2006 PFIG Recipient Shirley Datu
College of Arts & Sciences
Psychology/African American Studies
2007 Graduation Year
Internship: Communities in Schools
Notes on the first week
We were going to be working with the West Africa AIDS Foundation (WAAF) along with its sister clinic, the International Health Care Center (IHCC) all housed on the same compound in Accra. The day before I had been introduced to the staff that were around and their jobs at the foundation and the center. The highlight of the day was sitting in a Positive Living Association’s (PLA) biweekly meeting. It is an association made up mainly of people living with HIV/AIDS. It serves as a support system for these people and they work on starting projects to generate income for those who did not have jobs.
The meeting started off well, with the members introducing themselves to us and vice versa. We learned of the group’s objectives and what they hoped to achieve. We also learned about some of the challenges that they face due to stigmatization and ignorance on the part of people who did not understand what it meant to being HIV positive or have AIDS. The executive members had left to hold a small meeting and returned screaming and arguing amongst themselves. Supposedly they had been some mismanagement of funds coming in from foundations that supported people living with HIV/AIDS. The argument dispersed the meeting for the day.
This put me in mind about the bureaucracy system in any organization. This was worse because the people really needed the money that could not be accounted for to start a bead making project and subsidize the money that they needed to buy their anti-retroviral drugs. It was sad to hear people talking about how they could not afford to buy their medication, and learn the next minute that someone had personally used funds meant for the whole association. In a way it was embarrassing to learn of such personal issues in the first few days there. At the same time I thought it spoke to their honesty and how they did not hide anything, even something that would put them in a bad light.
The trip has been great so far, apart from having to walk and take the trotro (the bus system here) to get to most of the places where we are working. Members in my group have been divided up so we are not working in the same place. Some are working with the Center for Community Studies, Action and Development (CENCOSAD) and others are working at an orphanage school. I am the only one left at WAAF for the time being.
I have been here for a few weeks now and it has definitely been a learning experience for me. I have mostly been working with Dr. VAnderpuye at the IHCC, serving as her personal assistant more or less. I sit in during some of her consultations, help her with her daily agendas and so on. She has had me working on some grant proposal for the PLA group. The first one was simple and straight forward because it was just the cover letter for some proposals they have already discussed so it merely for formality. The second one took forever. I did not realize that it took so much to write a proposal, especially for someone as green as I was. It is understandable because if someone is going to hand over a huge sum of money there must be some accountability.
Members of PLA do not understand why the proposal is taking so long to write. They wanted it to be an overnight thing, where they tell me what they want and I have it ready the next day. One of the social work interns at WAAF has been trying to explain to them that it takes more than just writing down what wants to make a grant proposal work. Still, they expect overnight results. I believe this is in part due to the level of illiteracy among members of the group. One of the executive members explained to me the other day that the upper class and people with professional jobs who have either the virus or the disease do not want to be associated with it. These people can also afford to go to private hospitals and expensive drugs on their own, and thus no one has to know they are ill except the doctors. Therefore, their association is mainly made up with people with a basic education. Because of this are unable to understand or help it when anything dealing with literacy comes up.
This conversation shone a light on the fact that the stigmatization attached with those with HIV/AIDS is due in part to the fact that there is still a large percentage of the Ghanaian population who are not educated or have a minimal education. I believe all this adds to the high percentage of HIV/AIDS cases in Africa. People do not know and/or understand modes of transmission and how to protect themselves. There definitely needs to be more outreach programs for education as WAAF is doing.
One word that I have been using to describe the learning trip so far is “awesome”, and that it is exactly how it was. Granted, there were days that it seemed that the world was coming to an end because tasks were not being accomplished in the time frame set for them, and disorganization of information got me frustrated. Nevertheless, this is one experience I would not wish to be any other way.
It was certainly an eye opener, overall, for the things that go on in the rest of the world. Since I have been in the United States, I have become accustomed to having a certain lifestyle that I sometimes take the basic necessities of life for granted. This service trip helped me reacquaint myself with what it feels like to not be able to afford to pay basic care for a life threatening disease, AIDS.
It also helped me appreciate life more. Listening and watching women who are HIV positive talk about their experiences and then laughing the next moment was precious. Their circumstances had not taken away the spark of life that they still had. Knowing that their situation could worsen any day and that they faced possible rejection from the communities did not prevent them from living life and making the best of what they had. When one traveled through the major cities, there were so many billboards advertising safe sex and abstinence but it has not curtailed the level of ignorance that still exists amongst the citizens of Ghana. If people learn that one is HIV positive or have AIDS, then one is basically cast off as an undesirable of society. It hurt to see this all around and even among my family relations who were worried about my working this particular group of people.
The children that I came across at the orphanage and the mine school also had it tough. It is hard enough when growing up with one’s own parents much less without them. The daily struggles that these had to face were touching, having to work at such a young age in order to eat. Most of these children had the potential to achieve academically but were not given the opportunity. The government and other agencies try but there never seem to be enough resources and money to cover all the expenditure that is related to taking care of children.
I learned a lot and come to reevaluate my priorities in life. I also met some great people whom I know I will never forget. It was hard when it was time to leave. I wish I had been able to have as much impact on their lives as they did mine. This was a learning experience to be forever cherished.