Week 2 saw the group based near Francistown, 450km north of Gaborone. With a population of 100,000 the number of adults carrying the HIV virus is reputed to be at 45% and we would be reminded of this later in the week. However, Monday to Friday our work was to be based in Sowa – one of a cluster of mining towns 160km north west of Francistown – and in Tshesebe, just 60km north of Francistown close to the Zimbabwe border.
This week would add to, if not complete, our knowledge of what was driving and maintaining the incidence of HIV in Botswana. At the same time our hearts would be lifted by seeing the work done to fight and deal with the consequences of the virus.
The information we got from coaches and teaching staff in Sowa was varied but the overall message here was that the relative prosperity being delivered by the mining companies was also bringing its own problems in relation to HIV prevalence.
1. The mine workers themselves, some from outside Botswana and some staying in camps close to the mines, would look for sex with local women with the extra money they had available apparently being a welcome attraction. Add prostitution to this scenario of multiple partners and once again the conditions for the spread of the disease are there.
2. Lorry drivers. The salt pans near Sowa and Nata are the only source of Potash/Soda in Southern Africa. Lorry drivers from neighbouring countries come to fill up and deliver the materials back to their own countries. On average drivers would stay a week and during this time would look for sex. Again the spread of HIV (both in and out of Botswana) seems an inevitable consequence of this lifestyle and level of movement.
The Head Teacher at one of the schools in Sowa was very concerned about the incidence and prevalence of HIV in the town and surrounding area. His school was about to set up Anti HIV workshops to make it brutally clear to teenagers what the consequences are of the disease. This is of course great news but….. it does seem very late in the day to be doing this.
We also got further confirmation (from the staff we were coaching) of the high level of unemployment among the young people after completing their degrees at University (this can’t just be too many irrelevant courses as suggested elsewhere). Ironically, those that ‘failed’ at 16 and did vocational training in what are known as ‘brigades’ did much better at finding work – often with the mining companies or moving to farming under a government initiative. Qualified young people ‘walking the streets’ or doing menial work for low pay must remain an issue in HIV prevalence.
At Tseshebe we met the TOP Banana organisation. These guys are really special and work with under privileged and orphaned kids of various description. Their work also involves making HIV testing as accessible as possible and it is good to see their efforts are starting to bear fruit with improving figures and attitudes towards testing.
At the centre at Tseshebe they (led by Stan from Glasgow) showed us both the pre school facility (up to age 6) that they are close to completing and also the HIV testing centre. They also go ‘on the road’ with a mobile facility and it was at this that I got HIV counselled and tested on Thursday, to see the process for myself and, should the opportunity arise, tell the kids how easy it actually is. Expertly done, this would guide anyone that tested positive to the full medical facilities and ARV drugs that would help them. Basically, as the posters they have say, it is ‘better to know’ and the process is so simple there are no excuses.
Increasingly over the 2 weeks, we got the message that underneath the ‘visible’ causes of HIV prevalence and spread (as already described) are the underlying cultural and traditional behaviors that undermine the efforts of guys like Top Banana. The acceptance of multiple partners from both male and female and the preference of males for unprotected sex is right there at the heart of issue. There is great work being done in dealing with the consequences of HIV – availability of ARV drugs, circumcision programmes, increased testing (especially for pregnant women), schools and orphanages either privately or government funded plus the efforts of Top Banana and Children’s Trusts – will all be undermined unless there is a serious attempt to tackle these ‘traditional’ behaviors.
If we can become aware of these in 2 weeks, we can only assume that they exist and continue in the full knowledge of the authorities – who therefore know what issues are being caused by them.
The final morning saw us attend a Community Day in Francistown. This turned out to be an event held every Saturday by volunteer organisations and as usual over 300 kids were there. Many of these were poorly clothed and barefoot and there was hardly a parent (if any) in sight. Just as at Gamodubu on day 1, all the kids are guaranteed a meal, to have some fun with various games and sports (today was cricket!) and take a break from what must be such a tough existence.
As one of the brilliant volunteers (a retired banker) told us, here was the real consequence of HIV right in front of us. Many young boys and girls were there looking after even younger siblings because there parents were no longer alive or too ill to look after them. Children as young as two had been brought because a meal was guaranteed and to watch them all line up patiently and quietly to get their hands washed and then have some food was both uplifting and heart rending at the same time.
This event alone underlines why Cricket Without Boundaries is doing the right thing – and must carry on doing it. We must help to get the right messages (ABC &T is a start) to the next generation as the current one appears to have made a mess. Unlike the volunteers described above, we are just passing through. However, none of us will forget what we have seen and experienced and we hope that our message might be remembered by some of the 1000+ kids we have worked with.
We all love Botswana to bits but the real solutions are in their own hands.