A number of adolescents come for pregnancy tests at the Health Academy. We use this time as a good opportunity to talk to them about safer sex. I often hear the same answers such as “I forgot to use a condom that day”, “I was drinking alcohol that day so I forgot” and “I never use condoms because my boyfriend wants to have a baby”. We discuss different contraceptive methods such as two prevention injections and combined oral contraceptive pills. I always stress the importance of family planning and emphasise how the use of condoms can protect them from sexually transmitted infections and reduces the risk of contracting HIV and/or becoming pregnant.
I have found that a large number of teenagers that visit the Academy do not wish to use any form of contraception. Many worry about the possible side effects of taking pills such as weight gain or vaginal discharge. It is also common to find that female adolescents believe that if they use contraceptives now then they won't be able to conceive in the future.
Those that do use contraceptives often tell me that they sometimes forget to take the pill. If a female forgets to take the pill one day, we would encourage them to take two at the same time as soon as they remember again and then either abstain from sexual intercourse for the following seven days or use a condom. Unfortunately, a number of adolescents miss their appointments with us completely which makes it much more difficult for us to address any problems they may be having.
Missed appointments can result in unwanted pregnancies as we are not able to advise them on what to do in various situations such as these. We will support clients individually or in a couple counselling session and always stress the importance of keeping their appointment cards safe so that they don't forget which date they are supposed to come in. It shows how important it is to support, advise and encourage adolescents which is what we try our best to do at WhizzKids.
In September 2010, two 15 year old twin sisters started coming to the Health Academy where they each had HIV Counselling and Testing, a Sexual Risk Assessment and an OVC assessment.
They both tested HIV negative. When we did the OVC and Sexual Risk Assessment we found out that they live with their unemployed epileptic mother and two older siblings (also twins). Neither of them had birth certificates or ID numbers. We also found out that their father was in prison. Prior to his encapsulation, he was the sole bread winner. The father was in prison for statutory rape. He had raped the two girls when they were younger. He started raping them when they were eight.
The girls were referred to Thuthuzela Care Centre for rape and trauma counselling and to a social worker for birth certificates and ID numbers. A home visit was also done where we found that the mother was also traumatised. We had to counsel her as well in order for her to be able to support the girls.
One of the girls appeared more traumatised then the other and so she received more attention. The girl that seemed to be coping had a boyfriend and had started sleeping with him. She was not using protection and stopped coming to the Health Academy. She then moved out of her mother’s house, stopped going to school and moved in with her boyfriend.
Nobody knew where the boyfriend lived but our counsellors looked for her. When we eventually found her, she was already a few months pregnant. Her boyfriend was also a 16 year old teenager who was an orphan. He had dropped out of school two years prior to meeting this girl and he lived with his two older brothers.
When we found her, she confessed that she had stopped coming because she was embarrassed because of the pregnancy.
We encouraged her to come back again and also encouraged the boyfriend come with her. We assisted her reconcile with her mother and also realised that she had not dealt with the rape issue as we had previously thought.
She received more counselling and is back at school where she is now a year behind her sister.
My journey to Qatar began with a flight from Pietermaritzburg on the 12th January before a 9 hour wait at Johannesburg for my second flight to Dubai. Upon arrival the following day, I met a friend from Los Angeles who welcomed me as a foreigner despite the fact that she is not from Dubai either. Once in Doha, I realised that I had been travelling with 3 other participants who were going to the same conference, but we did not talk until we met at the shuttle which was there to pick us up. It turned out that because of my long first and last name, they had thought that I was two separate people so I ended up travelling in the car on my own.
I was welcomed by Christian who showed me to my room. I did not know a single person at this point but I had high hopes of making friends with other members of the conference because I am an open person. I didn’t have to wait long as I met a very welcoming girl during dinner called Iren from Zambia who I had remembered seeing at the airport. Afterwards, we had tour around Aspire which is a beautiful place with a nice view. On the Monday morning, we went to a class where we had to introduce ourselves. By then, I had already made four friends who were from Ghana, Sierra Leone and my roommate from Egypt. We were introduced to volleyball by five sporting icons; starting with some theory before the practical sessions after lunch. The food was delicious and this can be seen in my skin as a result of eating so healthily.
We went on a sand dune excursion on the fourth day in the desert where I also had the opportunity to have my first swimming lesson in the ocean which was fantastic. Basketball sessions began the following day and I really enjoyed it as it was my first experience of the sport. Other activities were boxing, judo, table tennis and swimming classes every afternoon before dinner. Playing such a variety of sports showed me that I am multi- talented as it was if I had I played them all before. It also gave me the opportunity to meet Fobbs who works in community relations and Steve who is a junior coach at Liverpool FC. The coaches had brought a gift for every participant at the conference which was also amazing.
During the conference, we took part in activities that allowed us to experience what it is like for people with disabilities who take part in sport. It encouraged me to think more outside of the box; not to feel shame for disabled people and treat them in the same way as people without disabilities. It was a dream come true to be out of the country and learn more about health initiatives practiced through sport and to socialise with people from all over the world who come from different backgrounds.
Two days before returning home, I took part in a talent event where all of us wore traditional clothing from our home countries. We shared stories, spoke about our different cultures and taught each other native dances, songs and we even discussed some of our beliefs. It was such an amazing and peaceful evening and I experienced a strong feeling of unity between everyone as if we were all part of one giant nation.
My flight from Dubai was delayed which meant that I missed the connecting flight back to Pietermaritzburg which very upsetting, but I was booked into a room at a hotel in Johannesburg before finally arriving home the following morning.
What an experience! Thank you so much for this opportunity. I cannot wait to start using my new skills and knowledge with youth in Edendale who are facing different obstacles in their lives.
THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!
Before I begin to write, allow me to look at an angle that is often untold. Time to reflect back on our customers’ tragedy is never done and does not exist. Time is now to listen vigilantly to all the stories untold and begin to expand attentive ears. Time is now to start a debriefing forum to share our stories. One wonders how we feel about our customers, and nobody cares about how we feel as the health care workers and what daily challenges we have at work. The empowerment we impart to our clients gives much strength to them, but we seem not to drink the same medicines to help us when the storm comes. One day, I was listening to one health care worker who told us about the burns of her child. She had no delusions of every inch of sorrow she went through when she forgot how to help her child, just to apply first year management of burns to her own flesh and blood. Clinicians will tell you that episodes like that come and hit you in the back each time you face the very same challenges in your own backyard. In fact, I like to call it black-outs of the educated mind.
Time flies when having fun. Looking back through memory lane, if you had asked me where I envisaged myself in the future about twenty years ago, I would have never told you that one day I will be a health care worker caring for other people. Yes, those were the days then. Today, I talk the different language not everybody can actually understand where only the very few privileged people who know the story very well. How many of us unwind and put a pause in our daily life activities to think about other helpless young people who find themselves in situations that they have no choice over and never bargained for. It takes a lot of brainstorming and hard work to listen to cries and moans of souls who have become the victims of what others called ignorance and misfortunes. How many of us have thought how the young people feel about life? How many of us have ever thought how the young people feel about the world? If we can listen to them to tell us their stories, nobody will ever begin to impose our undesired quick fix solutions that they not looking for. I am obliged to say that what they want from us is a listening ear only of which most if not all of us are lacking. We listen to ourselves rather than paying attention to all the untold stories. Give me time to tell you a story that I am haunted by from my previous work experience. Allow me to share my sad story of patients I once met in my previous work. There was this patient who was so quiet and would come to the clinic and collect her treatment monthly. One day, she came back to the clinic routinely as she always did. Our conversation began with questions of: “Was there any problem she had that I could help her with?” She told me that she had a vaginal discharge. I took history on duration and recurrence of the problem. I realized that her file had a recorded history of episodes of this vaginal discharge problem and she had been treated for it several times before. Well, my brainstorming reached a point of unpacking the problem at hand. I asked her about Pap smear, then she told me that she had never been offered one before, so I decided to do the Pap smear. The story began with my failed attempt to insert the Cusco, since she began to sob endlessly. I took out gloves and asked why she was crying. Her response was “I have been the victim of sexual assaults. It is the day I contracted HIV. I have never had an intimate relationship in my life”.
My mind started to run in circles. I suffered some personal grief since it never came to me to think sexual assault could be the possible cause of the problem. I would not begin to blame my thinking since I cannot judge by only knowing the health status of my customer. My premise is how many of us take time to listen to our patients assiduously? I do not wish to blame all of us who worked diligently and run around like headless chickens due to our challenges to meet obligations and our customers’ expectations. Nobody cares what challenges we have as health care workers. Nobody seems to give us time to listen to our stories. Give me time to tell you my story and I will never begin to judge how you feel until you tell me your story. The better the story is told, the better the understanding of my customer’s challenges.
In conclusion, how many of us have listened to people who feel self pity about themselves? How many of us put a pause to reflect back and debrief about our daily work? Just give me time to share my story and I will leave no stones unturned. One of the lessons of my life I have learnt is: you are either infected or affected.