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!
June 21, 2009
Originally home to over 200,000 refugees, Meheba now houses approximately 14,000 people hailing from Angola, DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, and Sudan. Those that are left have hopes of being offered resettlement in the U.S. or Europe (in actuality only about 1% of refugees world-wide are able to utilize this option), or being absorbed into the Zambian population. Some, such as one of FORGE’s employees, were born here in Zambia but are still considered refugees and unable to obtain citizenship.
In theory, refugees are supposed to have the right to travel and work within the country of acceptance, but that is not the case in Zambia. In Meheba, FORGE is one of only three employers and the 50 or so jobs that we offer to refugees is by far the largest number. The UN and Zambian government occasionally hire refugees, but most of their positions are held by Zambians.
In many ways Meheba is not a traditional refugee camp. Each family has land for cultivation and the main center of the settlement houses a fairly large market with fresh vegetables, rice, beans, and bread. Many of the miners based near Solwezi will visit Meheba for produce as it is better quality and cheaper than in town. One of FORGE’s employees has an extensive garden and he supplies us with fresh greens, tomatoes, and onions on a regular basis. Cooking them is more problematic as our stove/oven consists of a charcoal brazier that is “slightly” difficult to light in the mornings. I’m getting the hang of it though.
FORGE operates multiple different programs in the settlement. I am here to help with the pre-schools of which there are three spread out throughout the camp. There are also multiple libraries, two health programs, a Women’s Center, an agricultural loan program, and a high school sponsorship program.
This past Saturday (June 20) was World Refugee Day and the UN sponsored a huge celebration on the grounds of one of the schools in the settlement. There was native dancing and skits based on sexual & gender based violence and the flight of refugees during war. It was slightly disturbing to watch the cheering whenever women’s rights were mentioned or anti-violence speeches were given knowing that only two days earlier a two-year-old had been raped in the settlement. We’re hopeful that things will improve though.