BPD Update Online, Spring 2003
Sinikthemba - We Give Hope
Editor's Prerogative
President's Report
International Education: Now, More Than Ever
Oh, The Places They Can Go
Jamaica Field Practicum
Collaboration between Countries
Experiences in El Salvador
Veritas, Romania
Sinikthemba - We Give Hope
The Fulbright Program
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The Call to Social Work
Update on Hartford
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Jodie Bargeron, BSW Student, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, Michigan

International Students

This summer I traveled to Durban, South Africa for a study abroad program sponsored by my School of Social Work (Grand Valley State University). Durban is a large city in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, where three out of five adults have HIV or AIDS. The program included a service-learning component at a local HIV/AIDS center, Sinikthemba.

Sinikthemba is a Zulu word, which means “We Give Hope.” The services provided by Sinikthemba included testing, limited medical treatment, nutritional counseling, and support groups. I shadowed a social worker, Maud, as she provided pre- and post-test counseling, worked with the support group, and went to hospital ward to provide testing to people who were sick.

The majority of the clients at Sinikthemba are HIV-positive women and their children. Some of the clients are in their tenth year of living with HIV; others have known their status for a few months. A husband or a boyfriend infected many of these women. Many of them passed the virus onto their children. The loss and fear that consumes their life is impossible to define. They have lost the partners and children with whom they shared the virus. Yet the hope that fills their lives is overwhelming. Although anti-retroviral drugs, which help people in the U.S., live healthy lives for fifteen or twenty years, are not available to these women they all hope that they will see the day when the virus is overcome. The women of Sinikthemba live in poverty that is unknown in the United States, but they are the most generous and welcoming women I have ever met. We were strangers whose lives shared little, but the women always wanted to know if I had enough food, offering to take me home for tea. While their lives are filled with fear, their hearts are filled with hope and generosity.

My time in South Africa affected me in ways I still have not seen. One thing I do know is that I will be a better social worker because of my time there. I met two effective social workers at the clinic. The first, Mrs. Mhlongo is the supervisor at Sinikthemba. In support group she is on the floor right next to the women. She refuses to let the virus be the only thing in her clients’ lives. Mhlongo is frequently heard shouting, “Are we sick? There are no sick people in this room! If you are sick, go see the doctor, she’s right over there. Then you come back here, where there are no sick people!” The women loved this and it raised their spirits every time. Mhlongo also has an attention to detail that is amazing, given all that she oversees. One day a former client was in the hospital ward with no ride home. Although the woman was not currently a client, Mhlongo still called to make sure the woman found a ride. That’s just the way she thinks of her women.

The social worker I shadowed, Maud, had a very different style from Mhlongo, yet just as effective. During pre-test counseling, we ask questions that are very controversial still in South Africa. Maud handled these conversations with ease, always interested yet never prying. At one point she needed to do a pre-test for a six-year-old girl. Maud sat the girl on her lap and asked her questions about what happened to her, never pressing too hard, yet always finding out what she needed to work with the child.

My trip to South Africa was the best experience I have ever had. I will never forget the women of Sinikthemba. One day I hope to return to Durban and fight the virus with all the skills of a dedicated social worker and responsible citizen of our world.

Continue to the next page for information on the Fulbright program...

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BPD Update Online, Volume 25, No. 2, Spring 2003

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