South Africa has been living with the reality of HIV/Aids for more than thirty years now, but as the country with highest prevalence of the disease in the world, with nearly 20% of our adult population HIV positive and close to 400 000 new infections each year, it’s still a lot to handle. It goes beyond what governments can do – even where free ARV’s are provided there are many instances where a lack of transport, money or education mean that drugs aren’t accessed. It is up to individuals, charitable organisations, and businesses to fill the gap that government can’t close.
This was the experience of Sue Hedden when she first started Woza Moya, a community-based NGO located in the Ufafa Valley in KZN. Sue was working at the Buddhist Retreat Centre when she started adult literacy classes for local Zulu men and women who couldn’t read. Through discussions with her students, Sue discovered the extent of the HIV pandemic in the area, and the devastation that it was wreaking on the community. In 1999 the stigma and suspicion surrounding the illness was even more extreme that it is today. Many locals believed that the deaths were the result of muti, and had no understanding of how to care for someone who had contracted HIV, or how to protect themselves so that they weren’t exposed to the virus.
Realising that the answers needed to come from the community itself, with the assistance of some outside aid, Sue established an empowerment programme that would provide income for locals, and at the same time educate community members so that they could better care for each other. Nearly twenty years on Woza Moya (Come Spirit) assists close to two thousand people, with their programmes covering everything from hygiene and sanitation, to feeding schemes, legal advice and sustainable employment. The crafts that the women of Ufafa produce are sold in the Woza Moya shop in Hillcrest, with their beaded dolls, Little Travellers, and their fabulous sock monkeys, being sold internationally.