6290_505309122620_330900025_142047_5766534_nLater in the day Velangaye High school invited the representatives of The Africa Project (Debbie, Kahlah, and Me) to the school for an honorary presentation/dinner. I cannot describe to you how incredible these kids are. They have absolutely nothing and they value their education more than anything in the world. It's so different than in the US. These kids are there because more than anything they want to be there and they want to learn, not because their parents are making them or because it's expected of them. Some of these kids walk more than an hour to get to and from school each day. Others live on campus (a couple of the classrooms have been turned into ladies dormoritories). The living conditions are scary. These girls are crammed into bunk beds with no real personal space. They have only one small stove to cook on and many of these girls simply bathe in a basin on the floor (there is a shower that the Africa project built two years ago).

I forgot to mention that the other day when we visited the girls there was one girl in bed surrounded by her friends who were fanning her. Upon further investigation we discovered that she was having an asthma attack! For some reason she didn't have a rescue inhaler and none of her friends knew how to help her. We assisted her to sit up and try to breathe and finally a rescue inhaler was brought to her. It was really scary! There's got to be well over 70 girls living in these makeshift dorms and no health care provider.

Anyway the program we attended was wonderful. The student parliament put together speeches and songs and poems for us and really made us feel so welcomed and appreciated. One of the girls (actually the girl that had the asthma attack) sang a solo of "heal the world". It was so touching it almost brought us to tears. After the presentation we ate dinner and the children surrounded us and saturated us with questions about the US: do we know any celebrities? What are the high schools like? Do we have our own car? Do we live in a big city? Where have we traveled? When we asked the children what they wanted to be when they grew up almost all of them aspired to be doctors. They so much want to use education to elevate their lives. And some of them stay up all hours of the night studying. Unfortunately because of the success and increased positive reputation of this particular school, the amount of students has almost doubled every year (this year there are 1600 students. Debbie said 800 is the ideal size). The principal, Mr.

Mahaye is thrilled with the increased student body but doesn't seem to realize that bigger is not always better. Kahlah went to the school today to start "work" (she will be teaching English there a few times a week) and said the teaching/learning conditions were just horrible.  Some of the classes consist of at least 100 students. Can you imagine?

In classes of that size, the students are completely jam-packed. Half of the students can't see the board or really hear the teacher. And of coarse isn't any A/C so in the summertime it's sweltering. Despite all of these conditions, most of the children are still determined to learn and make the most of their time at school. I'm hoping that before I leave I will be able to put on one of their uniforms and spend a day in the life of a student at Velangaye High school.

My day today was long long long. Got up at 6am (the normal wake-up time for me here, crazy and so not like me at all, I know) ate breakfast with the sisters then headed off to a clinic in a region called Nxamalala (the "x" is a "click" sound in case you wanna know how to pronounce it). The region is a little more than 45 min away and through the forest and mountains (some really really pretty terrain) and requires some pretty hard core offroading. Sister Ellen is a pro.

On the drive home it was starting to get dark and dodging pot holes, cows and goats was almost like a sport to her. At the clinic we saw all AIDS patients who needed more medication, were applying for Disability Grants, had other ailments, or simply needed a follow-up on their therapy compliance. We saw 25 patients (which is a lot) and filled out twice the amount of refill prescriptions. My favorite part of the day was just simply being able to meet and see the different kinds of patients that came thru the door. Young and old, they were all suffering from AIDS and either handled it well, or very poorly.

The most frustrating for me was to see that some of our women patients were pregnant. 50% of Nkandla's population is under the age of 15.

FIFTY PERCENT. And it's not because women are just poppin out babies right and left, it's because the majority of these parents are dying of AIDS before their children graduate High school. That is, IF their children graduate High school. The mother-baby transmission rate (if the right precautions and treatment are taken) is about 11% which to some, is low, but to me is still too high. The most heartbreaking patient of the day was a women and her 8 year old son. Both with AIDS.

This little boy did nothing irresponsible to contract the disease. He wasn't careless and had unprotected sex or shared needles etc. Yet there he was, collecting antiretroviral medication which he will have to do for the rest of his life. It killed me to have to care for him.

A similar story was the 13 year old boy I saw yesterday that I mentioned earlier. He showed up to the clinic alone, no parents or family support, there to collect his ART medication. Can you imagine?

This little boy, his growth stunted from the effects of age, probably walking over an hour to the clinic to collect his medication when he did NOTHING to deserve it. I mean, not that ANYONE on this earth would ever deserve this horrible disease, but it just kills me even more to see these helpless children.

PS I forgot to mention earlier that here, EVERYONE waves and smiles to you. doesnt seem that big, I know, but people are just soooo friendly and loving I love it. I've been to the school a few times now and have gotten close with many of the students and I dont know a nicer bunch of people. They're always excited to see us and running up and giving us huuuuuge hugs. oh man I just want to take them alllll home with me.