A Travellerspoint blog

April 2014

Finding Freedom

Week 4

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I've spent much of the week down at Lily of the Valley conducting the behavioural questionnaires with the house mothers. I also got to see a few patients at the clinic and sat in on the weekly multidisciplinary meeting held at the school where they discuss the health, social and educational needs of the children. It was a good opportunity to see how the questionnaire results will be useful, which was a relief given the time and effort taken! It was also a stark reminder of the hardships these children have already faced in their young lives. Having just one 'looked after' child with emotional problems in a class is hard enough, but looking after a whole school of children with additional needs with very few resources is a mammoth task and I can only admire the dedication of the team at Lily Vale.

1000 Hills clinic was as busy as ever, although as in the UK many of the patients just had a cold and looked baffled when we explained it didn't require any medication. South Africa seems to have an never ending range of cough syrups (including *medic chat alert* ones containing theophylline and terbutaline. Inhalers are few and far between) so most patients assume you'll be giving them something sugary to magic away their tickley cough.

On Saturday we took some of the teenage girls shopping (we have discovered Mr Price, a sort of South African Primark) and on Sunday escaped to a mall for a change of scene and to watch Captain America 2 in 3D for about £4.

Monday was yet another Public Holiday (and people wonder where SA's productivity goes)- Freedom Day, commemorating the date of the first fully democratic elections 20 years ago. We marked it by watching 'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom' with the teenagers, who came up with some very thoughtful remarks in the discussion afterwards.

This week's view is from our local wifi hotspot, Hillbilly's Café.

Posted by arianemeena 10:58 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)


Everybody loves a four day weekend

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We used our Sunday to visit Durban's northern beaches. The sky was blue, the sand golden and the Indian Ocean pretty bloody ferocious, thus demanding hoards of life guards (who took their touch rugby duties very seriously). Moses Mabdiba Stadium was built for the 2010 World Cup at enormous cost but with impressive results, here I am being battered by the wind, you can just about see the stadium behind my hair.

We've had a pretty intensive week of medicine so it was a good thing it was only four days long. On Tuesday whilst at 1000 Hills Clinic some volunteers brought in a lady they had found in a local shelter, who was very ill from an infection of the wound where her hand had been recently amputated as a result of leprosy. There was very little nursing care available where she was staying so her dressings had not been changed. We sent her to hospital and when she was discharged back to the same shelter we arranged for her to be admitted to a lovely local hospice, where they would be able to care for her wound. Leprosy is very treatable and the incidence is declining in South Africa, but there are still many misconceptions and the local doctors thought it possible this lady's poor care was due to staff members being scared of catching it.

One of the doctors at the TB hospital was on leave this week so Hannah and I did his ward round on Wednesday. We saw pretty much every complication of TB there is and witnessed firsthand how late presentation and poor compliance with medication can have devastating consequences.

The long Easter weekend meant a break from school and clinic for all of us. The weather was glorious and after Easter themed activities on Friday we had a braai (South African BBQ) with all the children on Saturday.

On Easter Sunday a couple of us took a group of the teenagers to Kloof Gorge where they conducted an impromptu photoshoot by the waterfall. Nearly 20 of the 7-14 year olds went on an overnight camp, leaving the village bizarrely quiet.

Easter Monday was the second day of the Kearsney College Rugby Festival, where some of South Africa's best school teams competed and future stars were selected by the Sharks Academy. The standard was amazing and no doubt some of these guys will be Springboks in a couple of years.

This week's view is from the back of Makaphutu out over the forested hills behind us.

Posted by arianemeena 15:06 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)


Howick and Makaphutu

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Sunday is my designated day off and a few of the volunteers headed up to Howick Falls, north of Pietermaritzburg.

Nearby is the site of Nelson Mandela's capture in 1962, where there is now a photographic exhibition and a recently unveiled memorial.

I spent much of the week at Lily of the Valley (the larger children's village with nursery, primary school and medical clinic on site) which involved getting the lively 7am school bus from Makaphutu, where the early hour does nothing to temper the enthusiastic singalong to Zulu-pop.

Some of the children have, quite understandably given their backgrounds, emotional, behavioural and attention problems and I have been asked by the Lily clinic doctor to help the house mothers complete some baseline evaluations. I joined Grade 3 for a day and also met with the Special Needs teacher to discuss the issues they face in school.

Hannah and I were asked to join the Community Care Givers from 1000 Hills Clinic on house visits so they could get our opinion on a few of the patients they see who are unable to make it to the clinic. Twelve of us piled in to the back of the ambulance and headed off, occasionally stopping to move a cow out of the road.

The surrounding rural township has relatively high levels of poverty and some of the people we visited explained the difficulties in getting pensions or grants when too ill to work. The most distressing case was an elderly lady, left bedridden by a stroke and neglected by her sons. If no one remembered to bring her food she wouldn't eat and her blood pressure had become uncontrolled (so putting her at risk of a further stroke) as she had run out of medication. We were able to take her in the ambulance to the local government clinic for assessment and medication and the Home Care manager from 1000 Hills set about organising a temporary bed whilst a care home could be found. The Community Care Givers go door-to-door to identify those in need of help and if they were not around I dread to think what would have happened.

Back at Makaphutu I've worked out most of the children's names, but still cause great mirth when I attempt any of the various clicks that pop up all over the place in Zulu. We've been supervising homework club, seeing any children the housemothers are concerned about and had a Saturday Maths training session in preparation for the next Olympics. This week's view is brought to you by the imaginatively named 'The View' pancake house, where I tried SA specialty bunny chow (no bunnies were harmed in the making of this dish).

Posted by arianemeena 06:34 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

This is Africa

Arrival in Makaphutu

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After an exhausting week of skiing and an even more tiring weekend of pole dancing (photos redacted) it was no wonder I slept most of the way to Johannesburg. I had a couple of hours to kill at the airport and swiftly found Woolworths- confusingly, this is the South African version of M&S, although without Percy Pigs so a pretty poor showing.

After a speedy flight to Durban I was met by a smiley welcoming committee- Karen and Samina, two of the TWOWEEKS trustees, who were in their last days of a whistle-stop trip. My first evening in Makaphutu Children's Village was marked by an impressive electrical storm, illuminating the stunning surrounding hills.

There are two other TWOWEEKS volunteers here at the moment- Hannah, a fellow F3 and her boyfriend Chris, a lawyer, who had come out ten days before my arrival. There are also two Zulu volunteers, a German and an American, as well as three Norwegian girls who are about to leave after a 6 month stay. We are living in two neighbouring cottages (strictly segregated by gender of course) in the middle of the village. Some of the youngest children live in the cottage underneath ours and early morning renditions of 'Man in the Mirror' are currently acting as a remarkably effective alarm clock. Each cottage has a house mother and 7 - 9 children, ranging in age from 2 to 19. Siblings live together and the cottages are roughly divided by age group.

In the morning I accompanied Hannah to the Don McKenzie TB Centre. This government hospital treats, among others, those with chronic TB complications or who have multi-drug resistant TB and so need injectable antibiotics. The inpatient unit only has three doctors (for years it just had one) and no juniors, putting at least some of the staff shortages in the NHS in to perspective.

That night the TWOWEEKS team had a farewell (to Samina and Karen) and welcome (to me!) dinner in a local restaurant. In an impressive coincidence I bumped in to two girls I did F1 with, Hannah and Caroline who are working in Pietermaritzburg, on my way to the loo.

On Thursday Hannah and I spent the morning at the 1000 Hills clinic, a remarkable endeavour set up in the late 80s by a nurse that provides free medical care, including HIV support, to the local population. They also have a kitchen where they cook lunch for hundreds of locals every day, as well as a crèche so women can go to work. There is a doctor who volunteers her time every Thursday morning and every other Wednesday morning and extra pairs of hands are always welcome. Our visit coincided with a Rotary Club Health day where nurses were doing child malnutrition screening, administering deworming medication, performing cervical screening and all sorts of other things on a seemingly endless supply of people.

I made my first trip to Lily of the Valley on Friday morning. This is where TWOWEEKS first volunteered and as well as the children's village (with 110 children as compared to Makaphutu's 50) has a primary school, medical clinic and various community projects on site.

We were informed that the volunteers would be running the 'Maths Olympics' every other Saturday, in the hope of making numeracy fun whilst surreptitiously improving basic skills. We organised the children in to mixed ability teams and designed games based on the ten times table, culminating in a relay race where the next team member could only start running once they'd completed a sum. Not sure Michael Gove would approve but the children seemed to enjoy it.

It's been school holidays here so any normal schedule has gone out the window. This coming week I'm hoping to meet with some key staff members and develop project ideas. Hannah and I will continue to help out in the TB hospital and local clinic as well as carrying on with basic health checks and reviews for the children. And in my free time I will admire as many views like this one as possible:

Posted by arianemeena 07:44 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

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