Gogo-getters become elders
A series of articles by guest writers for World AIDS Day
Part of AVERT's World AIDS Day 2012 campaign, ‘Reflections on the Epidemic’ are a series of articles by guest writers.
Our guest writers range from global leaders, writers, experts, activists, physicians and people personally affected by HIV and AIDS; and they represent various countries, experiences and backgrounds from all over the world.
We are grateful to all our guest writers for their effort and the diverse and insightful viewpoints that they contributed to the world’s response to HIV and AIDS.
You can also see all articles and writers in this series at the end of every article.
The aged mobilize to restore the foundations which can support care and safe sex
Working with the elderly was not a deliberate choice for DSR. It arose from the “suchness” of life in rural Eastern Cape in South Africa. In rural communities, statistics show how over the last decade, the demographic pattern shifted due to the HIV / AIDS pandemic. AIDS removed large sections of the population from their late 20s to late 40s. This missing generation were parents of young children, who in earlier days when testing and treatment were more difficult to access, frequently passed their sero-infection to their children and subsequently became victims of AIDS. I say “victims”, because they accepted powerlessness and HIV and AIDS. Their orphaned children are now being brought up by the grandmothers in ill-resourced rural areas. The main source of income for these grannies (locally known as “gogos”, pronounced gaw-gaws) is the social grant. These elderly did not always contract HIV, but often contracted the sense of powerlessness of being a victim.
DSR started the conversation with the gogos as part of community dialogues, where we investigated the phenomenon which we called “secondary denial”. Secondary denial refers to youth who are familiar with government literature and have access to condoms, but the social realities are such that they give themselves the message: “So what if we are going to die. Let’s forget this prevention and “love” before we die”. Our question to communities was: “What is your authentic response to prevention?” One gogo said: “We have failed our children. We must be families again”.
This started a new approach of DSR where we started listening and facilitating the inner wisdom of parents, girls, boys, men and of course gogos. People had not forgotten families, but the pressures of poverty had squeezed out the relationship of caring – the very fabric of community. The elderly, burdened with their grandchildren on a pension below the breadline became isolated and despondent and poor substitute parents. The barrier to prevention identified by the dialogues was not merely difficulty of access to adequate medical care, but equally important: the erosion of meaningful relating.
Within a context of elder abuse and societal disregard, DSR started “coming alongside”. This shift was aligned with the Sisonke Community Action programme, which tried to help CBOs involved in HIV action to take a step further in effectiveness. Some of the elderly were in these groups on the fringe. Already gogos had benefitted from training in home based care (HBC). Where younger HB carers used this to get employed by government, these gogos were obliged to rear and care for grandchildren. They were isolated and marginalized.
Gradually DSR started strengthening connections to open up a network possibility for the elderly to break their isolation. As a few groups of elderly gogos started getting together, to share and support each other, the name of “gogogetters” emerged. DSR’s objective is to explore the possibility of these gogos regaining their traditional role of the bearers of community wisdom as elders in the community.
This process of coming alongside the gogos led to forming groups of elderly, involved in caring for themselves through HBC training, through growing permaculture gardens to feed their vulnerable and affected, doing exercise to regain their health and vitality and even participating in the golden games provincially and nationally, training in counselling and starting to learn about their rights and accessing these rights. As this mobilization increased, DSR was instrumental in founding “Imbumba”, a network of 15 groups of elderly who interact with government around certain needs of the elderly in the region. These steps may be obvious to someone who is resourced and integrated in society, close to basic necessities and basic respect. For us this is a long process of inching forward within a context of also attending to the youth and the couples, dealing with schools and helping women and men to break down the supporting structures of gender violence.
We are now receiving reports from teachers saying that affected children’s health and performance at school has improved. The gogos have increased their nutrition and overcome many ailments by becoming fit and feeling more alive. The tell-tale signs of pride in handwork and little signs of community respect are being seen in various places. They meet and share each other’s life issues.
These measures are insufficient in themselves. However the restoration of meaningful dignity and justice between the different sectors of society is producing an ethos of core health that is yielding remarkably innovative pioneering strategies to address the HIV pandemic. Within this context of dignity restored, the prevention basics of safe sex, condoms and care have a chance to succeed. The recent national plan for AIDS in SA is now starting to tend towards some of these directions. The victory against AIDS is not always in the obvious results. The heroes are sometimes unnoticed.
Tony Schnell is the Director of the DSR / the Sisonke Community Action Programme, South Africa.
Further information about Sisonke.
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All opinions expressed in 'Reflections on the Epidemic' do not necessarily represent those of AVERT.