Following the Fellows

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By Malebogo Tlhajoane

Tlhajoane, center, poses with the counseling staff in the pediatric department at McCord Hospital’s HIV Clinic.

Durban, South Africa… a city of asymmetry. A melting pot of cultures, foods, religions, traditions and, lest we forget, one of the highest rates of HIV and TB (Tuberculosis) in the world.

When I first arrived, I was immediately struck by the huge economic and social divides that are evident throughout the city.

While some people beg for food at busy intersections, others live in houses that could rival any in the U.S.  The distribution of wealth is evidently skewed and sadly, South Africa’s most underprivileged citizens are the ones that have suffered the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

My first five months at McCord Hospital were spent interviewing HIV positive children and their caregivers (usually their grandmothers), and then writing stories about each child for his or her sponsors in the U.S. Though each story was different, none of them were unique. Most children were orphans who had contracted HIV from their mothers. Each family couldn’t afford the monthly $7 clinic fee for their cocktail combination of medication.

Despite their dire circumstances, I’ve learned that kids just want to be kids. They come to the clinic with bright eyes and wide smiles, leaping off the jungle gyms and kicking a soccer ball around whenever they can. Theirs is a life of resilience.

With two months left to go, I’ve learned lifelong lessons from each of the children I’ve met, the most important being to appreciate the little things in life that make you happy. Soccer balls, jungle gyms and all.

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