Five young girls from the children’s support group spent a week learning to sew at Mad a Thavha Mountain Lodge and Skills Development Centre. Unfortunately, they had no machines to practise their new skills at home. Around the same time, Milan, an 11 year old boy from the Netherlands, asked Marcelle from Madia Thavha how he could help when visiting South Africa with his parents the following year. Marcelle told Milan the story of these girls and Milan raised enough money to buy an over locker and sewing machine, fabrics, threads, scissors etc.
At the handover ceremony at Vhutshilo Mountain School, Milan gave a motivational talk to 20 young people of the children’s support group. He told them that he had raised the money by collecting glass bottles and selling them, and by organising a soccer competition. He stressed that anybody could do it if the are determined. The five girls then went back to Madi a Thavha for another weeks sewing lessons and when they came back they started working on a small range of items such as aprons, table runners, handbags, and skirts, all made from the very colourful Venda traditional fabrics
Four of the girls are still at school and can only sew during school holidays. Ndivhuwa, who ran away to Johannesburg when she was very young was too old to go back to school when she returned;she comes to Vhutshilo Mountain School to practise her sewing skills. The change in her has been amazing as her self-esteem and confidence has improved radically. Samples of her work has been sent to relevant people and we are hoping to teach her basic business and entrepreneurial skills so she can start running her own small business.
Six young boys spent a week at Madi a Thavha Mountain lodge and Skills Development centre learning basic carpentry skills, and were given some tools on their completion. Thanks to a U.S. PEPFAR grant, we got received money to buy more tools, including a table sew.
Basic home maintenance training
John Cook, the Director’s brother, who worked for many years in developing countries, travelled up from the Eastern Cape to train the youngsters in basic home maintenance skills. The first year they learnt basic plumbing skills such as fixing a leaking toilet and garden taps, they made a solid workbench, a foundation for the water tank and they learned how to use a welding machine. The second year they learnt painting and tiling and how to install gutters. All the courses included maintenance of tools and safety matters. A simple booklet was given to the young artisans with a summary of the steps necessary to complete the projects they learned in the workshops.
These workshops improved participants’ self-esteem as it made them a useful member of their families (instead of a liability because of their HIV status). A few of them are able to make a small income doing jobs in their communities. The building of the workshop and skills training centre is desperately needed for these youngsters to practice their skills. We hope that by making small wooden items e.g. small boxes, picture frames, benches they will also be able to make an income.
Computer skills training
Thanks to the efforts of Orifani, a young Venda man studying in the United States, we received donated computers. A young Zimbabwean has been giving computer lessons on Saturday mornings and the 10 youngsters involved in the programme have progressed well. Unfortunately, sharing one small room with the sewing group is not ideals, so we are looking forward to our new Skills development centre that will be built soon.
Youth on a mission
Some of the older children have become young ambassadors, in this rural area with many stigma’s and myths related to HIV/AIDS, they are making a huge difference by openly disclosing their status and speaking at schools, clinics and community celebrations and gatherings. As role models they assist in monitoring and supporting new group members. They are in the process of forming a young adults group, Youth on a Mission, to motivate and encourage their peers on issues such as living positively with HIV, teenage pregnancies and rape.
Meeting Zimbabwean refugees
We organised a visit to a refugee hostel in Louis Trichardt where the youth shared their stories with 30 young boys who came from Zimbabwe in search of a better life. The youngest of these refugee boys was 11 years old. This visit made our group realise that, although they were HIV+, they were lucky as they did not have to face the dangerous trip crossing the border, and trying to find a place to stay and a job.
Teresa, a Peace Corps volunteer introduced 12 members of the youth support group to long distance running. Teresa managed to get running shoes donated and some funding for their first fun run in Polokwane. The runners got bright yellow T shirts with the logo ‘Positive Teens taking strides against stigma and discrimination’. This blatant disclosure and their health and fitness impressed spectators and runners
One youngster in particular has found his calling. Philly runs 20 kilometres twice a week and is able to run the half marathon. At his last run he achieved the 5th position. You can read more about Philly’s story here.
Building a solid support base and trust in their peers is very important. Vhutshilo Mountain School tries to take the youngsters on educational and fun trips throughout the year. Sometimes we are able to take them to Leshiba Wilderness, where they learn first-hand the importance of preserving our flora and fauna, see rock art, and learn the medicinal use of plants and trees. Other trips are to Polokwane where they visit the airport and snake park, ride horses and visit a shopping mall where they watch a movie. Fun activities are usually linked with educational and social responsibilities such as spending a day picking up rubbish at a local resort. We also organised a trip to Tzaneen where they learnt survival tactics and team building and sleeping in tents. These trips have helped form strong bonds amongst the group and it is heart-warming to see the friendship, love and support between them, particularly the older ones who have been meeting for many years.
Caregivers support group
These are usually elderly grandmothers, traditional “gogos” who need to be assisted in making sure the children they look after adhere to the strict drug regime. The Caregivers meet regularly to keep them informed about the way how they need to support the children. In the past, caregivers would often insist that the child leave his/her Anti-Retroviral drugs at home if they are visiting family or if the child is going away on a school trip, as she does not want them to know the child is HIV positive. In our support groups, we work to make sure they understand the importance of sticking to the drug regimine and help talk about ways to overcome stigma. We also inform them about changes with the medicines so they can continue to support the children in their care..
Vhutshilo Mountain School invites health workers such as nurses, nutritionists, pharmacists to the meetings of the Caregivers support group, to educate the members about different subjects and provide them with a safe space where they can ask questions in an informal and friendly environment. Social workers are also invited to discuss the foster grants, how to access them, what they are intended for, and the penalties for abusing them.
Each year, massage therapists from the Virgin Islands come to the school and train the Caregivers on the powers of “healing touch” A highlight of our training last year was to take 22 caregivers to the Indiginous Knowledge Centre at Leshiba where they learnt how to use massage techniques in different situations.
Petrus, a widower whose wife had died a few years back from AIDS, is the caregiver of a teenage daughter. He was transformed by the massage. Previously, he had to use a sinus pump every day, but the massage makes it so he does not have to use it anymore. The trip was not only practical and educational, but it also gave these hardworking people a memorable outing. One of the elderly woman said when they went out for a game drive ‘I always saw rich people on the T.V. doing this and never thought I would do it one day’. On the same trip, the caregivers were shown and given a lecture on permaculture at Leshiba’s vegetable garden.
Support group meetings
Support group meetings for HIV positive adults are held every second month at Vhutshilo Mountain school. Attendees are mostly women, but a few men also regularly attend the meetings. This is a great breakthrough as men usually do not want to open up being infected and also do not want to take the Anti-Retrovirals. The 8 men of this group also meet with a larger men’s group in Thohoyandou where they can discuss issues like safe sex and being good role models as parents. A few of the members have overcome the stigma and are assisting infected people in their communities.