Latest Report: South Africa

As all eyes focus on South Africa, VSO volunteer Ellen Crabtree reports on her work helping vulnerable people at risk from HIV & AIDS in Johannesburg – revealing the impact the World Cup is having on a country that has been, and still is, so troubled.

Last month, Save the Children’s Amy Burns sent us a special report from South Africa, which promoted such a great response from our readers, we asked VSO volunteer Ellen Crabtree to tell us how the World Cup is affecting vulnerable people at risk from HIV & AIDS in Johannesburg in the country, too…

4 June, 2010
Here I am, standing on the corner of President and Nugget, in downtown Johannesburg. Anyone who knows Jo’burg will raise an eyebrow or two at what I am doing in such an insalubrious spot. I am here with our mobile clinic dispensing free healthcare to Joburg’s street-based sex workers. Across the city there are thousands of women working in the sex industry. A large proportion are living with HIVĀ and AIDS, and many more live with the daily risk of contracting the disease.

I have been in South Africa for two years. I work as a VSO volunteer for RHRU, or the Reproductive Health and HIV Research Unit of the University of the Witwatersrand. RHRU works with vulnerable people, such as youth, sex workers and migrants, to ensure they have access to testing and treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, as well as education about prevention.

My life here is a world away from my career back in the UK where I was a self-employed marketing consultant. I decided to volunteer overseas when my children left home. I had been very privileged in my upbringing and wanted to put this to good use in the developing world.

South Africa - Special Report - Marie Claire11 June, 2010
South Africa has gone football mad. Flags festoon every car on the road, and it’s hard to find anyone not wearing Bafana Bafana’s yellow and green supporters’ shirts. Mine might be a very cheap copy – volunteers have limited resources – but I wear it with pride.

The entire country has a half-day today to watch the opening match, and I have given my youth training course a morning off work to paint their faces in all the flags of the World Cup (a sneaky way of teaching some geography) and go outside and blow their vuvuzelas. The training course I run, called ‘Fit for Life, Fit for Work’, aims to teach young people life coping skills, instil self-esteem, and provide preparation for the workplace.

Youth unemployment is high in South Africa. Teenage pregnancy is rife, and is as much a matter of pride for the father as a matter of self-validation for the mother. Young girls date older men for the promise of cash and cell phones, and often they use the money to support their families. The short-term aim is an empowered, motivated, young workforce, but the ultimate objective is a reduction in new HIV infections, particularly among females, in the 18 to 30 age group.

South Africa - Special Report - Marie Claire

16 June, 2010
Today we celebrate Youth Day with a much-needed public holiday. Youth Day commemorates 16 June 1976, when school-going youth in Soweto peacefully protested against Afrikaans as the language of instruction in school, and were gunned down for their efforts. Today there is also disappointment, if not tragedy, as Bafana Bafana lose to Uruguay 3-0. But the nation remains staunchly behind the team, who represent so many hopes and dreams for South Africa. The young people I have the privilege to work with in Fit for Life also represent hopes and dreams, and are testimony that their predecessors 34 years ago did not die in vain.

South Africa faces many challenges. Getting on top of the HIV epidemic is but one. But the World Cup is proving that when this country puts its heart and mind behind a common goal, it can astound the world. I am honoured to be a volunteer in this wonderful country.

To find out more about the many different ways you can get involved with VSO, head to www.vso.org.uk.

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