Friday, June 29, 2012

On the Road Again

June 29, 2012 - Mahwanke, Zimbabwe

While Juju convinces Aiden that she can carry him like African women carry their babies, I prepare for a day in the field:

Water bottle.
Paper and pen.
Toilet paper

I am on the road again.

This time, I am on my way to Mahwanke with Shungu (monitoring and evaluation guy) and Q to distribute 32 goats to some elderly Go-gos (grandmothers) in the middle of nowhere.  We talk easily as now-familiar scenery flashes by the side windows of the car.  I don't lift up my camera when a troop of baboons cross my path or when impala jump in front of the car startling the three of us.  Now, if a rhino or a giraffe were to make their presence known, I'll be all over that!

As we drive, we talk easily about ideas, about development, about hunger, about food security, about goats, rabbits, and chickes.  Shungu tells me that what AFCA does here is life-changing.  He is passionate as he tells me of the goat babies born in programs we've supported in the past and how the children are getting plumper due to good milk.  He is so excited to monitor the activity of various sites because he sees real change. Of all people, he should know.  He has worked all around the country and can easily tell you where villages are located, where the driest areas are, where the biggest hunger lurks.  He will also tell you with a broad smile about the places where hope lives and where grandmas dance at the birth of a new baby goat. 
Go-go Judith
After what seems like half the day, we arrive dusty and a bit parched.  It is a hovel of round huts, a space where dust and greenish-brown skinny trees meet under an intense blue sky.  There, waiting for us, are the grandmas.  They shake my hand in the funny three-part African handshake and some hug me.  Introductions are made and short speeches are called for.  It is obvious, though, that no one came for speeches.  They came for GOATS and we are going to give them some!

Now accustomed to the routine, I write out ear tags and hand them out to each woman as Q explains the details of what we'll be doing in the beautiful clicking sounds of N'debele.  They clap and smile, eager to get the party going.  Beautiful, colorful head coverings stand out against the blue of the sky and the heads bob up and down as they nod in agreement to Q's words.

Q readies the syringe and I get the tagging gun ready.  With a quick nod, goat by goat are brought out of the pen, are vaccinated, tagged and handed to the Go-gos. 

Go-go Judith is about 90 years old and she breaks out in a dance of joy right there, in front of us, missing teeth and all.  She is about six inches shorter than me (imagine that!) and dances ferociously. Her feet work up a pattern in the sand and dust. She grabs my hand and says "thank you" with such intensity that the sky cannot compete with her smile.  She is radiant. 

She is all any donor would ever need to see to feel that their work is valuable.   Please understand that you are a hero to many in a dusty land far from your own. 

You are a hero to me.

More importantly, you are a hero to Go-go Judith and the children she is raising as her own.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


One of the worst things about AIDS is that it’s not just a disease. It’s not just a biological phenomenon. It’s a degrading status symbol. Around the world, AIDS is associated with degenerate morality and shame. Once you have it, it becomes an unwanted social marker if you tell and a death sentence if you don’t—and all too often, it is both. The phrase ‘insult to injury’ could never has been more apt. HIV comes with a terrible weight on the victim’s shoulders—not just because knowing that something lethal lives inside you puts an ominous feeling in the pit of your stomach, but because you now have a humiliating social burden to carry as well.
It’s not hard to figure out why HIV and AIDS have a stigma associated with them. When HIV/AIDS first appeared in humans in the mid-1980s, the infected population was primarily composed of marginalized groups—sex workers, intravenous drug users, and homosexuals. In many cultures, each of these groups is associated (some unjustly) with immorality, and this association transferred to the virus. Even in America, upon hearing the world “AIDS,” the listener will often think “homosexual,” “immorality,” or “dirty.” Moreover, the primary mode of transmission is sex—and the more partners you have the greater your chances of contracting HIV. Needless to say, the moral connotation of AIDS is nearly invariably negative. Additionally, in rural areas of developing countries, indigenous beliefs and religions may regard AIDS as the result of sin or spiritual malaise, sharpening the social division HIV can lead to.
The irony is that the marginalized groups among whom AIDS initially spread are now responsible for a small percentage of HIV transmission, at least internationally. In Southern Africa, in countries such as Zimbabwe where we work, HIV/AIDS is a problem that entire societies face. But whether these societies are willing to face it depends on their ability to accept the stigma it carries. Sometimes, entire communities will baldly deny the presence or at least the pervasiveness of HIV. And that denial is deadly, because where available, testing means treatment, and treatment means unnecessary deaths are avoided.
So AIDS means so much more than physical pain. AIDS means ostracism. AIDS means humiliation. AIDS means secrets. AIDS means stigma. And it’s really, really terrible. You’d think at least that kids would escape the social wounds of AIDS, but in many places, they don’t. Even though all children who have HIV were either born with it or had it breastfed to them, that is, no choice of theirs led to their infection, many children with HIV or AIDS face discrimination and neglect because of their condition. Sometimes, HIV+ kids who were also orphaned by AIDS have no caretaker because no one is willing to take on a tainted child. And that is not okay.
The world must begin to see AIDS victims as God’s children, as sisters and brothers whom we are to suffer with, care for, and lift up. They are not tainted, they do not deserve ostracism; they are cherished and deserve love and care. The AFCA strives to provide that love and care, and YOU can be a part of that effort. Visit the main website to learn more.

Water, water - not everywhere

June 28, 2012 - Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Cows in Riverbed
Water is such an immense issue, isn't it?  Where I am right this instant, in Bulawayo, water is scarse. Not as scarse as outside of the city, though, where we drive by countless dry riverbeds, all full of sand and the hoofprints of horses and the footprints of other animals.  I don't know where animals and people go to find water, but am told it can be 20 kilometers for a person to get water.  When they arrive at the water hole, the creek bed, the borehole, the well, they take time to get their water and then, they have 20 kilometers to get back home - this time carrying a 60 - 70lb jug of water on their head.  This is HOURS from a person's day.  HOURS of walking under the hot sun in search of something that we Americans take for granted.

Animals survive more from the liquid they get from leaves and stems they chew on, even though these, too, are shriveled and brown.  It is amazing to me to see how the local goats have adapted to life without much water, looking plump and healthy, even though they might not actually drink water but once a day, if that.  Imagine how much more milk they'd produce if they had actual water to drink?  This topic has been occupying my time these past two days, taking me to meetings with dam builders and borehole diggers.  If we can find a partner to help us in this particular area in the villages where we work, life would be much sweeter for many. I keep plodding forward, researching, calling, writing, visiting, pestering, begging, and pleading.  Someone, somewhere will answer.  I am sure of it. 

Bathoom in middle of no where
I don't know how many times we leave the water running while washing dishes. The water running so it gets hot enough for us to enjoy a shower. The water running while we reach for a toddler who needs his hands cleaned.

After two weeks of very controlled water supplies, I've learned to bathe both Aiden and Julia using the water from one stardard size bucket.  I can wash completely, hair and all, with less than half a bucket, reserving the other half to flush the toilet when the water is off.  Will we remember to be this careful when we return home and water seems to be flowing everywhere, at little expense? 

Another issue with water is the fact that without it, people can't grow gardens properly.  With this in mind, we are starting a small pilot project to see which vegetables grow best in these conditions, with which specific type of gardening (4x4, pallet, hanging, etc) types.  We are enlisting the help of ECHO, an organization in Florida, to record our findings and to access seeds suitable for drought conditions.  A big part of this project will be the use of manure from goats and chickens given to orphan families and tons of mulch to keep moisture in the ground.  Stay in touch to hear how this project progresses...I promise it will be interesting and we'll all learn a lot.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Where Did Two Weeks Go?

June 25, 2012 - Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Incredible Rock Formations in Matopos
Jodi has left us and returned home.  We will miss her, as she is kind, affable, knowledgeable, loving, and sweet.  She also has so many talents!  If she had stayed here all summer, she would not have run out of things she could teach and share with others.  I do hope she will return one day soon, but this time, with Ed.

straw used for roofing
This morning I meet with folks from Forgotten Voices (an NGO from PA who also work here, but in a different capacity than AFCA), introducing Q and ZOE to them.  I think the meeting goes well because we are like-minded in our approach to development and in how we work. I like these folks and what they do.  Hopefully, we'll be able to do something together soon. 

Work at the office went smoothly as I search for grants to help each of our programs.  I so wish that we could raise more funds through churches and schools, rather than through grants, as these take long to research, long to write, and longer to wait for a response.  But God knows what we need and if this is way we can help, then, I'll do it.  I am grateful for Yasmina in South Africa who is helping me compile a list of possible grantors an for Mary who is helping with with PA company info.  It is only through the work of many that a load gets lighter.  The next two weeks is dedicated solely to grant-writing, with some animal distributions mixed in the middle of the research and writing days. Then, the next week, I'd like to focus on writing various companies in PA who might be interested in supporting our work. Then, at some point, we are taking a week off to visit a large game park on our way to Victoria Falls.  Before you know it, our time here will be over and we'll find ourselves packing up to return home. 

Rainbow Lizard
It doesn't seem possible that tomorrow, we've been here two weeks.  Where has time gone?  So far, we've distributed 116 goats and 84 chickens, attended church twice, washed clothes four times, consulted with two other groups on how to write grants and how to fundraise for projects, gone to a game park twice, gone to a b-b-q, seen rainbow lizards, met countless new people, gone food shopping 6 -7 times (we buy a little at a time so it stays fresh), Morgan has had one sleep over, Juju has gone out with friends to a game park, we've had four children over to play, and we've lost electricity and water half the time we've been here.  What a trip it's been! 
Last weekend while visiting another part of the Matopos game park, we got out of the car to look for hippos at a lake.  The water table was very, very low, we everyone made it down to the area where water would normally be.  Instead, we were walking on dry sand between large puddles, looking for the hippos.  Suddendly, we saw a baby crocordile not too far away and while we all stared and took photos of it, it occured to me that the mama must be somewhere close by.  So, we pile back in the car and drive off.  Turning back, we read a sign...see it here.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

My Heart is Warm

Today is gorgeous.  It is just me and the young ones - Aiden and Juju.  Morgan is out with friends for a sleepover and Eric and Jodi are at another training.  I have cleaned, washed clothes, fed four kids, played with the same kids, made potato salad for a bar-b-q we've been invited to tonight, caught up on some emails, and overall, had a busy morning. 

One thing that makes today gorgeous is that face that we have two little friends over - Jonathan is four and Anesu is eight.  They belong to my friends Sugu and KC (I can't pronounce his given name) and their parents had something to do today, so they came to me.  Having never met them, I wondered how things would go, as they are here all day long.  I shouldn't have wondered.

The minute (THE MINUTE) they arrive, Aiden takes Jonathan by the hand and they scamper off to look for frogs and to play with dirt and cars.  No need for introductions when you've found a friend, it seems. Juju and Anesu hit if off just as quickly and have spent a large part of the day playing with a plastic set of kitchen play dishes the Stambolies lent us, feeding me leaves, mud and berry juice. 

The thing that definitely makes the day gorgeous is hearing Juju and Anesu giggling and talking.  I  heard this:

Juju: "we could be twins, you know."
Anesu: "oh, i know!  my mom said your family is pink, but iI think you are peach-colored."
Juju: "even though I am peach-colored, we still are just alike, don't you think?"
Anesu: "definitely.  I think we must share a birthday because we really could be twins"

They build a fort in the loft and I hear them practicing jokes on each other.  They laugh uproarisouly at the silliest jokes.  They complain of their brothers but decide they should keep them.  They read together.  They go back outside to cook another meal, but now their names are Elizabeth and Rosie, the twin cooks.  They decided that their birthday is April 13 (Anesu was born in April and Juju was born on a 13th day).

Jonathan thinks it is hilarious that I call him "buddy" and he laughs each time I say that.  Aiden tells him that "buddy" means "friend" and Jonathan giggles more.  Those two boys eat more than the girls and they play harder and faster.  They gave up finding frogs and moved on to hockey.

I have let Morgan take my camera with her, otherwise, I'd be posting photos of the four new friends.  I envision many days of them playing together and I like what I see.

Friday, June 22, 2012

First Eric, Then Tanya

June 21 - Mayezane, Zimbabwe

 From Eric Weaver

Jodi Teaching with Q
Today Jodi, Q and I went to a workshop in Mayezane, Zimbabwe.  Mayezane is located about 2 ½ hours outside of Bulawayo.  A third of the trip was on paved roads but the remaining 2/3 was on sandy dirt roads through a very arid area looking much like Nevada or southern Texas.  (It totally amazes me how Q was able to find this place.)  We arrived at a small school house where about 200 kids attend school, some of them walking up to 10 km to get there.
This community, like many others in Zimbabwe, have been hit hard by drought and HIV.  Many of the women in attendance are guardians of children how have been orphaned as the result of AIDS.  The work shop today was on how to properly take care of goats.  Jodi led this workshop for about 20 individuals, mostly women.  She talked about warning signs that an animal is sick, checking goats for signs of parasites, as well as the many uses that a goat can be for a family, including the use of manure for fertilizer, milk, meat, and for some goats, the use of their wool to make yarn for rugs or clothing.  The group was definitely interested in the what Jodi was saying, actively taking notes and asking good questions. 
Eric and his timeline
Taking Notes
After Jodi had finished there was some extra time before lunch was served to the group and I did a small timeline with the community, looking at major events in the life of the community.  The oldest individual that attended the workshop was born in Mayezane in 1921.  Taking this as our starting point, we looked at what years were good years and what years there was drought and parasites or other challenges.  Each of these time periods were marked on the chalk board.  As these events were marked out, one could definitely notice a cycle which includes years of drought and good years (with more droughts in recent years).  Using this information, we discussed how as a community they could grow stronger and be better prepared for the drought years.  The community brought up the use of dams, drilling of boreholes so as to have a better water supply, better farming techniques such as conservation farming was also discussed.  Dams would be a major expense, borehole wells are expensive but may be more affordable if the community comes together to pitch in, while a change of farming techniques would be low cost and very doable.  Each of these alone do not provide a total solution, but the combination of a borehole and new farming principles would make a positive difference.  The idea of this exercise was to recognize that there are cycles and that things are changing.  The community as a whole and as individuals need  to take steps to change and adapt so that they are less affected by the changing climate.

After  a lunch of sadsza (a corn based  thick porridge), a fried chicken leg and a little bit of green stuff we hit the road back to Bulawayo.  On the way back we stopped at another village and were informed that AFCA chickens were on their way to be distributed (we thought they were coming next week).  The chickens weren’t there yet so we continued on.  We didn’t get more than a half hour down the road and when we saw a pickup truck coming down the road with a cage full of chickens on the back.  We turned around and headed back to distribute them.  There were 85 chickens to be distributed with each family receiving 5 chickens (4 hens and 1 rooster).  The idea is that in a years time the family will give 5 offspring  back to ZOE who will redistribute them to another family who are guardians of orphaned children due to HIV.   These chickens will provide valuable protein through meat and eggs they produce. 

We left the chicken distribution and headed back home arriving after 6.  A long day but filled with joy of having been able to take part in the work of AFCA and ZOE as they seek to help those orphaned by AIDS.   
From Tanya
The kids and I stay at home today, cleaning and preparing food, knowing we will loose electricity and water by noon.  I crack down by nine in the morning and work furiously on my computer, cranking out letters to donors and writing updates for reports.  I search for grant opportunities and try to connect with potential partners who might want to help us in our work here.  Morgan is surprised at how much can get done when I am under pressure.
The kids take a bunch of silly photos and then they, too, get serious and do some schoolwork.  I am pretty strict with them keeping up with some reading and writing and math.  Morgan is working on some algebra that boggles the mind.  I sure hope she doesn't need any help from me because, sadly, I am not able to do the stuff she is doing.  I just pat her on the back and encourge her to keep going.  Our host, Helene, said she can help if needed, so I am grateful for that.
After lunch, Morgan and I go downtown to check out the shops and to get our bearings. Helene takes us and introduces us to Mohammad (the pharmacist), Paddy (the green grocer), Shorty (the photocopy man), to the avocado man, the tangerine man, to Costs (the baker), and to a bunch of other people who all know and love her.  It is a neat place, this Bulawayo! 
The kids stay at home, playing with the Stambolie kids, having a blast.  They find a red frog and chase each other with it, squealing and laughing.  They run through the garden, get dirty and tired.  By the time I get home, it is time to put them into the bathtub because they look like street urchins.  Then, I try my hand at homemade tortillas, using mealiemeal, which is the only corn meal we can find here.  They come out pretty good and we create a pseudo-mexian meal with the "tortillas", beans and sausage I had cooked up before, grated cheese, greek yogurt (instead of sour cream), and home made guacamole from the avocados we purchased in town.  We eat voraciously when Jodi and Eric return from their training and share with John and Helene.  They rave about the mexican food and I laugh, telling them that it is more like a mexican dream, not the reality.  They love it, though, so we leave it at that.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Injustice In the Price System for Second Generation AIDS Drugs

Around the turn of the century, a wave of activism combined with the generic production of AIDS-combating drugs significantly lowered the price of first-line treatment for HIV. Now, because the price of a standard antiretroviral (ARV) regimen hovers around $160 per person per year, the majority of AIDS victims around the world have access to this baseline version of ARV. This is an amazing reduction from the $10,000-15,000 range of the late 1990s. However, even the lowered price is prohibitively expensive for many developing countries, and unfortunately, international trade law still prevents a straightforward price reduction of ALL types of ARV.
Second-line ARV drugs, developed after the less sophisticated first-line medications, have less potential for toxic side-effects and will defeat strains of HIV that have become immune to baseline ARV. Though they are less critical than first-line ARV, they are needed in the fight against AIDS for those victims for whom first-line treatment won’t work. The WTO’s 1994 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of International Property Rights (TRIPS) granted protection to all antiretroviral medications for twenty years after they are patented. The first-line medications’ protections have already expired, and even before they had, foreign companies and governments had broken the rules of TRIPS and produced generic first-line ARV.
The better performing, second-line drugs don’t have the same protection, causing a great disparity between the price of baseline and second-line ARV. The days of $10,000-yr ARV are over, but because under TRIPS patents still protect the later medications, a second-line regimen costs $550 per year in low-income countries. The price is only this low because the international wave of advocacy which accompanied the production of generic first-line medication in the early 2000s induced the major pharmaceutical giants to operate with a tiered price system—that is, it offers prices to countries on the basis of per capita income. Drugs are cheaper in poor countries than in rich countries, but not cheap enough to be affordable. Considering that a billion people around the world earn less than a dollar a day, and that HIV is concentrated among these people, pricing drugs at $550 is little different from a death sentence for thousands of HIV+ poor people for whom first-line ARV doesn’t work. Considering also that middle-income countries with vast income inequality, such as India, China, and most importantly South Africa, must pay an even higher price, the poor in those countries are even less able to receive second-line treatment.
Governments can legally issue compulsory licenses domestically for generic drug production, so that a limited number of non-brand second-line ARV can be produced, but doing so comes with severe diplomatic consequences, usually from the United States. In 2007, Thailand allowed the generic production of pharmaceutical giant Abbott’s brand medicine Kaletra, a second-line ARV drug. The US retaliated by placing Thailand on the “priority watch list” for trade, and Abbott removed seven other very valuable ARV products from Thailand. This was detrimental to Thailand’s national health and economy, but the country’s bravery did lower the price of this particular type of second-line ARV for the rest of the world.
Much more international advocacy is needed to give all variations of ARV a just price. All people deserve proper treatment for their medical conditions. For more details about the history of antiretroviral drugs, read the a fuller account at And find out more about how you can help on the AFCA website!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Masvingo Bound

tran June 19, 2012 – Masvingo, Zimbabwe

Juju's lemon eyes
The morning starts at 5:30am, getting ready for a new adventure to give out sixty goats to children and their guardians.  We pluck the kids out of bed while it is still dark and join Ncube, who is driving us.  Boiled eggs, peanut butter sandwiches and water accompany us for the long trip ahead.  Eric, Ncube and I are in charge of delivering, vaccinating and tagging the goats and I can’t wait.
We arrive at a dusty, dry, forlorn, tiny grouping of houses and hear signing in the distance. Up ahead just a little bit, we see colorful figures swaying and dancing as they sing a welcome song to our little truck as we whip up dust all around us.  Before I know it, I am swaddled in hugs and kisses and pats and “welcomes!”.  It is a beautiful welcome and I am so happy my family is with me.  Eric has not seen a distribution of goats before and I am excited for him to see this joyous welcome and to see the joy that is to come.
Aiden drumming
We are ushered into a tiny church, complete with four hand-hewn benches and a small table on the front.  There, more singing washes over us, with clapping added in and the beating of drums.  Aiden boldly walks up to one of the drums and adds his piece alongside the drummer.  He concentrates on what he is doing and enjoys every minute of it.  After a short speech from the village goat project coordinator, we hand out the ear tags to each guardian in preparation for the distribution.  We traipse back outdoors into the dust in order to meet the goats and more singing follows and envelopes us.
Eric tagging ears
A para-vet does the vaccinations while Eric and then, I, do the tagging of the ears.  This group is incredibly organized and we are done with the tagging in no time.  Contracts are signed and we are invited back to the little church for a lunch of rice, sadza and some yummy sauce.  We eat with our hands and quickly get full as the sadza hits our bellies.  It is so sweet to sit with these brothers and sisters who are so grateful for the goats given to them.  When I tell them that I’ve prayed for them and won’t stop doing so, they clap and smile.  I love their huge smiles!
Juju and Morgan
One thing they repeat over and over again, in different ways, is their gratitude for the porridge AFCA sent in the past.  They are hungry and they miss it.  Their children walk 20 kilometers to school (each way) and it is hard for them to do this with no food in their bellies.  They can’t concentrate and they fall sick often.  The porridge was a life-saver, they say.  They even act out a drama about the porridge and how it helps them.  I tell them I’ll try to get them more, but I can’t promise.  I don’t know if I can provide it or if it is even available for me to send.  Shipping costs are extraordinary.  Yet, I, like them, pray for a miracle and hold on to hope that we will be able to send porridge once again.
Aiden learning
I am so proud of my children and of Morgan!  They integrate so well with all the folks we meet.  They share stories. They eat the food given to them. They smile, they clap, they sway to the music.  Aiden is so curious – he leans into the man who holds the goats while they are tagged because he doesn’t want to miss anything.  Everyone is patient with him and they give him room and allow his little eyes to see all they want to see.   As I turn around after tagging a goat, I spy Juju telling a young lady a story of some sort.  The girl is laughing and Juju is in her glory.  They swap stories and I turn back to tag another goat.

Jodi teaching and Q translating
He has a future!!
Throughout the day, we think of Jodi, who is conducting a workshop in another village, where we delivered goats last week.  She is surprised to meet not only the families who received goats last week, but to have sixty five people show up for the training.  Apparently, the entire village is out to listen to Jodi!  The talk goes really well, with Q translating and people asking many questions and taking notes. They are hungry for knowledge and as Jodi teaches in one village, our own folks ask for more training and workshops.  Everyone wants their goats to do well, for their milk to help the children and the elderly, for baby goats to be born safely and to grow up strong and well.

So do I.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Matopos National Park

June 16, 2012 - Matopos, Zimbabwe

Today is sunny and we are planning on having a fabulous day at the Matopos National Park.  With John driving the big LandRover, the rest of us pile into the back of the truck and take off with a picnic lunch packed.  We are dressed warmly because there are no windows on the truck and while it is sunny, the breeze is still chilly at this time of the morning.  About an hour into the drive, we stop to allow Aiden, Eric and AJ to sit in the top of truck.  Aiden is so excited!! His eyes are shining like little olives and he has the biggest smile on his face.  He is loving this time of freedom from car seats and let us know that he doesn’t want to use car seats ever again.

After a bit, we change positions and Juju, Morgan and I sit on the top and we feel the wind whipping through our hair as we dodge branches that threaten to knock us off the top.  We laugh and enjoy the bumps in the road, hanging on to the grill around the top of the truck, which keeps us safe.
We arrive at a gorgeous location, named a World Heritage Site three times over: topography, culture, and something else having to do with the animals there.  There are eagles of all sorts there…a veritable United Nations of eagles. Monkeys and baboons about and they visit us during our lunch time.  We join a group of other Zimbabwean families and soon, the kids are all playing together, climbing huge boulders and rocks, trees and anything that they can get on.  They chase each other and have an absolutely blast.  Morgan, Aiden and I try our hand at canoeing and we laugh uproariously as we get stuck in huge weeds and as Momo gets soaked trying to paddle.  She tells me this might be the first time she’s canoed and we are excited that it has happened here in Zimbabwe.

After a communal lunch of boersworst (beef sausage), peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (our contribution), salad, all sorts of cookies, tea, and water, AJ and Juju race Momo, Aiden and I in the canoes.  My team loses but we have the most fun, I think.  Eric is having a great time hiking with some men and he comes back full of information about what is happening in the area and with the folks we are meeting. 

We soak in the sun on lawn chairs, chat with new friends, munch on snacks, and watch the monkeys play on the rocks while our children (resembling monkeys now that they are muddy and dusty and dirty) chase them and scamper around.

June 17, 2012 – Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Church this morning was really nice, where we met up with folks we met yesterday and met some new people, too.  When we were about to leave church, I looked around for Aiden and not finding him, started looking around.  Momo found him sipping hot tea with a bunch of people, sitting in the middle of all of them and having the time of his life.  I am so grateful that these kids are so ready to try new things, to make new friends, and to have fun.  Momo has been great, too, helping out at a youth group meeting on Friday night with AJ and making friends all around.  These three are really doing a great job at assimilating and making the best of everything. 

One of the things we are getting used to is the power cuts. Wednesday is the only day we’ll usually have electricity all day long.  Otherwise, we won’t have it on Monday morning, but will in the afternoon. We won’t have any on Tuesday. We won’t have any on Thursday morning, but will in the afternoon.  Then, Friday morning we will, but none on Friday afternoon until Saturday afternoon.  Sunday morning, we don’t have and we will on Sunday afternoon.  And, no electricity means no water.  So, we have to plan our baths and flushing of the toilet carefully. We are getting into a rhythm bit by bit.

This afternoon, we will be going to the animal orphanage to check out lions at feeding time and to have monkeys walk on us.  I think the kids will love it!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Goats and Sadza

June 14, 2012 – Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

After a breakfast of rice and a fried egg, Jodi, Morgan, Juju and I head out to distribute fifty-six goats to beneficiaries approximately three hours away.  Q takes us in a pick-up truck and what starts out as a ride on an asphalt road ends up on a narrow dirt road with small villages suddenly appearing on the side of the road.
Q tells us that we should be able to spot a giraffe and that keeps us looking out the windows.  While no giraffe materializes, we do see a group of baboons on the side of road and we go wild with excitement, taking photos of the monkeys.  We also spot impalas, which makes us happy, too.  We never do see the giraffe, but we have a fun time looking anyway.
Jodi getting ready to tag ears
Three hours later, when we reach the delivery place, we are greeted by nineteen grandmothers and grandfathers who are raising orphaned children.  We are welcomed with great smiles and a song, which is always such a welcoming sound and one with I treasure for months and years afterwards.  The goats are brought in by the chief of the village and everyone’s smiles grow even larger, if that is possible.  The para-vet vaccinates the goats.  I am given the task of marking ear tags with family names and “AFCA”, Jodi is given the task of tagging ears, Morgan and Juju take photos and video the whole process.  We are busy for quite a while and it is exciting to see how happy everyone is.  When we name one goat “Darryl”, the owner keeps repeating “I am so happy, I am soooo happy!”  She is thrilled to take three goats home with her, knowing that the orphaned children she cares for will be able to become self-sufficient if they stick to the program. 
Morgan getting a hug
When all the goats are vaccinated, tagged and distributed, a song starts.  A bit of clapping joins in and finally, foot stomping as the song changes from Shona to English and we clearly hear words in the song – “thank you very much”.  It is so sweet, this thanking for a simple gesture.  They are indeed grateful for the animals and they show it in their smiles, their hugs, their music. 
Some goats are tied together with twine. Some with plastic. Some with rope. Six are put on the back of a cart and are taken away by a team of four cute donkeys.  Everyone is in a celebratory mood and we are invited to join them for lunch.  Q is unsure how we’ll react to this, which is just silly, since I’ll try just about anything.  I sit in the round kitchen hut with the chief, the pastor, Q and the para-vet who’s been trained through this project.   A huge plate of sadza 'n chicken is placed in front of me and I eat with my right hand, making a ball with the sadsza (corn meal cooked with water) with my fingers and thumb and dipping it into the sauce to grab a piece of chicken with it. I pop it in my mouth and find it delicious.  Because people only eat once a day, they are hungry and they are happy to eat the big portion of sadsza.  I, on the other hand, am trying to figure out how I am going to eat it all.  Q notices that I cannot possibly eat it and kindly, lets me know I don’t have to finish it up.  I do my best and when I am quite done, a plate of melon, maize and squash soup is placed in front of me.  Yikes!  There is no way I can make this happen, so I ask for a small portion and eat that. 

Gertrude, Juju and a goat named Juju
This time around, I tell Morgan and Juju that they can eat the sandwiches we brought, giving them time to get more accustomed to the food and way of eating.  I want their bellies to be ready.  Because the soup was boiled hard, for a long time, I thought it was ok for them to taste it and they both did. Now, they are so curious to try other foods and that makes me happy.  Little by little, though…don’t want their bellies rebelling.

Lunch is done and I wash my hand in a bowl of water.  We say our goodbyes and hear the beginnings of a song.  It is so beautiful, it brings tears to my eyes and I notice that I am not the only one affected.  Morgan and Jodi are all emotional, too, and I think to myself, “welcome to Africa”. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Success in the International Antiretroviral Therapy Market!

One of the coolest success stories in the 25-year history of HIV/AIDS is the dramatic price drop of baseline antiretroviral drugs (ARV therapy, or ART) since the turn of the 21st century. These drugs are pivotal in the fight against AIDS, granting a healthy and productive life to HIV patients who adhere faithfully to a strict therapy regimen. And these drugs’ new affordability on the international market has allowed a 16-fold increase in the number of poor-country citizens receiving ARV drugs from 2003 to 2010 alone. At the end of 2010, 6.6 million people in the developing world were benefiting from them. 47% of the world’s citizens had access to ART; by now, that proportion is over half.
Here’s how the price decrease happened. In a nutshell, a combination of activism and generic drug production loosened the patent-protected monopolies surrounding the first kinds of antiretroviral medication ever developed, thereby breaking down the control that pharmaceutical companies had over their sale. In 1994, the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Property Rights (TRIPS) prohibited the production or sale of antiretroviral drugs except by the large pharmaceutical companies that developed them. This meant that treatment for AIDS, priced at $10,000-15,000, was prohibitively expensive in developing countries. Fewer than 2% of the HIV+ population in these countries acquired ART. In 2000, despite these regulations, Brazil began producing generic versions of the protected drugs, selling them at a fifth of the brand price. The same year, an Indian company, Cipla, followed suit, pricing their drugs at a mere $350 per person per year by early 2001. The competition from the generic producers angered the pharmaceutical companies but forcefully drove down the price of brand-name ARV to match Cipla’s price. Throughout the early 2000s, the downward price trend continued—now, basic, first-line ARV is available for $160-200 per person per year, and to this day, India supplies 80% of donor-funded ARV. Generic drugs are very much responsible for the expansion of treatment access around the developing world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where the AFCA works.
The entrance of generic drugs into the ARV market coincided with a lot of advocacy work, putting political pressure on pharmaceutical companies to loosen their hold on their monopolies. For example, the Clinton Foundation formed after President Clinton exited office, and it has lobbied for the availability of generic AIDS drugs ever since. Furthermore, in 2001, the international community reacted indignantly when 39 major pharmaceutical companies attempted to sue the South African government for passing a law that would facilitate the production and importation of generic ARVs. After several global petitions were drawn up against them, these companies were forced to back down. Though activists’ efforts have never formally changed TRIPS’ patent protection rules, they did produce a 2001 WTO resolution called the Doha Round Agreement, which declared that TRIPS would be interpreted with the intended goal of global expanding treatment access. The pharmaceutical companies have been semi-compliant; in 2006, UNITAID, an organization which funds ARV distribution and lobbies for further price reductions, began operations with moderate success. These steps represent progress and provide hope that one day ARV’s may be available to all who need them.
Today’s legal and economic picture of ARV access is still far from ideal. Much more activism is needed to dissolve the monopolies on the more effective second-line ARV medication. More information on the challenges of expanding access to come in the next few days! A more detailed account of the story of the ARV market is available at In the meantime, find out how you can get directly involved and make a concrete difference by exploring our website!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ahnu Boots Are a Girl's Best Friend

I want to thank our friends at Ahnu for providing me with the absolute best boots ever.  I have worn them to the top of Kilimanjaro, through the streets of Harrisburg, PA and everywhere in between. Here they are, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, looking dirtier than usual.  I am resting my feet on the truck window, as we wait for help on our 11th breakdown of the trip.

Ahnu has been a generous supporter of our work, giving us certificates for Kilimanjaro climbers and winners in our recent 5k.  I believe we host the 5k with the absolute best prizes, thanks to sposnors like Ahnu!

I've also uploaded some photos of them on a road in Congo (yes, I am the height of fashion, wearing them with a skirt), in Kenya (with baby Juma and little Rama).  Right now, they are with me in Zimbabwe, after being worn in Bangui, Central African Republic and in Johannesburg, South Africa.  They are definitely looking like they need a good cleaning right now, but they are still as comfortable as always!

We Made It!

June 12, 2012 – Johannesburg, South Africa – Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

I spy them from the top of the tall escalator.  I am on the third floor and they are in a terminal on the ground floor.  I see her first, tall and elegant, fifteen years old, my niece Morgan.  She is laughing at something one of the small ones said or did.  I scan a bit and see Juju and Aiden playing in front of her, acting funny to see her laugh again.  Eric is on the right of them, Jodi on the left of her.  My heart beat picks up and I feel it change pace.  I start walking down the escalator to get there faster and the youngest, A, looks up and stares for the span of one second or less.  I see him trying to figure it out…is this who he feels it is, in this strange airport far from home.  Suddenly, whether it is his eyes or his heart that make the decision, he leaves what he is doing and screams “mommy” over and over again as he runs towards me.  J joins in and passengers in ten terminals turn to look.  It is sweet – we are together again.  My small family that has grown to six with M and Jodi joining the group.

We fly away to our summer place in Bulawayo.

The visa process takes a long time so I take care of customs while M plays with the kids and E and Jodi take care of visas.  I chat with customs officials I’ve known in the past, those who’ve seen me through the process before and who’ve harassed me years ago, but who defended me from then on.  Not a single bag is looked at and we get through easily, with water filters and powdered milk intact.

Ncube (pronounced “click” +beh”) picks us up and brings us to our home, a cottage that the three little bears would be proud of.  One bedroom (E&T), living room/kitchen (Jodi in LR), bathroom (with flushing toilet and bathtub when water is available), and a loft (three kids) is the sum of it.  This cottage belongs to Helene and John Stambolie, our gracious hosts, and their four children.

There is no electricity on Tuesdays and therefore, no water, as the water is pumped from a borehole.  AJ, the eldest and only son of the big house, takes E to the grocery store from where we receive a bag of rice, a bag of beans, milk, eggs, bread and butter.  I start soaking the beans for tomorrow and we set about the business of settling in before it gets too dark.  M makes chocolate milk with some Milo I brought from Kenya and the kids drink that while I make some grilled cheese sandwiches with cheese given to us by the Stambolies.  With full bellies, J arranges games we brought, M unpacks loads of crafts for the summer, Jodi arranges her corner, and I organize the kitchen and our things.  A is busy checking out the yard and asks anyone who will listen if we’ll hop with him.  E is back at the market, scoping out lanterns, a fridge the Stambolies ordered (just don’t open it much on days with no electricity), and anything else we might need.

We are invited to go to the big house for a proper dinner, but A refuses to go.  He says he is too tired and just wants sleep.  This from the child that didn’t stop hopping around outside while we set things up and who has already fallen in love with the large yard in which he is free to play as long as he pleases.  I bathe him out of a bucket of water we pilfer.  The second half of the bucket is enough to bathe J.  Snuggled in clean, warm pajamas, A is asleep in thirty seconds, not caring that the bed, pillow, house, surroundings are new.  The rest of us take five steps and find ourselves in the big house where a dinner of spaghetti and salad await us.  With easy conversation and a dinner followed by tea, I know, I just know, that this is going to be a good summer.  M feels it too, my beautiful niece.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mombasa Days

June 10, 2012

Tonight I celebrate seven years of working with this particular program. So does Sister Veronica and Lucy. We three have been together through some hairy times and they determined that we’ll work another twenty years together. I complain that I will have no hair left by that time, the stress is too much, the fundraising so hard. With incredulous eyes, Vero says to me “don’t give up on faith, Tanya. You must keep the faith that has brought you here today – you hear me? We will do what we can together because it is not our work that we do, but God’s.”

I guess that is that, isn’t it?

June 11, 2012 –Mombasa, Kenya

I wake up to the sound of the call to worship from the mosque next door. It is quite loud at this time of the morning and I am irritated because I am tired and don’t want to wake up quite yet. Now that I am awake, though, I start to focus on the fact that I am sweating inside my mosquito net. I don’t dare take it off because I already am looking like corn on the cob and don’t want any more bites. I resort to tossing and turning and praying for daylight to appear quickly.

Soon, I am in the field with Lucy, visiting children and am hurting again. We visit a family with six children and a mom, who is not feeling well at all. They haven’t eaten since yesterday morning and they look wan and tired. I can’t stand it and make my way to the car and search through my bag for any food I have left. I find some boiled eggs which were meant to be my breakfast, as well as some protein shake a dear friend gave me before I left home. I am sure she won’t mind knowing that the shake is now in the hands of the mom, with instructions that she give it to Rama, the boy in our program, so he can drink it when he takes his medicine. I dig around some more and find a large can of powdered milk I had purchased for my family while we are in Zimbabwe. We find a tiny store, no more than a hut, and purchase maize, rice, beans, tomato paste, oil, and salt. We walk some more and find a woman selling one cabbage (we snag it), twelve bananas (we buy them), five onions (we add them to our stack), and one mango (we purchase it). With all this, we trot back to the hovel where the family lives and deposit our purchases. The little ones try to light up when they see the fruit but were too weak to do much about it. We peel eggs and banana and I see them feeling better. It is miraculous. In seconds, they are better. Amazing what a little food and hope can do.

We make our way to another house – this one has enough food for the family of three who lives there. What makes me so very happy is that I meet Benson once again. He was the first child introduced to ARVs in this program and we provided them for him long ago. Now, he receives school fees through us, as well as nutritional support when needed. Benson is a character and when we take a photo, he holds his thumb up, showing the world that he is ok. The truth is, he is doing just fine. Our work works!

He dreams of being a mechanic.

I return to the office where I meet again with Sister Veronica. We are dreaming big now. They must become a self-sustaining program and we have some ideas. We put our heads together and think, plot and plan. Just wait, world…one day soon, I’ll be writing about a program which became self-sustaining through the grit and determination of a nun, an amazing team of volunteers, social workers, guardians, and children. The story hasn’t ended here, not by a long run. I am hopeful today and know that even though I can’t see the end result now, at this very minute, it will be a good one.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

How Do You Treat Children with AIDS?

Do you know how AIDS is treated in children? Do you know how effective it can be?
For adults, the primary combatant against the one-two punch of HIV and AIDS is antiretroviral therapy. These drugs delay the onset of AIDS indefinitely by pinpointing and undermining any of numerous stages in AIDS’ development. One type of antiretroviral drugs, reverse transcriptase inhibitors, disables the ability of the HIV virus to replicate its DNA, stopping its spread within the body. Another type, protease inhibitors, prevents human cells from replicating the virus. Yet another set of drugs, fusion and entry inhibitors, protects cells from penetration by the virus. The World Health Organization recommends that each HIV+ patient take a personalized mixture of these three antiretroviral drugs. Such a regimen is called highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART).
Developed mostly during the 1990s, with small breakthroughs occurring throughout the 2000s, HAART drugs have been critical in fighting the virus. Adherence to a prescribed HAART regimen can turn a lethal disease into a manageable (though still lifelong) condition, provided the medications are diverse enough that the patient does not develop a strain of HIV that is immune to them. In the United States, because of them, thousands of people have survived well past their HIV-estimated life expectancy. These medications allow HIV victims to lead something very close to a normal life. Unfortunately, in the developing world, the medications have not been distributed nearly as widely as possible. And among those whom HAART has reached, HIV+ children are underrepresented—this is why the AFCA does the work that it does.
Because HIV+ children and especially infants succumb more quickly to AIDS than adults do, the children’s treatment regimen is more severe—and much more needed. On average, the younger the victim, the faster the disease will set in. Additionally, especially with infants, laboratories are far less able to predict how fast a child will develop AIDS than how fast an adult will. This makes the provision of treatment all the more critical. With regard to newborns, pregnant mothers are encouraged to take HAART as soon as possible in order to prevent transmission to their children. Usually, if begun quickly enough, this effort is successful. Should it fail, however, the newborn should receive medication every day for the first week of his or her life and should begin a set HAART regimen as soon as possible thereafter.
Children’s particular vulnerability to the virus makes the AFCA’s work all the more powerful. At our 16 sites across Africa, the AFCA fights to provide antiretroviral therapy for children who need it. Find out how you can get involved on the AFCA website!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Arrival in Kenya

June 8, 2012 – CAR – Kenya

I am writing reports and catching up on my receipt record keeping this morning, while taking brief breaks to read about the history of the wars in DRC.  It is a terribly complicated history and I am not sure that I understand any more now than I did previously.  All I know for sure is that evil is everywhere in this world and that it has manifested itself if such violence in northeast Congo that it makes it hard to comprehend how people continue on with their lives once they’ve faced what they have witnessed and in many cases, endured.  It is also incomprehensible why these wars have not been covered by the media. Is the loss of 5,000,000 lives not worth mention?

As I wait for my flight from Bangui to Nairobi (where I’ll continue on to Mombasa), thoughts keep recurring in my mind and there is no end to what one could ask and to what one would receive no satisfactory answers to.  Sometimes I hear things that make me so sad, so weighed down, that it is hard to know what to say or think next.  I feel like clutching my stomach and rolling up in a ball to not feel the pain I know others feel daily. I pray because it is all I can do and it is all I know that will make a difference, as peace can only come through the One who IS PEACE. 

June 9, 2012 – Mombasa, Kenya

My flight from Nairobi to Mombasa has been delayed and I find out my bag is lost.  I am hoping the bag will arrive today because I would love to change my clothes.  These travel clothes are red with dirt and if asked, no one would say my boots are the purple I knew them to be.  A pair of sandals would be perfect right now, as would a clean shirt into which I can sweat anew. 

It is so good to be among friends! I love seeing Veronica’s face at the airport and we laugh as we compare our grey hairs which we agree are due to stress and not age. She searches through my hair as though looking for lice and I tell her we look like monkeys and need to behave.  This makes her laugh out loud, as though behaving is not something she can do.

She asks how Juju is, seeing a kindred spirit in her.  One day again, they will see each other and will recognize each other in the other’s eyes.  She asks for Malaika (angel), which is Aiden.  He was so young when he went to Kilimanjaro to wait for Eric to climb that everyone loved holding him.  He was called Malaika because he was so white.

Today’s schedule is hectic:

·         Play with kids at the clinic and attend Kid’s Day (favorite part of these trips)

·         Visit a community garden

·         Discuss garden Internship and way forward

·         Work together with Veronica (head of this program) on a grant

·         Follow up with some of the children who receive schools fees

·         Buy milk for our family’s stay in Zimbabwe

·         Check email – I hope, I hope, I hope!!