which is where we should have anticipated a snail’s pace. The lack of any sort of urgency in this country (even at a hospital) still shocks me to the core. We waited so long getting my x-ray results (surprise! I don’t have TB), that Home Affairs had nearly closed…

Which didn’t matter, because on our arrival we were told my police checks were all wrong, and got sent to the dreaded upstairs of Home Affairs, where a very nasty lady met us with glares and sneers about how I was late with my application and how I would have to board a flight home.

That’s when I took after my mother and burst into tears. Low and behold I should do this more often, as Mrs. Home-Affairs melted like butter in front of us and told us exactly what to do to rectify my life-partner-visa-meltdown.

Again a discouraged trip home, where Carla’s “Life Partner Party” awaited us. We spent a hilarious night out with our friends, a great way for Chris to see everyone he’s been missing. Complete with a “Mr. and Mrs. Quiz” (I think that may have crossed a line there), we were rejuvenated to fight out the next saga of our Home Affairs battle the following day.

The dirty, dirty sink at the Mtubatuba Police Station.

Fingerprinting at Mtubatuba Police Station was next on our list, and was a typical Africa-style visit. The women in the office exploded at my ability to speak a limited amount of Zulu, and kept telling Chris he was a “lucky man.”

Having to wash my hands in a cigarette-butt-infested outdoor tap was met with shock and horror by the ladies, who ushered me into a private staff bathroom and allowed me to borrow their hand cream. Lovely! This day was off to a wonderful start!

Home Affairs looked a lot less daunting as we spent two and a half hours walking the official through our application, which seemed to miraculously be all in order. Despite having to sign even MORE documents about the legitimacy of our relationship (“oh just scratch out ‘spouse’ and write in ‘life partner’ the official told me…) we left Home Affairs exactly three weeks before the expiration of my visa with a receipt in hand.

“When will it be finalised?” I asked the official, “In the next month?”

“Oh, you’ll be lucky to get it,” she laughed.

I will take it that as English is not her first language, she meant we would be lucky to get the results of the visa in the next month, but her tone and phrase still haunt me a little.

I guess now it’s just a waiting game.

If I could make a list of the lists I keep, let me tell you, it would be long. To-do lists, shopping lists, a list of tasks for each week’s planning session, a list of messages I need to send, a list of books to read.

However, by far the most important and valuable of my lists is my “Long-Term Goal” list, which I keep both as a Sticky Note on my laptop and written out on a piece of paper that is pinned above my desk.

Call it obsessive, or anal-retentive, or whatever you’d like, but last week it served me very, very well.

Last week was one of those weeks where everything just falls into place. All the months of planning all of a sudden come to a head in a handful of days, leaving you wondering why coordinating such plans seem to be so difficult. Although the timing wasn’t great, with just Sofie and I working at the moment, this superweek was nevertheless an extraordinary feat.

Now let me tell you why, because you’re all probably sat there thinking you accomplish goals everyday and don’t feel the need to write a blog about it.

First – I have small goals that I complete every day. They involve things like the Primary School not taking a random holiday, or celebrating a holiday a week after it was meant to be celebrated. My small, daily goals include the Home Affairs Office not changing their opening time without notice or a strike blocking the main road.

I can tell you see where I’m going with this.

My big goals are things like getting a sign put up at Inkanyezi Creche, or redoing the Children’s HIV Education booklet. They’re things that would take days to do at home, but weeks or months to complete here in KwaZulu Natal. As a result, this superweek is receiving a blog.

Volunteer Donna explaining to the boys about respecting the library and its books.

The first accomplishment occurred on Monday. After a discussion with Peace Corps volunteer Danielle, I got to thinking about why we weren’t using our container of donations. The container (meant to be turned into a library) was nearly finished, and certainly the kids wouldn’t mind that all the books didn’t look 100% in order anyway.

So Monday’s Khula Afterschool Club arrived and off we went to open the container to a handful of the learners. Success! Eight boys read along with three of the volunteers, Shwele and I and we all had a blast. Check that one off the long-term goal list!

The second long-term goal checkmark came on Tuesday, when three of the volunteers, Shwele and I (I’m beginning to see a pattern there…) headed out to Monzi, a farming community about 20 minutes away from St Lucia, to host an HIV Education course for a farming compound. When thirty people showed up we were a little overwhelmed, but only 15 sat the test on Thursday, and all passed with flying colours!

Our location for HIV Education on the farm in Monzi.

It was a great achievement, as it’s so important that we teach the workers in the area, because many of them are migrant workers – a group most at-risk for contracting HIV.

Along with teaching high-risk groups in the community, the volunteers also helped me achieve my third goal of the week by creating more resources to make the course more of a workshop than a class. They did so by creating games with flash cards, adding more interaction between the participants and the teachers of the course. It also gives the volunteers more to do when Shwele translates the course into Zulu for the learners.

In all it was a great week. We teach our volunteers that they must take small victories like the kids smiling, the building of bricks or the creation of a lesson plan, as big victories during their time with us. This is important because it helps manage people’s expectations. However, every once in a while a week like this one comes out of the woodwork when we least expect it, helping us stay a little more sane and spurring us on to achieve more of our goals.

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