Over the past two weeks, I’ve fallen in love with South Africa. Immaculate faces of rock, exotic animals, and gorgeous sunsets color each day.
Yet while these exhilarating new sites have certainly captured my heart, another side of Africa begs for attention. Nearly 20 years after the end of apartheid in South Africa, the contrast between the first and third world still bares its teeth. Driving along the highway, we pass townships – rows and rows of rudimentary shacks, pieced together with hand chiseled bricks, concrete, mud, and tin. Prior to the end of apartheid, these peripheral towns were reserved for non-whites. Yet even after government intervention to improve sewage, water, and electricity problems, the townships are still distinct developments, sometimes standing alone, but more often acting as an extension of a wealthier town. Hundreds or thousands of people inhabit each township, and each day we see residents out gathering sticks, tending to livestock, or walking along the quiet dirt roads.
From what we’ve heard from locals, typically one person in an extended family works to support the other eight or so family members. We saw this scenario most vividly in the town of Clarens, a cutesy tourist town along the highway where visitors could eat piles of pancakes, buy expensive jams and knick knacks, and sip cappuccinos along the well manicured main street. It wasn’t until we drove out of town that we saw the township – two or three times the size of the first world town, in the valley down below. This is likely where most of the workers in town commuted from each day. While the abolishment of apartheid came with Nelson Mandela’s election in 1994, segregation still shows today.
Jon and I had the opportunity to learn more directly about day-to-day life in the townships when we visited the Dukuza Clinic, a medical clinic outside of Bergville. Pathfinder, one of our Lead Now non profit partners, supports the Dukuza Clinic, a youth friendly center that serves primarily women ages 10-24. Here, a staff of only three nurses deliver babies, provide AIDS testing and counseling, educate patients about family planning, and care for TB, diabetic, epileptic, and trauma patients, among a long list of other tasks. Dukuza serves between 100 and 200 patients each day, and with the current AIDS epidemic, pressure on the clinic to serve more patients grows. A licensed doctor visits the clinic for 2-3 hours one day a week, to tend to patients in need of critical care.
Dukuza started as a mobile clinic, then ran out of a home, and is now bursting at the seams on its own plot of land. The primary center has overflowed into nearby buildings and trailers. Even one nurse’s home now acts as a waiting room. Yet even with a lack of space and staff, I could see the impact Dukuza had on the Bergville community. Within the walls of the sterile, organized clinic, patients feel comforted by the hope of seeing a nurse who will treat them tenderly in a clean environment.
Unlike US hospitals, Dukuza had few boundaries for visitors. We entered through a gate lined with security guards, but were allowed into each and every room of the clinic. I felt my cheeks redden as a nurse led us into a counseling room while a family received care. We were just two skinny white kids in a place where so many people needed medical assistance. I was humbled to meet a young woman of only 21 years, holding her baby only a few hours old. She had delivered at her home because the ambulance had not arrived in time. When asked by a nurse if this was her first child, she answered second, but her first had not made it past one month. This was the reality of a world I cannot even begin to imagine, let alone explain.
Dukuza is a government funded clinic, but Pathfinder works with the Department of Health to identify gaps and lobby for more resources, support, and funding. By supporting Pathfinder, our hope is that the Department of Health will supply Dukuza with additional qualified nurses and the resources to expand their facility. Help us meet our $10,000 goal for Pathfinder on our Crowdrise page, HERE. In the following weeks, we’ll be releasing a video for Pathfinder about the Dukuza Clinic’s work.
Read more about our trip (and climbing) on Jon’s blog. More climbing news from me in the next few days!