Throughout Africa, AIDS and HIV have reached epidemic proportions. While education is definitely a major contributor, abject poverty might be an even greater culprit. This isn’t a pretty concept, but imagine that you’re starving, and somebody comes to town, offering to buy food for your family for a month if you sleep with them. For most, short-term survival might take precedence over long-term risks.
And this gets passed on to the next generation. Today, in some of the more remote areas of South Africa, teens have almost a 50 percent chance of contracting HIV during their lifetime.
That’s simply not acceptable.
Fortunately, there is a group doing something about it and have enlisted some pretty big names to help.
Mpilonhle (pronounced imp-i-lonch-lay) works in one of South Africa’s poorest communities, the Umkhanyakude District in northern Kwa-Zulu Natal. They’ve found a unique way to overcome the stigma associated with getting tested for HIV—they use Mobile Health Units that combine counseling, health screening, treatment, and computer literacy training.
They bring these mobile units directly to four high schools, where about 5,000 students now receive annual checkups with a nurse, attend sessions with HIV counselors, participate in workshops on health education, and learn computer skills. There are social workers that help the students learn to deal with challenges with their peers, family, school, and life in general. The goal is to help these young people live long and healthy lives, while learning skills that will enable them to better provide for themselves and their families.
Most of all, Mpilonhle is providing hope. Students are starting to see new possibilities, such as becoming a bank teller or working in an office. And while they’re seeing new dreams emerge, the teens are learning to protect themselves from cholera, HIV, STDs, and even peer pressure.
To create these Mobile Health Units, train the counselors, and provide the supplies necessary to carry out their work, Mpilonhle got support from the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project and Oprah’s Angels Network among others. Being South African, Charlize Theron knows the challenges facing the people of her homeland. She’s visited the schools with the Mpilonhle team, and seen the units at work.
If you want to help Mpilonhle develop more Mobile Health Units and expand their services to more communities, visit the Mpilonhle website (www.mpilonhle.org). You can also support the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project (www.charlizeafricaoutreach.org) and Oprah’s Angels Network (www.oprahsangelnetwork.org) by visiting their websites.
Mark Jordan is a writer and marketing consultant who helps out with marketing communications efforts for Inveneo, a social enterprise dedicated to using the tools of information and communications to connect those who need it most. Through Inveneo, Mark got to experience the power of hope and love firsthand in IDP (refugee) camps in Northern Uganda. Today his main focus is bringing attention to the work of amazing people who are bringing hope to those who might not otherwise have a voice.