The following is as broad a generalization as they come but I lost faith in NGOs a long time ago. Countless amounts of money are funneled into the system but only a small percentage seems to be able to make a difference – and this has nothing to do with the dedicated people who work hands on in the countries that need assistance.I have great belief, though, in organizations that operate closer to the roots. In the last two days since I arrived in Cape Town all I heard from my friend Sue is about the difficulties of the work she does for Positive Heroes, the organization she is part of and volunteers for.
HIV is still an enormous stigma on the African continent. The Government of South Africa, despite 15% of the population being affected*, was slow in making available drugs that are commonplace in the States, but it has finally put the process in motion. ARVs are now available to most – even if in some cases it might mean a long trek from the rural villages to the nearest clinic – and a huge campaign aimed at getting people to avail themselves of free testing is under way. Still, among the poorest and less educated, HIV/AIDS is seen as a death sentence and something to either hide or be ashamed of. Positive Heroes aims to spread the message that living with HIV is possible and that a normal, fulfilled and healthy life can be had. Amongst other programmes, they fund teams of runners, all HIV positive, that run marathons up to 89 kilometres all over the country, bringing with them their life stories, all centered on their discovery of the disease, how they manage it, how leading a life centered on taking their medications, good nutrition and sport keep them a vital part of their community and fill them with purpose and normalcy.
Sue has embarked on the daunting road of fundraising, one of the most ungrateful tasks for anyone working for a non-profit the world over and can be heard muttering, screaming, threatening down her perennially ringing cell phone.
In an effort to get some documents signed and enter a Government lotto that allocates funds to non- profits, we happen upon the offices of NICRO (National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders) where the CEO, Soraya Solomon, is busy running this hundred year old institution that works in conjunction with the justice system in placing young offenders (under the age of 18) in alternative sentencing. If you start from the premise that sending a young person to prison will be a traumatizing and life altering event, it makes sense that a punishment reinforcing positivity and instilling life and work skills might be more beneficial to reintegrating a young person into society.
I admire people who dedicate their life to truly helping others, believing in the causes they support above anything else. And it’s these regular people, these you and I, who make the day-to-day difference rather than the ones in power who, no matter who or where, end up being so entangled in their web they most often forget where they came from or what promises they made.
My day wasn’t all awe-inspiring or, at least, at times it inspired a different awe. It didn’t take me long to convince Sue to take me back to Birds Cafe for breakfast, a simple but magical locale in the heart of town. Owned and run by two Namibian women, Birds offer fresh, mostly organic fare, simple, clean and delicious. Communal tables, chairs made of upside down crates topped with a foam cushion, bird sounds emanating from the stereo system and lovely handmade pottery round up the reasons why I wanted to go back. Oh, and the delicious fruit and granola, the strong coffee and the grace of the service.
- Official figures are not available as the Government does not provide. This is an educated guess by people who work in the field.