Carmel Lawry: Initial observations from Ofcolaco, South Africa

Students from Holy Family doing their washing
One month has gone very quickly. I am just living the life and loving it – have no regrets taking on the challenge. The kids are great and it has been very easy to slip back into the routine. That said, 4.45am wake up most mornings are ok but sometimes I wake and think another hour or two would be nice. It is difficult to sleep in any way as our area is right next to the dining room and the kids breakfast at 6.15am with considerable noise!

All clinics which served solely as AIDS clinics have been shut down and the Government wants the AIDS service to be combined into the general clinics – this is not a bad thing as long as the government keeps up the service and medication supply. The clinics have been run by welfare organisations and the medications funded by USA. It was never the intention for this to carry on forever. The assistance has been given now for over 10 years and the international community expect that the South African Government will take over the responsibility for their own people and the people themselves take responsibility for their own health.

Our local clinic which has closed also provided transport to and from the clinic from the local villages. That was definitely a bonus and people will have to make their own way, which means they will have to pay for transport or walk long distances. The people were monitored for compliance and if found they were not taking their medications then they were taken off the program (as numbers were limited) and the funding transferred to another who would be compliant.

That said, the children in the original program set up by the church and sisters still have a clinic in Tzaneen and as the two are connected the children have been transferred to this clinic. It does mean we have to travel further – about an hour each way – but this is preferred. The international funding is supposed to stop completely by 2014. When the termination date was indicated to the government they then acted to close the aid specific clinics.

Lots of work has been completed in the seven months I was back in Australia. Generally making the place more liveable – paving, covered walkways for the wet season when it just pours. They experienced flooding in this area about the same time as Australia earlier this year. Roads were blocked, could not drive kids to school or pick up the staff.  The people living in the villages would have been flooded out. Their homes are in a very poor state and often roofing is corrugated iron sheets held down by bricks and plastic sheeting. The home still has a creek at the back where water is still running down from the mountains. The deepest part would be about a foot but the kids still manage to catch little fish and drench themselves at the same time.

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A partnership is not about money changing hands. A true partnership is about ideas changing minds. - Jan Vandemoortele