There is a beautiful clinic in my village in Lesotho, Africa, funded by the U.S. Millenium Challenge Corporation.
As you may have read in a previous blog post, I visited it a few weeks ago, and discovered that once a month, Sentebale, the charity Prince Harry and Prince Seeiso of Lesotho started, runs a workshop for children and orphans with HIV/AIDS at the clinic. Sentebale means “Forget-me-not,” in Sesotho.
As I approach the clinic, I hear children singing in the main building. The door is open and I peek into the workshop room and notice two women talking to a large group of adults. One woman takes my hand and whisks me away from the room. I explain why I’m here. She then leads me to a white truck parked inside the property, where I find a man asleep in the front seat. His foot is bandaged and he says he cannot walk, but is willing to be interviewed from his car.
Sekoati is his name, and he tells me he is the program coordinator for Sentebale, responsible for the monitoring and evaluation of the children’s adherence to medication.
Sentebale partners with clinics around Lesotho and forms clubs for HIV/AIDS children aged 9-18. They offer several programs, including one specifically for the herd boys who attend a nighttime program, since they tend to the cattle and sheep during the day. (More on the life of the herd boys after I finish reading an interesting book written by a herd boy.)
The program Sekoati is responsible for is called the Mamohate program; the name given to the new children’s center in Thaba Bosiu, inaugurated by Prince Harry on November 26th, 2015. This center provides emotional and psychological support to children affected by HIV/AIDS.
Once a month, clinics around Lesotho run these clubs to distribute free ARVs, (antiretrovirals) to the children. They make it a fun day of games and offer snacks and food. They also reimburse transportation for the orphans, as some have to walk 2-3 hours to reach the clinic.
“What are your main challenges?” I ask Sekoati.
“The record keeping of how children are taking their medication. It’s very challenging to monitor their CD4 count, which we do twice a year. The blood is sent to a local hospital, but the machine is often broken, and we don’t get the results back.”
He tells me that many clinics don’t understand the benefits of the clubs, so they don’t support them.
“What about the adults I saw in the workshop?” I ask.
“Those are the caregivers. They meet four times a year, and they don’t always give the necessary support to the child.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
He explains that many orphans have behavioral problems, and are violent, troubled kids. The caregivers don’t know how to handle the behavioral issues, and the children are stigmatized; caregivers often use scare tactics with the children.
I ask Sekoati whether they teach the children sex education and condom use. He said in general, “No,” as this is a cultural/religious issue, “but things are changing.”
I mention what I’ve heard from many Basotho young women, including one expert on sexual harassment in schools and universities. Many girls have sex without protection in exchange for money or gifts. I wonder how can we make a difference in reducing HIV/AIDS in Lesotho when there is extreme poverty, starvation, as well as religious and cultural issues about not using condoms.
Young women tell me that in some (many?) primary schools, 7th grade girls will fail their exams if they refuse to have sex with their teachers. One woman I interviewed who is passionate about this topic, and is devoting her time and money to making a difference, told me that sexual harassment happens at universities and in some cases, if the young women talk about this, their teacher will flunk them, and they won’t be allowed to pursue their studies.
I am learning so much and want to help the orphans at my school. Please read next week’s post on what I hope to do in my community to help the orphans.