September’s Health Day in Mgwojeni proved to be our best Health event to date!  For starters, we were fortunate enough to have two journalists visiting us from the Mail & Guardian newspaper and the Voice of America radiobroadcast.  But that also meant the pressure was on to ‘wow’ them with a successful Health Day.

Mia and Darren spent a week interviewing locals on a variety of topics. To read more about their visit click the photo.

As we continue our circulation of Health Days we are devising new methods to involve the community, promote HIV/AIDS awareness and encourage testing.  Our new strategy is to incorporate guest speakers based on the following subjects:

Sangomas (traditional healers):  There have been many instances of HIV positive people replacing their ARV regimen for traditional remedies and ending up very sick in the hospital and sometimes even dying.  We have to get the message to the villagers that ARVs are the only appropriate treatment for HIV.   As belief in traditional healers is still very strong in our area, we wanted to invite local sangomas to participate in the event so community members can hear from the healers themselves that traditional medicines cannot cure HIV.

People Living with HIV/AIDS:  As stigma is also very present, we want to include people living with HIV/AIDS in our Health Days to talk about their experience and to demonstrate to the community it is easy to live a long happy life as long as you take your ARVs and live a healthy lifestyle.

Community Care Worker:  We want our Community Care Workers to have a role in our health events so that the community recognizes them as people they can go to for help.  They’ve also received lots of training and deserve to inform their communities of all their hard work.

We didn’t have to look far to find the perfect guest speaker!  Our very own community care worker, Veliswa, has known she is HIV positive since 2008.  She is very open about her status and has a strong, determined attitude about combating stigmatism associated with HIV/AIDS.  She is also a traditional healer in training, and is a known and respected member of her community.  She was happy to participate in our health day.

Veliswa is open about her HIV positive status, serves as a Community Care Worker, and is a traditional healer in training. As a healthy young woman living with HIV, she understands the importance of taking ARVs. We are so glad she agreed to speak at the health day and we hope she continues to deliver her powerful message of hope and encouragement.

Sam began the event with a thorough discussion on the importance of nutrition: half of your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables, a quarter should be meats and protein, and the last quarter should be grainy foods (carbs).  Sam then described the dangers of diabetes, and the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.

After Sam’s health talk, Veliswa took the microphone and for twenty minutes gave a riveting speech about living with HIV, the importance of protecting yourself by using condoms, and encouraging everyone to get tested.  She spoke to each faction of the community directly:  “this is for you women…this is for you men…this is for the youth…”  By the end everyone was cheering with applause.  It was obvious her message had gotten through to the audience.

Veliswa’s passionate speech was inspiring.  We hope all of the villages get a chance to hear her speak!

Veliswa, Dishi, and Nomzingisi talk about their roles as Community Care Workers and the intense training they have received.

We were delighted at the high turn-out for the event.  Throughout the day there was a steady line of people waiting to get tested.  By the end we set a new high record for 2012 with 91 people tested!

91 total people tested! A new Health Day 2012 record!

After the health messages were delivered, everyone enjoyed a classic Health Day meal!

Once people had finished their delicious meal it was time for the cell phone raffle.

Master of Ceremony Khuselo taunts the audience by taking his time to call out the winner of the cell phone.

With the name of the winner finally announced, the crowd erupting in cheers and shouts.  The winner is a young man of the community, and everyone is happy that a youth has won the prize, as young people seldom feel the sense of victory.

Congratulations to the cell phone winner! It was great to see a young man win, as he represents the exact demographic we are targeting for HIV testing.  Hopefully more young men will hear of his winning and decide to get tested for their chance to win too.

It was such a great Health Event with Veliswa’s powerful speech, the highest number of people tested to date, and a young man winning the raffle.  And the Mail & Guardian was there for the whole thing!  As we continue our monthly health days we go forward with inspiration and enthusiasm to set another testing record!