“Every other person here is infected”

Zandile Mkhize's day begins at six o'clock in the morning – at the latest. The 30-year-old is a single mother, studies social and community development by distance learning and works as a social worker. At the Siqalakabusha center in the township of Kwa Mashu near Durban, everything actually crosses her desk: the monthly statistics for the local authorities, the files of patients cared for at home, the lists of families provided with food aid. Social work in Kwa Mashu – it requires strong nerves and a lot of commitment. The township is one of the largest in South Africa and a notorious one. Poverty, robbery, murder, sexual violence are the names of the problems, as well as, and above all, HIV and Aids.

"About one in two here is infected," Zandile says of her Siyanda district within Kwa Mashu. This puts the region far above the already high proportion of around 18 percent of infected adults in South Africa as a whole. Current international research indicates that more than 5.5 million of the nearly 50 million South Africans are HIV positive. This is the highest absolute number in the world. And real progress is hardly to be recognized for the past years, at least not area-wide.

The scale and complexity of the challenges is evident every day in Siyanda, Kwa Mashu. From 8 a.m. on, the Siqalakabusha center is a hive of activity. The only two-story house amid the many small matchbox houses with corrugated iron roofs in the township is clearly visible. Zandile and her volunteers gather on the second floor. Some of the women leave immediately to visit the sick at home. Others cook rice and beans for children who come to eat at noon.

Immediately after school, they crowd the small dusty square in front of the center, singing and dancing in circles. A long line forms in front of the food bank. 50 children need to be fed today. Sometimes there are more, sometimes less. Before that, the volunteers of Siqalakabusha never really know. But it is not just about a filled belly. The center also offers socio-psychological help.

In the province of Kwa Zulu Natal, it is no longer an exception that several people in one family have AIDS and die of the disease, says Philippe Denis. The children in particular have suffered a great deal of trauma as a result of poverty, death or even violence. The Belgian-born Dominican friar and church historian founded
In 1996, at his chair at the University of Kwa Zulu Natal, the Sinomlando center. The term is Zulu and means "we have a story". The goal is to preserve memories that have been kept secret through oral tradition.

Since 2001, this has included special memory work with AIDS orphans and vulnerable children. It's about helping them, empowering them, giving them emotional support, Denis explains. To this end, "memory helpers" work with the children and other family members. Among other things, they are creating a memory box where those affected can keep photos and other items that are important to them. Sinomlando is training employees and volunteers from partner organizations to work with orphans and vulnerable children in the field. The work of remembrance is also supported by the German aid organization missio.

Zandile is an example of what the concept looks like in practice. She works in Siyanda as a memory helper, mentoring children and other family members in group and individual sessions. In addition, it also has a memory box itself. "I am also a victim of HIV and Aids. My parents and some siblings died of the disease," she says. These are sad and sometimes terrible stories that she herself has lived through and now experiences every day. But Zandile has not lost her courage to face life. On the contrary, "I realized I had to wake up and do something to help others."She gets up every morning at six o'clock – at the latest.

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Christina Cherry
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