CARRYING THE LIGHT INTO SOUTH AFRICA
By Robin Goff RN, BSN, MAV, CHTP/I
Returning from a visit in South Africa is always a bit of a culture shock, especially returning at Christmas time. I am once again struck by the extreme separation of resources in our human family.
In the US we are sheltered from the kind of poverty that is prevalent in so many countries in our world. Yes, I am aware that we have poverty in the US as well, but in most of the continent of Africa, and countless other places, pandemics complicate issues like poverty and unemployment.
Even 25 years into the HIV/AIDS pandemic, there seems to be a denial about the enormity of the devastation being caused by the death of a huge percentage of the young adult population of Sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that South Africa will have between 5 & 7 million children orphaned by AIDS by 2010/2011. Some predict that the number might be as high as 10 million and that is in an area about the size of Texas!
After five trips there, I am only beginning to take in the depth of the situation and the complexities of addressing the needs of the people living in the wake of the pandemic. Yet with each trip my conviction goes deeper to be willing to see the truth that humanity is in acute distress.
The children we visit in South Africa are so beautiful, bright and loving that one has to look deeper to see the tragic conditions they survive everyday. Sweet tender children are faced with fending for themselves with no adult supervision amid the hostile environments filled with crime, abuse, drugs, and alcohol.
As you get to know people more deeply, you hear stories that are unbearable. Young children tending their parents or siblings as they die of AIDS or even worse, children dying alone with no adult to comfort them. There are many good people there working to respond to the crisis but they often are plagued by compassion fatigue and many find themselves held captive by fear of the pervasive crime.
When volunteers from the US come to assist, it brings a breath of fresh energy to those in the trenches who work to care for the sick and dying while addressing the needs of the orphaned and vulnerable children. Often the very best thing we can do is to support the caregivers, many of whom are gogos (grandmothers). While we cannot fix the problems, we can help to carry more light into the midst of the situation and restore some hope for people who work tirelessly there.
One of the highlights of my visit was to make home visits with some caregivers into an informal settlement area. These caregivers had a Level One class with Mary Frost earlier this year and were clamoring for more. I have a background in hospice chaplaincy and so I was able to mentor the caregivers about care for the dying patient. Together we used Healing Touch, prayer and meditation with the patients we visited and the caregivers asked endless questions as we would walk between the homes.
Caring for people dying with AIDS can be very difficult, but having the tools that HT provides is a wonderful addition to the caregiver's tool bag. Another highlight was the HT Level One class I taught in Cape Town. It was a large class and 20 of the participants were young people in their twenties who serve as peer educators in the public schools. Their program, Life Choice, has trained them to be positive role models for teenagers who are navigating the world of HIV.
It was evident that these young people have learned to make choices for themselves and were open to exploring new ideas. While being lively and fun, the group took the HT training seriously and they were quiet and attentive during the class sessions. They asked good questions that revealed that they were thinking deeply about the information being presented.
There is such a need for strong, young role models for children, especially those growing up without parents. Quite a few of the Life Choice group were young men, which was a very hopeful sign to me. The majority of children in South Africa are growing up without fathers and even orphan care centers are predominantly staffed by women. Seeing these delightful young guys doing the Chakra Spread warmed my heart and gave me a deep sense of hope for the future of South Africa.
Healing Touch is growing in South Africa and the caregivers in the Intro classes I offered were thirsty for the self-care we offer, tools to address difficult situations and ways to work in the absence of medications. It is a small step, but bringing Healing Touch to people living around such darkness can spread light out not only to a class, but to all of the people that each student touches long after we are gone.
We are committed to continue taking Healing Touch to South Africa and welcome others to get involved. /We can use donations for syllabi, textbooks, equipment and even some support for CHTIs to travel. We would welcome HT groups to connect as sister groups to HT groups forming in South Africa.
There are so many ways to step up and make changes in our world. This project is just one way that you can be of service and help to stream the healing light to a place where it is so much needed. I urge you to find your own way to serve and spread the gift of Healing Touch wherever you feel led around this weary world. It is time for us to lead with a consciousness of unconditional love and a healing touch.