The Eastern Cape has an HIV infection rate of around 30% and is South Africa’s worst affected province. Cultural and traditional practices amongst men, who dominate family structures, continue to pose challenges to preventing the rapid spread of the disease. The causes for HIV transmission include unprotected heterosexual sex, gender related violence and rape, and mother to child transmission. The number of AIDS orphans is high and will continue to grow as the infection spreads.
Some improvement has been achieved through increased access to Anti-retroviral medication and growing awareness of the importance of sticking with treatment.
However, with the global food crisis affecting much of Southern Africa, growing evidence suggests the enormous burden of caring for vulnerable children and the sick is taking a toll on communities. As social networks and family structures are being eroded, women and children are suffering more abuse and violence.
With Anglican Overseas Aid support, Grahamstown Diocese’s Department of Social Responsibility (DSR) is developing a network of 'safe persons' within the community to help overcome the impact of family violence. DSR’s approach to building small empowered community groups is now active around gender based violence, organic farming practices, adherence to HIV/AIDs treatment, the support of orphans and vulnerable children and caring for carers who are increasingly experiencing burnout.
Since July 2008 DSR has increased its investment in training aimed at promoting leadership and improving group sustainability and effectiveness. The groups are brought together for combined activities to break down traditional boundaries and empower women to address the behaviours that make them vulnerable.
Organic gardens promote nutrition and care, particularly for orphans and vulnerable children. The gardening program ensures group members receive a vital combination of improved diet and creating a positive movement of change.
20 community members have been identified as 'safe persons' and have been trained to address family violence issues. Of the 12 HIV and AIDS support groups targeted for assistance, 10 are now proceeding to formal not-for-profit organisational status. With this status, each of these groups will be entitled to apply for government grants. This will improve the quality of care and support services available for people living with HIV and AIDS while reducing reliance on Grahamstown Diocese.
A sober reminder of the importance of educating teenagers occurred recently when the school friend of a teenage girl (who had received personal growth, HIV awareness and counselling training) was raped on school grounds. These school girls were able to immediately put their new skills into practice. When a local clinic refused appropriate support, they were able to assert their rights and entitlement to proper procedures and care. They also instigated a complaint against the clinic through the Department of Health.
Real progress has been reported in the organic gardens with chicken and goat rearing activities progressing well, improving access to protein and creating an income in some circumstances, as well as providing nutritious meals for orphans and malnourished children. Another exciting outcome for the project is the way local women are increasingly using their God-given talents as singer songwriters to promote HIV awareness and engage the community with prevention messages.