Kimberly Vrudny

Archive for the ‘Non-profits / NGOs’ Category


In Education, HIV/AIDS, Literacy, Mexico, Non-profits / NGOs, OMIECH on August 10, 2010 at 3:15 am

Organizacíon de Médicos Indígenas del Estado de Chiapas

Founded in 1985, OMIECH is a non-governmental organization that is devoted to the promotion of Mayan medicine. Its vision is to develop and strengthen Mayan medicinal practices throughout the state of Chiapas by providing a unique model of healthcare centered on the philosophical and medicinal principles of the Mayan peoples. Currently, OMIECH serves 600 members who represent 13 indigenous communities from the highlands and the jungle, as well as the northern and central regions of Chiapas. Longterm objectives of the organization include:

• Defending the natural resources of indigenous peoples against biopiracy;
• Rescuing, conserving, systematizing, and developing indigenous medicines;
• Producing medicinal treatments for illnesses most prevalent in indigenous communities;
• Producing and distributing health-related instructional material into indigenous communities.

The key projects of OMIECH to support these objectives are:

Mayan Medicine Museum: Visited by school and church groups, as well as Mexican and foreign tourists, the museum project is an effort to present to a broader public the various elements of traditional Mayan medicine. The museum features:

1 – The Public Plaza shows the visitor the extent to which traditional medicine is practiced and preserved in the communities of Chiapas. Also on display here are the most common categories of indigenous medics that form part of the Organization of Indigenous Medics of the State of Chiapas (OMIECH). The most common categories of the Indigenous Medics are the J’ilol (pulse reader); K’oponej witz (mountaintop prayer healer); Tzak’bak (bone healer); Jve’t’ome (midwife); and the Ac’vomol (herbalist). The plaza also explains that becoming an indigenous medic is not something that can be learned. Rather, only those who have the gift or the “don” and have discovered this gift in dreams can practice indigenous medicine.

2- The church is a sacred space protected by saints who were blessed specifically for this space.

3 – The Mountaintop Prayer Healer’s Garden has on exhibit examples of plants, animals, and minerals that are used in healings by the traditional medics of the Chiapas Highlands. A mural representative of the magnificence and density of the southwest mountains of Mexico occupies one wall. At the center of this space the mountaintop prayer healer can be found.

4 – The Midwife’s House shows how a Tzotzil midwife assists in childbirth using just a few instruments.

5 – The Herbalist’s House demonstrates how to prepare sacred plants.

6 – The Candle Workshop shows the making of candles, for in indigenous medicine, candles are a fundamental element with a the curative capacity.

Herbal Program: Central to the herbal program is the defense of indigenous medicine against biopiracy. The herbal program disseminates medicinal plants and knowledge about them into member communities. An herbal pharmacy at the organization’s headquarters in San Cristobal de las Casas makes the plants available to those nearer to the city. Medicinal gardens in member communities enable the organization to provide herbs to outlying communities. The organization has also developed a number of workshops that train people in the care and use of medicinal plants.

Midwife Program: A fundamental principle of the midwife program is to provide a space where women can safely share with one another their experiences of pregnancy and childbirth within the context of indigenous medicinal practices. In this way, the community supports and defends the right of women to discuss, analyze, and make decisions over the reproductive process. The elderly and the young gather at these meetings, together with midwives, to share knowledge about the use of medicinal plants during pregnancy and childbirth, as well as in relation to infant care. Health promoters often attend these meetings in order to disseminate health-related information in the communities.

Media Production: The organization produces audiovisual materials with the objective of training members of indigenous communities about the use of Mayan medicines in treating the most common illnesses impacting indigenous communities. Materials are also made to promote health by informing the indigenous communities about emerging health issues, including HIV/AIDS.

If you would like to donate to OMIECH, please send an e-mail ( including the following details:

1. Please specify the area you would like to support:

Mayan Medicine Museum
Herbal Program
Midwife Program
Media Production

2. Please specify the currency you are sending:

American dollars
European Euros
Mexican Pesos

3. Please specify the amount you wish to donate.

4. Please identify yourself:

Residential or Commercial Address
E-mail Address

If you wish to visit or write to OMIECH, the Organizacíon, as well as the Mayan Medicine Museum, are located at the Center for the Development of Mayan Medicine (CEDEMM):

Av. Salomón González Blanco No. 10, Col. Morelos.
San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, México.
C.P. 29230. Apdo. Postal 117.
Telefax 01 (967) 67- 85438

Ikamva Labantu

In Elderly, HIV/AIDS, Non-profits / NGOs, Senior Citizens, South Africa on August 10, 2010 at 3:00 am

For more than 30 years, Ikamva Labantu (“The Future of Our Nation”) has been involved in building up communities broken down by the brutalities of apartheid. Today, it is an umbrella non-profit, non-governmental organization supporting the social development of tens of thousands of people through more than 1,000 projects fitting under four broader foci: health intervention and food security; educational access; skills and enterprise development; and land and building provision. Ikamva Labantu builds and supports crèches (pre-schools), schools, senior centers, and youth centers. It provides skills training programs, and undertakes building initiatives. And, finally, it develops programs for the disabled, the elderly, and orphans.

It was the creativity behind Ikamva Labantu’s senior care program that first captured my attention. Recognizing the pressure that seniors were under, given increasing responsibilities to care for grandbabies even in the midst of mourning for children taken by a virus or by violence, on top of demands from family and from community for a portion of the small, monthly pension they receive from the government, Ikamva Labantu created a place for seniors to find rest and play, as well as support and encouragement. In a day at any of the seventeen senior centers that have been established in the Western Cape Province, visitors might find seniors enjoying a meal, visiting with friends, exercising their bodies, playing a game, making crafts, tending a vegetable garden, or attending special events. Additionally, the centers provide assistance for seniors who are completing applications for pensions, social services, or disability grants.

Proudly developing “solutions by South Africans for South Africans,” the organization emphatically strives to maintain community ownership and direction of its initiatives. This principle is easily seen in today’s senior centers. They are being transformed into “Integrated Activity Centers” where child-care facilities, after-school and sports programs, life skill training workshops, and guidance counseling are offered for the young ones who are living with their grandparents. The integrated approach provides support and relief to over-extended grandparents, simultaneously providing high-quality care for the children. The idea for this integrated approach grew out of the community, and has been implemented by an organization that is listening carefully to those it aims to serve.

Equally significant is Ikamva Labantu’s program for vulnerable children. With the assistance of a grant from Remgro, a South African Investment Holding Company, Ikamva Labantu launched a pilot program in 2006 in Philippi, an impoverished community outside of Cape Town, to develop a program that could be replicated in other parts of the country. Ikamva Labantu standardized a model of intervention for vulnerable children that supported 73 families caring for 271 children over seventeen months and for just over R5/day. The model, called Siyakathala (“We care” in Xhosa), involves no fewer than eight stages:

  1. Identifying children in the community through informal talks and referrals;
  2. Assessing needs through standardized interviews with the children and/or caregivers;
  3. Obtaining documentation of birth, parental death or proper identification for grant applications;
  4. Applying for grants;
  5. Caring for children by offering emotional support through grief and loss counseling as well as by supporting their education by the sponsoring of uniforms, stationary, and school fees;
  6. Supporting care givers by providing training and reliable information;
  7. Fostering independence by providing peer-support group facilitation and entrepreneurial development;
  8. Disengaging from families when they become independent, while remaining open to the possibility of providing future support should it become necessary.

Please support the work of Ikamva Labantu, if you are able. Among the organization’s unique opportunities to provide support is its “Adopt a Grandparent” program. For R150/month (approximately $20/month), you can support a Grannie’s transportation to the Center, as well as ensuring her a daily nutritious meal. Other opportunities for giving are outlined on Ikamva Labantu’s website:

Account Name: Ikamva Labantu Trust
Bank: First National Bank
Branch: Adderley Street, Cape Town, South Africa
Account Number: 62054752467
Branch Code: 250655
Swift Code: FIRNZAJJ
Once you have completed the wire transfer, please e-mail the amount donated, your contact details, and the name of the program you are supporting to If the e-mail does not specify a particular program, Ikamva Labantu will allocate the funding according to its discretion.

Inzame Zabantu

In Health Care, HIV/AIDS, Non-profits / NGOs, South Africa on August 10, 2010 at 2:45 am

Community Health Centre

Inzame Zabantu Community Health Centre is a medical clinic situated in Phillipi, in an area called Brown’s Farm, about 20 kilometers from Cape Town’s city centre. Whereas many governmental clinics in South Africa are dreary structures, worn by time and lacking funds for proper maintenance, Inzame Zabantu is light and airy, with windows that wash the waiting area with warmth and sunlight. The walls are painted with bright colors, and the grounds are well tended, even with a garden outside its front door. In completing the portraits and still lifes for 30/30, I interviewed Zethu Xapile, an administrative nurse at the Centre, to learn more about this remarkable Clinic in the new South Africa.

Please tell me about the community in which the clinic is located.

Brown’s Farm is an informal settlement that was developed immediately after apartheid was overturned in 1994. Many people are still living in shacks in Brown’s Farm. Even those who live in houses made of brick and mortar have shacks behind their houses, as many families attempt to shelter extended family on the same plot of land. It is common to have about ten or twelve people living in a house with only two bedrooms.

The area has an estimated population of about 80,000. The unemployment rate stands at 60%. Those who are employed are working as laborers and domestic workers, and earn very little income. Pensions and social grants generate an average income per household of around R800/month. The situation is very difficult. Teachers from the local schools sometimes bring children to the clinic who have collapsed due to hunger; nurses learn that they have gone for days without food.

What is the history of the Clinic? Was there a medical facility here prior to the building of this structure?

In 1994, members of the Brown’s Farm community approached the government with the request for a health facility. They received a donation of old shipping containers from a company called Safmarine. Wellconel, a pharmaceutical company, also donated used shipping containers. The government then prepared the containers and furnished them. The health centre started operating in 1994. The facility was given the name “Inzame Zabantu,” a phrase in Xhosa that means “the people’s initiative.” From 1997 to 2003, the administrators of the facility repeatedly submitted requests asking the government to build a proper structure, but they did not allocate funds for this purpose.

Meanwhile, the facility formed a partnership with the J. L. Zwane Community Centre. The clinic benefited from this partnership by receiving donations of medical equipment and non-pharmaceuticals from partners in the United States. In the year 2000, a woman from Dallas, Texas, donated five more shipping containers to give the clinic more working space and a roof over the containers to create a waiting space for the patients.

Please tell me about the process of winning the grant to build the new clinic?

In 2003, Professor Househam, Head of Health in the Western Cape, visited Inzame Zabantu. The staff stated its case, explaining how the containers were very cold in winter, and how the heat in summer was equally trying. He immediately set up a team to work with Zethu Xapile, an administrative nurse at the Centre, to generate a design and plan for the new building. The current building, which was officially opened in September 2006, is the beautiful result of that visit.

Please, describe the clinic.

The new facility consists of six consulting rooms, a treatment room, a dressing room, a preparation room, a reception area, a pharmacy, a boardroom, a staff tea room, an office, and a waiting area.

How many people are on staff here?

The government employs the clinic’s staff, which consists of one medical doctor, three clinical nursing practitioners, one professional nurse, two nursing assistants, one pharmacist, two pharmacy assistants, two administration clerks, two general assistants, and two health promotion officers.

How many patients does the clinic service daily, on average?

200 clients a day visit the Centre, on average. The clinic could not cope without its partners including individuals and non-governmental organizations. The Antiretroviral Service is run by an NGO called Absolute Return for Kids (ARK). Lay counselors do the pre- and post-test counseling. Additionally, a pharmacist from the United States worked at the Centre for a year on a voluntary basis.

Inzame Zabantu operates at a Primary Health Care level, providing curative, preventative and promotive health care, which means it is the first point of entry in the health care system for residents of Philippi and its surrounding area. The clinic sees clients from the age of thirteen and up. The service is free. As the only facility in the area, the clinic adds services that are much needed in the community.

What are the most common illnesses that are treated here?

The most common illnesses are chronic diseases of lifestyle, like diabetes, hypertension, and HIV/AIDS. Clients who need further management are transferred by an ambulance to secondary and sometimes tertiary health care providers.

Do you offer services here for clients who are HIV-positive?

The rate of HIV/AIDS in the area is 1:5. For this reason, the antiretroviral service is growing very fast. Inzame Zabantu started offering this service in July 2007, and up to now, has registered 1,202 clients on antiretrovirals. 77 more clients are awaiting the start of the regimen. The facility is too small to manage so many clients.

What are your limitations? For what kinds of illnesses/tests must you send people away in order for them to receive treatment elsewhere?

As this is a small facility, with limited space, there are services that we do not yet provide, but would love to offer at a future stage:

Inzame Zabantu does not have a tuberculosis service. Rather, nurses investigate and diagnose clients, but then send them to another clinic for treatment. As tuberculosis is one of the opportunistic diseases associated with HIV/AIDS, the Centre would like to make it easy for its clients by providing both ARV and TB service under one roof.

Maternal health is a must for any health care facility but, in the case of Inzame Zabantu, there are not enough rooms to be able to provide such a service. Maternal health includes family planning, cervical screening, and basic antenatal care. Residents of Brown’s Farm have to travel more than 10 km to access such a service.

There is no x-ray facility, so again residents of Brown’s Farm travel on foot about 10 km for this service.

Do you have plans/hopes for expansion, or replication?

Given all of this, it is clear that Inzame Zabantu wishes to expand to be able to render a quality service to its clients, and to attend to every one who comes to the facility. All the same, its beautiful architecture, graceful garden, and warm interior design expresses the care this facility provides to the residents of Brown’s Farm, who took the initiative to develop a proper health care center in a deeply impoverished section of the townships outside of Cape Town.

Thank you for providing this information.

Inzame Zabantu stands as a place of hope and promise in the community. Please support its work, if you are able:

J. L. Zwane Center

In Non-profits / NGOs, Religious Fundamentalism, South Africa on August 10, 2010 at 2:30 am

The drive into the townships is a startling exercise in contrasts. As border crossers leave Cape Town behind them, with its crowded promenade that runs along the ocean, bustling shopping centers, and active tourist industry, they encounter heavily concentrated areas where people designated “black” and “coloured” under the apartheid regime live in a variety of small homes: tens of thousands of shacks, government issue houses, and pride of ownership homes jumbled in a tangled network of neighborhoods built on every scrap of ground available between freeways offering access in and out of these poor but vibrant communities. The overwhelming sensation in the area is dryness: sand, dirt, concrete, and cardboard compete for attention. Water taps and toilets are shared by tens or hundreds of people, depending on the density of the population. Corrugated iron and sheets of metal form roofs and walls of places people call home, all of which seem strung together with cables of wire in a complex and unsafe network of electrical power. John de Gruchy, a longtime professor of theology at Cape Town University, writes about the striking disparity between Cape Town and the townships in this way:

Cape Town is a city of contrasts, awesomely beautiful, tragically ugly. Lying beneath Table Mountain, which rises sharply out of the Atlantic Ocean, it is situated on a peninsula that is the heartland of one of the six floral kingdoms of the world. The southern tip of the peninsula has been described as both the Cape of Good Hope and the Cape of Storms, depending on how it has been experienced by those who have sailed around its craggy sentinel. Cape Point represents the end of Africa, or its beginning, cleaving the icy cold waters of the Atlantic from the warmer currents of the Indian Ocean. Tourists are awed by what they see. Those who climb Lion’s Head to watch the summer sun set over the Atlantic are stunned by the beauty. Yet the city and its environs are saturated with aesthetic and moral ambiguity, the co-mingling of exuberance and pathos, creativity and destruction. A city of many cultures and political persuasions competing for space and control, yet bound together as one in the need to shape a common destiny.

As a human construct of several centuries, Cape Town embodies beauty in its architecture and its gardens. But alongside this beauty, whether natural or constructed, lies another, ugly reality, much of it the creation of colonial and apartheid legislation and oppression, an architecture that reinforces alienation from social others and the environment. Natural beauty has been scarred by greed and racism; by highways that separate citizens from the sea and its beaches; and by public works that reflect modernity at its worst. The stylish homes of the wealthy often reflect a vulgar opulence rather than the beauty of the surrounding habitat. Not too far from them, though designed to be out of sight and sound, are conditions of widespread poverty. These have spawned street children, gangs, drug trafficking, prostitution, and violent crime. The contrasting worlds of Cape Town are no different from those of many other cities around the world where rich and poor live and work cheek by jowl. But there are few cities where the contrasts are experienced so keenly simply because the beauty of the city and its environment is so breathtaking (de Gruchy, 176).

But rising out of the midst of all of this in Guguletu is a clock tower, creating an unmistakable landmark in the area representing hope to the impoverished community surrounding it. The J. L. Zwane Church was founded by Jeremiah Zwane who came to Guguletu in 1952 to reestablish the church as a vibrant presence in a region devastated by apartheid’s brutal practices. Operating initially out of a poorly constructed building, the church was a center of anti-apartheid activity until the elections voted the African National Congress into power in 1994, overturning decades of the cruel and racist practices of the former regime. In the same year, the J. L. Zwane Centre was established as a joint initiative of Stellenbosch University, the Church, and the Guguletu community to meet the needs of the people. Instrumental to all of this was the work and vision of Rev. Dr. Spiwo Xapile (his name means “gift” in Xhosa), who came to the church in 1989. In his tenure, he has developed a model for community-focused ministries made possible by creating strategic partnerships with people in business, academia, and government. By 2002, he had raised enough money to build the Centre with its striking architecture, hopeful interior, and tasteful art. He has nurtured the leadership potential of many men and women who have come through its doors by surrounding himself with an extremely capable and dedicated staff, among them both Edwin Louw (a Presbyterian minister who serves as project director for the Centre), and Bongani Magatyana (an accomplished musician and composer who works with the musical group Siyaya), and by thinking with precision about programs that will impact the community in a positive and sustainable way.

There are many such programs at the Centre, and readers can learn more about each one on the Centre’s website. Here, however, I will highlight only three:

The HIV/AIDS Support Group meets weekly to offer a safe haven to those who have tested positive. Members come together to share their struggles and challenges with one another. Staffed by social workers, members receive counseling and acquire quality information about the virus in a society still reluctant to receive medicine and information from the West. Through one another, they learn how to live positively and productively with an infection.

Siyaya is a 16-member musical group that practices daily at the Centre and takes its message of hope into the community to educate children about the dangers of sexual promiscuity and drug use due to the high prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. The group has traveled internationally, and has won acclaim for the quality of its music, message, and movement.

The Rainbow After-School Program hires teachers to sit with children from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday to provide homework support and nutritional supplement to students from the township. As many as 150 children come for an after-school snack before settling in at tables in various facilities at the Centre to complete homework, play games, and socialize after a full day of school. The snack is provided through a wider program of nutritional support to feed the community, many of whom are undernourished due to high unemployment rates.

The J. L. Zwane Centre is a remarkable place with a staff that welcomes every human being who crosses its threshold. It lives out a spirituality of recognizing the inherent dignity of every human person in a context rife with racial, economic, and cultural tension and division. Please visit its website to learn more about this place of refuge and hope in Guguletu.

Scalabrini Centre

In HIV/AIDS, Non-profits / NGOs, South Africa, Xenophilia, Xenophobia on August 10, 2010 at 2:15 am
Immigrants to Cape Town, including refugees and asylum seekers, often have needs that are not uniformly and cordially met by governmental agencies and welfare programs set up to serve citizens, an observation made long ago by John Baptist Scalabrini who, in 1887, founded the Scalabrini Order in order to serve the welfare of migrants. More specifically, because millions of Italians were fleeing from Italy in the closing decades of the 1900s as crushing poverty coincided with political strife as the Holy See and newly formed Italian state were hammering out their differences, a priest by the name of Giovanni Battista (John Baptist) Scalabrini became concerned that his parishioners were in danger when they left for America without money, jobs, or knowledge of English. He felt compelled to assist his parishioners in their efforts to migrate, first by writing for them letters of introduction which they could carry with them, to deliver to a priest on the other side of the ocean wherever and whenever they settled. Once he was installed as Bishop, his social activism progressed:

In the next few years, while emigration continued to increase in the face of continued Italian poverty, the bishop involved himself in several large projects to help the poor. Scalabrini established a society to aid the mondine, impoverished women harvesting rice in the paddies of northern Italy. He also opened an institute for the deaf and mute in his diocese. During the famine year of 1879, he turned his episcopal residence into a soup kitchen, dishing out 4,000 bowls of soup each day, selling his horses and even a bejeweled cup, a gift of the pope, to keep the soup kettles boiling. But the immigration question kept preying on his mind (Robb).

Soon, the Bishop would write to the Vatican to request permission to form a religious Order devoted to the care of emigrants from Italy. His charter included the objectives to protect emigrants, assist migrants in finding work, provide migrants with material aid, fight human trafficking, and offer religious guidance. Today, the Scalabrinians are present in over 30 countries, and have more than 600 religious, both male and female, on the rolls of the Order. Their mission worldwide is “to safeguard the dignity and the rights of migrants, refugees, seafarers, itinerants, and people on the move.”

The Scalabrini Centre in Cape Town welcomes refugees and asylum seekers coming to South Africa primarily from Zimbabwe and the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), because of war and unstable economic conditions being faced by these countries north of the border. The Centre welcomes newcomers to the city through its weekly welcoming program which offers material support in the form of food parcels, clothes, and blankets. The Centre also links refugees with social services available in the city, operates an employment help desk, offers courses in English and digital literacy, runs a sewing laboratory to help women start sustainable businesses as tailors, and prepares food in its soup kitchen, also for displaced and homeless people. Finally, the Centre also oversees the Lawrence House, “a place of hope . . . where refugee children can regain their childhood and prepare for their future.”

Since it opened in 1994, the Centre has grown increasingly aware that where there is migration, there is HIV/AIDS. In response, the Centre has added programs to increase awareness about the virus in the refugee community and how to prevent infection. In addition to offering workshops on HIV/AIDS awareness and management, the Centre provides testing and counseling through a support group to enable those who have tested positive to share their stories, struggles, and insights with other immigrants to South Africa who, like them, are living with a positive status.

While my family and I have been in South Africa, we have gotten involved with the Scalabrini Centre in three ways: we’ve served meals in the Scalabrini’s soup kitchen during the welcoming program on Wednesday mornings; together, too, we’ve volunteered to cook meals on Saturday evenings for the children at the Lawrence House (the Scalabrini Centre’s home for orphaned and abandoned children). Lastly, for the past month, I’ve visited the HIV/AIDS support group weekly to listen to what is on the minds of refugees to Cape Town who are living with HIV/AIDS.

The stories I’ve heard, in session and in the corridors of the Centre, are painful to be sure—but there is an indomitability to the human spirit that is almost tangible in this place. This was especially evident one morning when I waited for the HIV/AIDS support group to assemble. Seated in the reception area, I introduced myself to the only other person who had come early—a woman who had fled, I learned, from the Congo six years earlier. As we engaged in conversation, she shared with me how she had witnessed the death of her husband. He had been shot, she told me, and when “they” came, referring to the men with guns, everyone ran. It happened so fast that she became separated from three of her four children. She, along with her then three-year-old daughter, fled to South Africa. They were joined in Cape Town sometime later by the woman’s mother, who had found the other children and emigrated with them. Subsequently, the woman learned she was HIV-positive. She had a baby six months ago. The test for the baby’s HIV status had just come back negative, she shared with me when we spoke, moving her hand to her heart in thanksgiving. But, she whispered, “I’m still suffering. There is no work. And I have to feed my baby formula. I cannot afford to buy can after can of baby formula.”

The three people I met through the Scalabrini Centre who are featured here likewise share in their journals complicated stories, where gratefulness is evident alongside sorrow for what has been lost, for what has been left behind. In their own words, they have responded to my invitation to share what they want people to know about them and their perceptions of HIV thirty years into the pandemic.

The Scalabrini Centre is doing important work that recognizes the inherent dignity of refugees and asylum seekers arriving in South Africa; please support its HIV/AIDS program if you are able. For more information about the work of the Scalabrinians, see:

Treatment Action Campaign

In AIDS Denialism, HIV/AIDS, Non-profits / NGOs, South Africa on August 10, 2010 at 2:00 am

The deaths of two men in South Africa quickened the founding of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). Simon Nkoli, an anti-apartheid and gay rights activist, died from AIDS even when ARVs were available to wealthy South Africans. Shortly after Nkoli’s death, Gugu Dlamini was murdered due to his HIV-positive activism. In response, on International Human Rights Day (December 10) 1998, Zackie Achmat and ten other activists launched TAC, a South African AIDS activist organization that uses direct action techniques borrowed from South African trade union and anti-apartheid movements in order to achieve its aims. So far, the organization has been enormously successful—though not without nail biting suspense as each goal is achieved. TAC has been credited with South Africa’s implementation of a country-wide mother-to-child transmission prevention program, as well as forcing the reluctant South African government under its former President, Thabo Mbeki, to make ARVs widely available to South Africans.

The group’s methods are memorable, which perhaps explains their effectiveness. Very early on, members of the group (positive and negative alike) fought AIDS stigma by wearing HIV-positive t-shirts. Recognizing the vast inequities in access to pharmaceuticals, Achmat pledged not to take ARVs until all South Africans could obtain them. As Achmat grew weaker, TAC was instrumental in ensuring that generic medicines would be made available in South Africa at an affordable price. However, when the government blocked their roll-out, TAC staged a thousands-strong march in 2003 to pressure the government to make ARVs widely accessible. Building upon the energy from the march, TAC began a civil disobedience campaign in March 2003, and distributed unlawfully acquired drugs to its members, ceasing its activity when it received word that there was some progress in Parliament. Only then, when Nelson Mandela himself, in unison with members of TAC, pleaded with Achmat to take the drugs did he relent, having grown very weak in the meantime. In the autumn of 2003, the Cabinet overruled the President, and voted to begin a roll-out of antiretroviral access through the country’s still poorly developed system of public clinics.

Despite this maneuver, Mbeki continued to endorse the denialist position, as did South Africa’s minister of Health, Manti Tshabalala-Msimang. She became a target of TAC’s activism. She was removed as Health Minister in 2008, after President Mbeki left office. Access to antiretroviral therapy is now an official policy of the South African government. However, TAC continues to protest and file lawsuits to influence the speed of the rollout.

With its vision of a “unified quality health care system which provides equal access to HIV prevention and treatment services for all people,” and its mission to “ensure that every person living with HIV has access to quality comprehensive prevention and treatment services to live a healthy life,” TAC “has become the leading civil society force behind comprehensive health care services for people living with HIV & AIDS in South Africa.”

For its efforts, TAC has received worldwide acclaim including a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 2004. Please support its work, if you are able.

Wola Nani

In HIV/AIDS, Non-profits / NGOs, South Africa, Violence Against Women on August 10, 2010 at 1:45 am

Wola Nani is a Xhosa phrase, meaning “through our embrace, we develop one another.” Founded by South African activist Gary Lamont in 1994, Wola Nani’s mission is, simply put, “to improve the quality of life for people living with HIV and AIDS.” Without denying services to anyone, Wola Nani has focused on bringing relief to the communities hardest hit by HIV, recognizing that women have been disproportionately infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS. The organization’s concern for the welfare of women is evident in its areas of focus which fall broadly into three categories: client support; education and awareness; and skills development.

Client Support:

Client support is a fundamental aspect of the work of Wola Nani. Through its family and community support center in Khayelitsha, its Cape Town drop-in center, and non-medical voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) site in Guguletu, Wola Nani provides a full spectrum of services related to an HIV-positive diagnosis. By counseling those testing positive, encouraging involvement in Wola Nani’s support groups, providing home-based care and health monitoring, operating an emergency food relief service, giving clients referrals to the services of other NGOs, conducting workshops about how to access government grants, medical services, and legal services, and caring for vulnerable children by running child daycare facilities, assisting in the placement of orphaned children, and monitoring the vulnerability of children in the communities served, Wola Nani’s impact in the lives of those living positively with HIV and AIDS is thorough.

Education and Awareness:

Having been created in the very year of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration to the new South African presidency, and enduring the years of Thabo Mbeki’s denialism, Wola Nani places great emphasis on educating those testing positive about the virus and how to treat it, and on raising awareness about HIV and AIDS in order to foster greater support for those infected with and affected by the virus in the wider community. Wola Nani conducts the famous “Red Ribbon Campaign” each year, to keep HIV and AIDS awareness alive in the public square. As its own website proclaims,

Wola Nani has coordinated and run this major, high profile awareness and fundraising event since 1994. As part of the campaign, Wola Nani has lit up Table Mountain red as the world’s greatest living memorial to AIDS, waved Red Ribbon flags from a procession of Harley-Davidsons and fired a 6 cannon salute from Signal Hill in Cape Town. Activities vary from year to year but may include wrapping a prominent building in Cape Town with a giant red ribbon, distributing red ribbon and collection boxes in the streets, local shops, and restaurants, and live outdoor broadcasts with popular local radio stations. The Red Ribbon Campaign has become an event which allows people to acknowledge HIV/AIDS, a time when the whole City wears a red ribbon and sends a message to the millions of South Africans living with the virus that they are not alone and the people of the nation support them.

In addition, Wola Nani runs educational programming in the communities where people are most vulnerable to an infection to promote safer sex and prevention of transmission. For those who have become infected, Wola Nani offers seminars and workshops so that people understand the medical condition and their treatment options (including ARV treatment literacy), as well as rights and entitlements persons testing postive have under the law.

Skills Development:

Wola Nani has also been entrepreneurial in spirit, wishing to provide women with a practical means to support themselves financially. Income generation rapidly was identified as an urgent need for women testing positive with HIV. Soon, Wola Nani branched into sales of crafts, featuring products ranging from papier maché bowls and picture frames, as well as beaded bangles and AIDS ribbons. These products are marketed and sold overseas as well as at shops nationwide. When I visited Wola Nani’s administrative center in the Observatory of Cape Town, I was shown the storage room filled with craft supplies, as well as the bustling office where bowls and light bulbs were being shipped to European retailers. At present, about sixty craftswomen are employed by Wola Nani, enabling them to earn a regular and sustainable income. These women report that Wola Nani has provided them with a means by which to feed their families, send their children to school, and live positively.

Below is a list that gives a sense of how dollars will be used by the administrators of Wola Nani:

$25 will buy Home Health Kits for five clients;
$50 will enable ten child clients to receive supplemental, wholesome meals twice a week for a month;
$200 will provide HIV diagnostic testing procedures for 50 individuals;
$500 can fund the purchase of materials needed by a craft maker to create 1,000 papier maché bowls for sale and income generation;
$2,000 will allow 10 clients to be trained as certified home caregivers;
$5,000 would enable Wola Nani to hire 2 HIV counselors on a part-time basis for one year.

More information about each of Wola Nani’s projects is available on its website, which also features stories about the women whose lives have been greatly impacted by the organization’s vision. Please support their work, if you are able.


In Healing of Memory, HIV/AIDS, Non-profits / NGOs, Political Violence, South Africa on August 10, 2010 at 1:30 am

Within a few years of experiencing the ousting of the apartheid regime in South Africa, it was clear to educator Ulpha Robertson that high-quality school readiness programs in underprivileged areas would not be among the priorities of the newly elected government. Therefore, she collaborated with Austrian-born Ursel Barnes, herself a parent with an interest in shaping the direction of education within South Africa’s emerging democracy and, in 1998, together they founded Yabonga (a Zulu word meaning “they thanked” or “they saved”).

Educare Program. With an aim to strengthen young children’s preparedness for mainstream schooling, Yabonga focused initially on establishing educare centers—places that were dedicated to preventing an achievement gap from taking root in at-risk children from birth to age five. Today, Yabonga has assisted in training teachers at ten educare centers in underprivileged communities, and has established two preschools. However, within two years of Yabonga’s founding, the staff encountered their first child living with HIV—an experience that caused them immediately to expand their focus to provide education, support and skills development for mothers testing positive, so they could be present to their children to support them as they grew into adults.

Peer-Educator Program. In 2001, Yabonga began piloting its peer-group education program. Today, more than 200 women have undergone a four-month training program that equips them to educate peers within their communities about prevention and treatment strategies in relation to HIV/AIDS. Candidates showing potential are trained in home-based care, lay counseling, and youth counseling. By talking openly in their communities about the facts behind HIV/AIDS, these women are working to overcome the shaming and stigmatizing patterns that have isolated people living with HIV/AIDS.

HIV/AIDS Support Centers. As local clinics became aware of Yabonga’s peer educators, they created a demand to have the educators present in community clinics. Therefore, Yabonga worked with local businesses to purchase ten shipping containers (that function like trailers) to establish support centers. The centers maintain a staff comprised of a team leader, peer educators, lay counselors, home-based carers, and youth counselors in order to respond to the needs of those testing positive in the communities that are experiencing the highest rates of infection. In addition, Yabonga has a presence at an additional 20 clinics and 20 schools, providing HIV education, voluntary testing services, voluntary individual and family counseling sessions, support group facilitation, and nutritional support.

Income Generation Program. Access to reliable information about the virus and its effects on the body enables people to live positively, raising their own children and relying on their own abilities to generate income to support their families. While the support centers raise awareness, Yabonga’s income generation program equips participants with skills in beading, sewing, fabric painting, cooking, baking, wire working, or gardening, depending on the peer-educator’s preference. The items produced by Yabonga’s income generation program are available for sale from the Yabonga website:

Orphan and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Program. In addition to its educare and peer-education programs, Yabonga has supported 350 orphaned and vulnerable children by purchasing school uniforms and books, providing nutritional assistance and counseling, and supporting life skills and leadership workshops for children who wish to develop strategies for coping with the trauma associated with HIV, poverty, abuse, and the death of a parent.

Community Mothers. Community mothers provide a safe haven for children involved in Yabonga’s OVC program. The mothers are hired to provide a nutritious meal as well as homework support to the children. Trained in skills required to counsel children in relation to issues associated with HIV/AIDS, community mothers provide a safe place to talk about HIV directly in the communities where the children live.

Men’s Program. Lastly, Yabonga has established a men’s program. Fifteen men have been trained to run support groups for men living with HIV/AIDS. In addition, the men’s program aims to empower young men to stay away from drugs, alcohol, and gangs by running sports and enrichment programs for youth. By organizing community-based education programs in taverns (legally operated bars) and shebeens (bars that run without a license), the program attempts to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and its attending issues in communities where the prevalence rates are as high as one in every three.

In all, Yabonga employs more than 100 people to run the network that supports the non-governmental organization’s extensive HIV/AIDS programs that have, to date, served more than 600,000 people. The reach of Yabonga’s programs is, indeed, impressive, as the peer educators participating in “30/30” attest.

Please support Yabonga’s work, if you are able, by sending food, clothing, toiletries, blankets, toys and stationary to:

2 Main Road
Wynberg 7800
South Africa

or by wiring a donation to:

Beneficiary: Yabonga
Nedbank Branch Code: 145209
Account No. 1452012563.

New Life Center Foundation

In New Life Center Foundation, Non-profits / NGOs, Thailand, Trafficking on August 10, 2010 at 1:15 am

In the hill tribe regions of Thailand, more than one million ethnic minority people live—including the Karen, Hmong, Lahu, Akha, Mien, and Lisu. Each group proudfully preserves its own customs, language, dress, and spiritual beliefs. However, young men, women, and children are leaving their villages in pursuit of work dishwashing in restaurants, cleaning in private residences, and sewing in factories, as well as working in Thailand’s fishing and farming industries. Sometimes, their movement is initiated in answer to advertisements and personal promises that jobs are available to support their basic needs, paying wages that will enable families to secure food, shelter, clothing, and an education. In other situations, familial drug and alcohol abuse, parental disability, or destitution propels them from the village into Thailand’s larger cities.

Although Thailand’s laws legislate against exploitation, including child labor, when children are born in these regions, traditional midwives attend their births. Babies not born in hospitals are not issued birth certificates. Without birth certificates, people coming into Thailand’s cities in search of work are officially considered illegal laborers, much like those coming in from the countries bordering Thailand in the north: Myanmar and Laos, for example, until or unless their legal status and age can be authenticated. Acquiring such documentation can be a lengthy and expensive endeavor.

Business owners, in the meanwhile, desiring to turn a higher profit, know this kind of cheaper labor is available. Therefore, they hire from this vulnerable minority population in order to pay, for example, 50 baht per day (or about $1.50/day), rather than having to pay the legally mandated but higher minimum wage to of-age and documented workers (170 baht, or about $5/day). Cases have been heard in the Thai courts where workers were paid with rice rather than with currency. Moreover, working conditions are often poor and abusive.

The practice of human trafficking, the illegal trade in human beings for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation, is pervasive in this context. Laws meant to stymie this trend are only marginally enforced. Too often, young women are especially vulnerable to trafficking that is prolific in a situation of poverty where thousands of migrant workers are also seeking a better life.

Young girls who travel an hour or more to the nearest cities to do their work too often learn that the advertisement or personal contact that attracted them was not truthful. In many cases, parents are unaware that their children are being exploited. Very often, the bodies of young girls are being sold by brokers for the sexual pleasure of men. The baht goes to the trafficker rather than to the girl, who is sometimes beaten until she complies.

During their careers that spanned more than four decades, anthropologists Paul and Elaine Lewis observed this pattern firsthand, so in 1987 they founded the New Life Center Foundation. The non-profit organization is headquartered in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with offices also in Chiang Rai, and is devoted to empowering and equipping at risk or exploited tribal women through education and training, in order to create positive change in their lives and in society. The founders were interested in creating an organization that could provide minority girls with skills that would enable them to find meaningful work, including fluency in the Thai language, while simultaneously preventing the loss of their tribal heritage. Today, the New Life Center has nearly 120 young women in residence. The girls range in age from 13 to 23. About 50% of these minority women are identified as at risk for exploitation; the others have been referred to the Center through the Thai welfare system after experiencing forced labor or sexual exploitation.

The Center has evolved over the year to provide eight primary services:

1. Education. By matriculating the residents of the Center into mainstream schools, running an adult education evening school, and providing education through a weekend school, the goal is to give the residents a quality education and literacy skills through the high school level.

2. Vocational Training. By paying for training for work in beauty salons, tailoring, and nursing, the Center equips its residents for meaningful work, free from exploitation.

3. University Scholarships. Due to a generous donation from a Foundation in Sweden, 75 residents are now receiving scholarships to attend University.

4. Citizenship Advocacy. Staff working in the area of citizenship advocacy undertake the lengthy and expensive process of helping residents acquire Thai citizenship through navigating the complicated labyrinth of offices and paperwork in the government that attaining citizenship requires.

5. Life Skills. Because many of the girls did not have good role models or mentors in the villages of their birth, the structure of the Center provides residents with the opportunity to develop valuable life skills through formal training, conducted by various professors and teachers from the region’s NGOs and Universities. Workshops cover a wide range of topics, such as health and human hygiene, reproductive health, recycling, care of the environment, fire safety, leadership, human rights, and gender equality.

6. Spiritual Development. The Foundation is supported by American Baptist International Ministries, as well as many other religious and private sources. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, along with the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, California, generously support the work of the New Life Center Foundation. In addition, the Foundation receives financial support from the U.S. State Department’s Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons, the Royal Thai Government, Diakonia, Sievert Larssen Scholarship Foundation, the Rotary Foundation, as well as from many private donors. The Foundation deeply respects the diverse spiritualities of the young women who arrive at the Center. The community is comprised of people from many religious backgrounds, including Catholic and Protestant Christians, Buddhists, and those practicing traditional tribal faiths. Residents are given the opportunity to participate voluntarily in Bible studies, devotions, and discipleship training in preparation for baptism.

7. Income Generation. The handicraft program is a supplementary program of the Center, and provides some of the women an opportunity for income generation by selling jewelry, dolls, handbags, and needlework through the Center’s shop. In this way, the Center is able to support the preservation of the traditional embroidery practices of the tribal women, and the young women earn an income as their skills develop.

8. Therapeutic Services. Rehabilitative and therapeutic services, such as art and music therapies, are offered to support the women in coping with the traumas they have experienced.

The New Life Center is a place that provides a more promising future for ethnic minority girls in Thailand. Please support their work if you are able, by writing a check to New Life Center Foundation, and sending it to:

New Life Center Foundation
P.O. Box 29
Chiang Mai 50000

If you would prefer to send a wire transfer, please e-mail the Center for banking details:

Open Arms of Minnesota

In HIV/AIDS, Hunger, Non-profits / NGOs, Poverty, United States on August 10, 2010 at 1:00 am

Its mission is deceptively simple: “With open arms, we nourish body, mind, and soul. By preparing meals for and delivering meals to people living with HIV/AIDS, ALS, MS, and breast cancer in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Open Arms of Minnesota aims to provide meals to anyone who is living with a chronic or life-limiting illness in the Twin Cities metro area.

Open Arms of Minnesota has been in the not-for-profit business of providing nutritious and delicious meals since 1986 when its founder, Bill Rowe, prepared meals for a group of friends who had contracted HIV/AIDS and who had become too ill to shop for or prepare their own food. Soon, a group of volunteers formed to keep the meals going out the door—and they haven’t stopped, yet. Just recently, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar delivered the organization’s two-millionth meal.

Over time, Open Arms of Minnesota was compelled to widen its reach. Its staff recognized its global connection to people living with, and dying from, HIV/AIDS in South Africa, and began partnering with the J. L. Zwane Center in Guguletu (a township outside of Cape Town) to provide nutritious meals to member of an HIV/AIDS support group that had formed at the Center, as well as to distribute food parcels twice annually to families with members living with the virus. Back at home, too often the staff took calls from people experiencing other chronic illnesses: ALS and MS, for example, and were torn apart when they had to say “I’m sorry, no—our mission is to provide meals only for those living with HIV/AIDS.” So, in 2004, Open Arms expanded its home delivery meal program also to women undergoing treatment for breast cancer, as well as to people living with ALS (better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and MS (multiple sclerosis). A capital campaign enabled the organization to move into a new building in 2010, where the kitchen is the obvious focus of its entire enterprise. As they emphasize at Open Arms, “the kitchen is the heart of who we are.”

I began working as a volunteer at Open Arms in 2003, and was impacted profoundly by the alternative universe represented by this determined organization, where compassion, kindness, and gentleness of spirit were the norm rather than the exception, where even small things were considered with great intention, and where the dignity of every person who passed through the door was recognized genuinely with warmth and with grace. I was intrigued by the ethos of the place, and was happy to deliver meals regularly for the next several years.

My engagement with the organization deepened in 2004, when I inquired about the possibility of teaching my course “Theology of Beauty” at the University of St. Thomas with a service-learning component in partnership with Open Arms of Minnesota. At St. Thomas, “Service-learning incorporates meaningful community partnerships into coursework, allowing students to contribute to the community while gaining knowledge relevant to their academic and professional lives.” Students would deliver meals twice monthly throughout the semester, writing in academic journals about how their observations and experiences informed an understanding of Beauty—in theology, understood not as something “pretty,” but as that which might cohere with the source of Existence, itself, the very nature of God insofar as such a nature can be known, and therefore associated with the True, Good, Just, Wise, and Compassionate. Open Arms was receptive to the possibility of establishing a partnership with the University that would be truly reciprocal: University students would supply the steadily increasing need for drivers to deliver meals to clients, while Open Arms would provide an opportunity for students to engage in response to a public health catastrophe about which they would learn more in class. Moreover, students would begin to see how people’s social location, and their “degrees of jeopardy” from power and privilege, coalesce to put them at greater risk to contract the virus, even while considering efforts of people like Paul Farmer (Harvard Medical Anthropologist and physician, as well as founder of Partners in Health), to mitigate the impact of structures of violence on those living in conditions of abject poverty.

The course was successfully piloted in 2004, and a grant from Minnesota Campus Compact enabled us to expand the partnership into other disciplines, and beyond the work of Open Arms, as well. Since that first course, fifteen professors representing thirteen different disciplines throughout the University have offered 50 sections of courses in partnership with Open Arms. For example, students learn about research methods in sociology by preparing and conducting surveys in application to real needs emerging for Open Arms, such as measuring client and volunteer satisfaction. Students in epidemiology courses learn about food-born illnesses and their greater threat to those living with compromised immune systems, and prepare food safety kits for Open Arms clients. In 2009-2010, the University reached a significant milestone. More than 1,000 students have interacted with the HIV/AIDS community in Minneapolis/St. Paul through the University’s HIV/AIDS initiatives.

The executive director of Open Arms of Minnesota, Kevin Winge, is often heard saying: “It’s about food.” In some ways, it really is that simple. Open Arms of Minnesota lifts the human spirit by inviting the community into its kitchen, that we might “break bread” together. Please support their work, if you are able. To learn more, visit Open Arms of Minnesota online.