We arrived in Cape Town on July 7th for a month-long study on community health in South Africa. After a few days of classes and site visits to various health and treatment centers in the surrounding townships, I began observing at Sonke, an organization which works to strengthen government, civil society, and citizen capacity to support men and boys to take action to promote gender equality, prevent domestic and sexual violence and reduce the spread of impact of HIV/AIDS. Sonke uses a broad range of social change strategies including working with government to promote the development of new policies, advocacy, activism, and community mobilization to ensure deliverance from government, strengthening organization capacity among partner organizations, using communications and digital stories, community education, and research. Main sponsors include USAID, PEPFAR, UNICEF, and University of California. This is particularly relevant as South Africa has the highest incidence of rap
e in the world, domestic abuse is rampant, and women have little value associated with them; behaviors which developed from a variety of historical, cultural, and economic circumstances.
In the township of Khayelitsha, which is the second largest township in South Africa (nearly 1 million residents), I observed Sonke’s One Man Can Campaign, which focuses on community education including workshops, community events, murals, door-to-door campaigns, street soccer festivals etc. I attended several community hospitals, where Sonke’s representative (who was a local man of about 30 years old) used the waiting room filled with approx. 75 patients, as a platform for disseminating sexual health information and gender sensitivity, talking about current events (such as an ongoing rape trial), providing information on health resources, and then attempting to create a dialogue within the waiting room. They partnered with another NGO, Treatment Action Campaign, who informed those waiting on HIV and treatment options. This was important because the link between sexual violence and HIV is not well understood. Although women were more vocal then men, both used the time to sha
re opinions and fears, ask definitional questions of rape, and voice anger/concerns; since forums like this are not often available, the participants were happy to have this opportunity and thanked “Sonke” as we left. The hospital has become more than a place of treatment, but a place to become educated and participate in dialogue; a town hall meeting feeling. We also attended a men’s clinic, which was housed in a trailer about fifty feet away from the hospital, which gives information on men’s health, trains on gender sensitivity, testing, treatment, and counseling. The room was filled with men of all ages, actively asking questions and engaging in discussion. The counselors and nurses were from surrounding townships and were excellent and passionate teachers. The greatest part of the experience so far is understanding that people really want information, particularly on health, and are seeking it out wherever they can; unfortunately the places to find these resources are often far from their homes and expensive to reach.
More on Sonke and other orgs soon to come!
I arived in Zimbabwe a few days ago. Shep met me at the airport and I was wisked to the SHAPE International Offices. After quick introductions to the staff, I headed to my host’s home. Bleary eyed from a long flight to Harare, it was all really a blur.
Over the weekend, SHAPE had some student musicians in the recording studio for an upcoming album release. Brilliant! Their voices were great. If I had a cord to download the video from my camera, I would upload it to YouTube and post the link here. In the meantime, text will need to suffice.
On Sunday, I rested! Thankfully. I met some of my host’s friends on Saturday evening. We played a game of 30 Seconds until 3am. I still can’t think of what the game is called in English, but you have things you want to get people to say, like garfield or To Kill a Mockingbird, and you can use any clues you like except sounds like and saying the answer. People guess. And, you guessed it, you have a maximum of 30 seconds per card to guess all five. Needless to say, at 3am after a long day, long flight, and little sleep, I was knackered.
Now it’s Wednesday and I’ve had my first few discussions with folks about work in the office. Looks like fund raising, information & communications technology, and some basics in management are the main areas to help with. The next step is to set them up with a few, free Internet-based resources to start organizing their contacts, their volunteers, and their donors. I also have a few management tools in mind. Ever since I was introduced to Salesforce.com, I’ve been a big fan. I set up the resource for HOGC, for myself, and am now in the process of setting it up for Hands on Zimbabwe (aka, SHAPE Int’l).
I have talked with a number of the staff about their individual project areas. There is a real need for project management training, information technology training, and some old-fashioned computer networking. Anyone have old routers or two and a server they’d like to donate and ship to Zimbabwe?
Everyone is quite appreciative of the advice I’ve provided and I hope they feel the same way when I leave.
On July 9th, I’ll be heading to Zimbabwe for about 5 weeks to lend a hand to an organization called SHAPE International, based at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. The organization’s goal is to reduce the number of HIV infections in the university student population through masculinity training and women’s assertiveness training. They do a number of other activities to promote awareness and understanding of HIV/AIDS. What’s interesting about this organization, though, is that they organize and train university students to be peer counselors. It’s the university students who come up with ideas for activities; it’s the university students who lead first-year orientations; it’s university students trying to educate and change the risky behavior that could lead to HIV infections.
I was connected to the organization through my old employer, Hands On Network. Hands On Network is national, coordinating agency for a number of domestic and international nonprofits who engage and challenge volunteers to actively participate in improving their communities. Because SHAPE Int’l puts student volunteers to work, they were able to join the network.
SHAPE wanted someone from the Network to help them tighten up their strategic plan, to help them with some fundraising strategies, as well as thinking about their programming. Although my work with Hands On Gulf Coast in Biloxi, Mississippi give me a pretty good flavor for the volunteer business, I don’t think it prepared me for the conditions in Zimbabwe. So, rather than spending an inordinate amount of time planning solutions to problems described via email, I figure it’s best to wait until I see the operation and the conditions they work through before I provide my thoughts and ideas for improvement.
So, we’ll see how it all goes. More to come.