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Just a little more than a year ago, I was saying goodbye to the place I had called home for nine months and to the friends who had helped shape the beginnings of my adult life and future career. Even though my goodbyes at the time consisted of me wishing I could somehow return to Durban and those around me assuring that I would eventually come back, I could not get rid of the haze of uncertainty before me. After months of planning, I still cannot believe I am back in this incredible city. In fact, I am not entirely sure that I ever left.

If you’re wondering how or why I have come back to Durban, I would have to say it is due to a bit of luck and a lot of support from many people that I was able to focus on the HACT children’s program me for my master’s dissertation project. While I had this project idea in mind since being accepted to my MSc program, I never expected it to come to fruition. I learned sometime in college, through the event planning frenzy that happened every spring, that while one may have the best ideas and plans, not all of them are truly feasible. Back in college, it never mattered whether an idea for a program actually turned into a full-fledged event since one failed idea would quickly be replaced by a seemingly more attractive idea. Once in the “real world” everyone speaks of, I realized that failed ideas had a greater impact on people’s lives, so to avoid failure you held onto your plans until you knew for certain that they would be successful. Unfortunately, this means living with the uncomfortable notion of uncertainty. 

Looking back over these past many months of dissertation planning, the moment my uncertainty began to shrink was when I planned a meeting to discuss my ideas with one of my program organizers last October. I have learned this year that uncertainty lasts only so long as one lets it and all it takes is one small decision to make that uncertainty a lot less daunting. As I find myself (yet again) at the cusp of my next life transition post-graduate school, I have felt for the past few weeks that all I will ever have is uncertainty. But being back in Durban, reflecting on the time that has passed, and recognizing that just a year ago what I am doing today seemed near impossible, I am reminded that the only way to be certain of what will happen in the future, is to move a step closer to making difficult yet necessary decisions.



Minerva Fellowship 2012-2013 on Vimeo



My last blog post is one that I have put aside for quite some time, mostly because I have wanted to avoid saying goodbye to my home, my surrogate family, and my life for the past nine months in every possible way. Before my last trip up to Hillcrest, my friend Arno told me “It is the idea of leaving that is sadder than actually leaving”, which seems to be truer everyday. On the days leading up to my departure and even while traveling I had packing and worrying about my baggage arriving in one piece to keep me preoccupied. But now that I am home in the US and the reality of how far I am from the people, projects, and places that I have come to love is sinking in, I can’t help but reminisce and miss everything about Durban.

Nine months ago when I first arrived in South Africa, I had only a vague sense of the work I would be involved with. Following the closure of Sinikithemba at McCord Hospital there was much uncertainty about what my role would be as well as the future of both my host organizations. Over time, my participation with a handful of psychosocial support programs for HIV infected/affected children led to new programs and partnerships for The Gift of Hope and a new children’s program at Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust. Doing my small part to help these organizations grow and seeing children learn while having fun in these programs is what I am most proud of. All the while, I came to understand how my experience in Durban compares to the bigger picture of global health and community development; I saw how the decisions and leadership of a few people can impact thousands both positively and negatively; And, I gained patience, perspective, and more confidence in my own future. 

For all these lessons, I have a number of people to thank:

First, to my family- thank you for entertaining my “crazy” idea to move out of the country for a year, for taking the time to visit, checking up on me when I was lonely or sick, and for supporting me at every step of this journey

To my friends in the US- thank you for all the positive encouragement and effort to make me feel a little closer to home

To Union College, Tom, Hal, and Lauren- thank you for giving a group of graduates this chance to fall in love with a community, to learn, to experience, and to think outside the box; thank you for your guidance throughout this past year and for letting me be a part of such meaningful work

And last, but definitely not least, to my friends in Durban- whether we met as roommates, at McCord or HACT, through mutual friends, or due to my excessive visits to a certain cafe: you are all an inspiration in your own unique way. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your lives with me, getting me through the toughest times, and for making Durban my home. I look forward to seeing you all again soon!



The new car for our children’s program arrived last week!!! Naturally, we had a photo shoot to welcome it to the family and because we are super excited to see it action!



Even after 8 months, I still haven’t gotten used seeing the remnants of apartheid. The photo on the left was taken on our way back from dropping off a student at her house in Embo, one of the more impoverished areas in the Valley of 1000 Hills. What you don’t see in the photo is that just to the left of the cement wall is a stunning estate with gorgeous cottages built around a lake and golf course. Just to the right of the road however is the more rural side of South Africa with simple tin-roofed, cement houses, like those seen in the photo on the right. Sights like these are still heartbreaking for me, especially as I get to know more people living in communities like Embo.



In addition to our visit to the school on the 25th we had a tour at HACT and stopped by a gogo support group.

The 25th was a busy day at HACT! A group of donors and visitors, including Tom McEvoy and my sister, took a tour of the center as well as the Valley of A 1000 Hills. These are photos from that day and from the school we visited. The students were so welcoming and I was blown away by their enthusiasm in Sbu’s life skills class. They were also kind enough to sing for us and show us traditional Zulu dances. They are all such talented students, it was a privilege to visit them!



The Brave New World of Uncertain Aid

Earlier this week the BRICS summit was held in Durban for the first time. This meeting of leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa is significant as it defines their roles as emerging nations. The main objective of this year’s summit was to create a development bank and though negotiations have not yet been made final, the summit marks a shift in development whereby there is an increasingly smaller role for traditional donors like the US.
“If governments, citizens, and donors can better understand what others are doing, they can better co-ordinate their efforts, avoid duplication, and hold each other accountable for delivering on their promises.”



Gogolympics 2013

Gogolympics 2013

Why the Canada shirt? Besides my love for our friendly neighbor to the north, Gogolympics is partly funded by the Stephen Lewis Foundation Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign!

Gogolympics 2013 held in KwaNyuswa



On this first International Day of Happiness, let us reinforce our commitment to inclusive and sustainable human development and renew our pledge to help others. When we contribute to the common good, we ourselves are enriched. Compassion promotes happiness and will help build the future we want.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Message for the International Day of Happiness, 20 March 2013

Even In Our Midst: Drawing Parallels Between Rural Africa and Upstate New York

"Dr. Lee said his visits revealed surprising similarities between the difficulties patients encounter when trying to access HIV/AIDS treatment in both rural Africa and rural New York. Americans living in outlying areas of New York also have to travel long distances between clinics, face stigma in their communities, and have limited access to HIV/AIDS care."


This Friday, March 22nd, is the third annual Gogolympics celebration! Gogolympics is a fun-filled day of friendly sports competitions between grandmothers who are members of Hillcrest AIDS Centre’s Gogo (the Zulu word for grandmother) Support Groups. Grandmothers play sports? OH YEA.

Gogos aren’t your typical grandmothers. The women enrolled in the Gogo Support Groups have all lost one or more children to HIV/AIDS and are now the only ones left to care for their grandchildren. They are strong, independent, hardworking, and athletic- characteristics which make for a great Gogolympics! 

I got involved with the Gogolympics planning committee in January when I first started at HACT to help with the marketing and fundraising side of things. But being part of this group has introduced me to leaders in the community whose passion for their work in the Valley of 1000 Hills is truly inspiring. Needless to say, I am really looking forward to my first (and hopefully not the last) Gogolympics this Friday!

Wozani sibungaze ogogo bethu! (Come and celebrate our gogos!)

Fridays are clothing scheme days at Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust. The clothing scheme takes clothes donated to the centre and gives 20 families the opportunity to make a weekly income by selling sorted bags of these items at the centre or in their communities. Each bag brings in anywhere from R300-R500 ($30-$50) and though the first bag is free, subsequent bags must be purchased for R15 thus encouraging ‘buy in’ from the families and working against a hand-out mentality.