We came to Botswana knowing what HIV/AIDS was and what the statistics were telling us about prevalence, new infections, life expectancy and so on. We also knew we were coming here to encourage the A (Abstain) B (Be Faithful) C (Condomise) and T (Testing) behaviours through our cricket coaching. What was less clear was what the real impact of HIV/AIDS had been in Botswana and to understand the ‘why’ – what were its root causes that had led us to be here.
These are my personal thoughts (as HIV Lead) on the middle Sunday of our trip.
WEEK 1 – Gaborone
Monday’s visit to Gamodubu Children’s Trust was the shock to the system we probably needed. A number of fantastic volunteers, led by Shelly and Annie (a.k.a. Lucky) ran the trust and made sure there was somewhere for 300+ kids to go to get food, their clothes washed and basically get some care and love. While we all overwhelmed by the life and enthusiasm of the kids, the stark reality (explained to us by the volunteers) was;
• A high percentage of the kids there were carrying the HIV/AIDS virus, in many cases passed to them by their parents that had either not taken precautions needed or taken the medication available to pregnant mothers that would prevent the virus being passed on to their babies.
• Many of the kids had been orphaned by HIV
• Most would not eat if the Trust did not feed them
• Many parents, or relatives in charge of the kids, are in a cycle of alcohol abuse. This involved spending their meagre earnings or government grant income on a local concoction (chibuku), which meant regular drunkenness, neglect for the children and risk taking with sex and consequent spread of HIV.
• At the centre there was an 11 year old girl with a baby. This was as a result of abuse from her own uncle. It was clear she was getting love and support from the heroic at the trust but clearly she stands as a victim of the cycle described above.
Drawing information from the teachers is important. We couldn’t do this at Pitsonyane but were able to have good off line discussions at both Lobatse and Thamanga. We did note however, that in one group session with 16 staff we found a clear reluctance to discuss HIV issues. They were very uncomfortable discussing HIV status and we were told this was something families/parents had the option to keep this confidential.
Lobatse – ABC is taught within the curriculum but perhaps the message is getting tired and there is evidence of complacency from pupils and some of the boys were already drinking (we are not talking about the odd beer) at local ‘dens’. Lack of jobs and prospects is clearly a problem for young people, leading to a lack of hope and potentially a cycle of not caring and taking risks with both alcohol and sex.
This scenario was expanded on by a teacher at Thamanga. Botswana’s apparently booming economy is not creating the new jobs required – lack of foreign investment being a major reason (Hyundai cars came and went). Manufacturing is being set up in surrounding countries so Botswana does not get the jobs. Is it just that the 2 million population of Botswana is not an attraction for the multi nationals or is it the continuing HIV prevalence that puts them off? Either way there seems to be a link – through lack of prospects for many young people – back to the new HIV cases still occurring.
Another issue, repeated on different occasions, was the readiness of younger women (ages 11 to 18) to be ‘lured’ by older men (30 to 40 years) into a sexual relationship in the belief that this could lift their living standards. The girls clearly did not see young men as able to do this. Often the girls will be unaware that the man has other partners and are tempted into unprotected sex – with the heightened risk of HIV.
Somewhere there are cultural and behavioural issues that are not helping the HIV issue in Botswana but these are difficult to be clear on at the moment.
ARE WE DELIVERING OUR MESSAGE?
I think Team Botswana is doing well in getting over the ABC & T messages. We are honest with our feedback and probably quite self-critical so that if we feel ‘performance’ has dropped we sort it out the next session.
Importantly, the feedback from the teachers we have been coaching has been positive. They welcome a new way to get the HIV/AIDS messages across outside the classroom – within sports activities.
By the end of our sessions, previously quiet kids are shouting out their ABCs loud and clear. Most of them know exactly what the message is and hopefully the wristband will remind them of the strange white, pink and sometimes tanned English guys that came to see them.
The older kids we look in the eye and tell them they are the future of Botswana and so they must stay healthy and make the right choices – and live the ABC&T.
We expect to learn much more in week 2 up in Francistown.