AIDS Walk Africa 2008: Day 2
July 1, 2008
AIDS Walk Africa 2008: Virtual Walk
Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5
By Heather Mason Kiefer
Photos by Jon Hrusa
We stumbled shivering from our rooms this morning, ready to embark on the first day of walking. The sky was clear but there was a cool mist in the Ezulwini Valley. We climbed into the vans for the 15-minute drive to the walk’s starting point.
We gathered in the grass next to the road and were joined by several local leaders, Ministry of Health (MOH) officials, and youth leaders. It appears that we will never walk alone in Swaziland!
Walkers Sean Fife (right) and Ionel Belfiore on the road to the Luyengo Clinic in the Manzini region, Swaziland.
We were greeted by Lembelele, the local chief, and Shongwe, the health matron of the region, said a brief prayer, and we were off. We started down a flat dirt road, but just ahead we could see the hills we would be climbing. We began a gradual ascent and the temperature climbed along with us, prompting several walkers to peel off their jackets and slather on sunscreen.
Soon we had reached our highest altitude of the day – 3,280 feet – and began descending into the Usutu Forest. The “forest” is actually a tree farm, with rows and rows of small pine trees. We had a great view of the hills all around, and hardly saw another soul except for a lazily circling vulture and the occasional cow.
Anna Hoe (center) is assisted by Jeffery Lowery (left) as she jumps over a stream on the road to the Luyengo Clinic.
After nine kilometers of walking, we arrived at a clearing and sat down for a forum about the Foundation’s programs in Swaziland. First, Foundation Vice President Maurice Adams spoke about the Foundation’s work in Africa, explaining that each of the countries where we work is unique, but one thing is the same everywhere: “a mother’s love for her child.”
Mohammed Mahdi, deputy director of the Foundation’s Swazi office, went into more detail about the Foundation’s work in Swaziland. Despite a huge shortage of health staff, more than 54,000 pregnant women have been tested for HIV since the Foundation began its work here in 2004, and over 90 percent of women who are offered HIV testing accept it.
To illustrate this success, Mohammed introduced Lungile Maziya, a young mother living with HIV. Lungile discovered she was infected with HIV while pregnant with her son, and was hesitant to admit her status at first. But with the help of her counselor, Lungile was able to accept her status and has now become a peer educator herself. “I am very much happy that I’m alive and my child is HIV-negative,” Lungile said through a translator in her native siSwati. Thanks to the Foundation’s prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV program, Lungile has a healthy seven-month-old son.
Lungile Maziya (left), an HIV-positive peer educator, with her counselor Christabel at the Luyengo Clinic.
After the forum, we enjoyed a buffet lunch right by the side of the road. Luckily we only had three kilometers to go before reaching the Luyengo Clinic – the end of our walk. Luyengo, which is supported by the Foundation, serves a population of 55,000 people and is staffed by four nurses and two nursing assistants (illustrating the staff shortage Mohammed mentioned earlier). Yet the clinic is immensely successful in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Tom Antonellis greets members of a local youth group at the Luyengo Clinic.
A mother holds her baby as the walkers pass through the Luyengo Clinic.
After a short presentation outside the clinic, we toured the inside of the facility and then made our way out to the garden, where Foundation CEO Pam Barnes and five-time veteran walkers Gigi and Jessica Hancock helped the MOH officials to plant an avocado tree. Finally, it was time to load up the vans and head to a local craft market before returning to Timbali Lodge.
At dinner, walker Tom Antonellis presented a personalized walking stick to Pam, engraved with her name and “AIDS Walk Africa 2008: Swaziland.” We’re told we’ll need those walking sticks tomorrow – there are some very steep hills in our immediate future!
Keri Oberg shares some photographic moments with children at the Luyengo Clinic.