Sunday, 30 November 2014

Reaching out for Women’s Health in Horton!

On the 3rd of November a team of 6 community healthworkers, the Keiskamma health cordinator Unathi Meslane and ourselves- two volunteer doctors - bundled into the Trust’s backie and set off for Horton Clinic- an hour away via potholed roads and through heavy rain. A quick stop in the town of Peddie to pick up enough supplies for the trip (a lot of chicken!) and tie up a few loose ends and we were on our way.

Our aim was to deliver training to these community health workers along with others from Horton on key areas of women’s health that need improvement in the Ngushwa district. We then planned to pass on this knowledge to the catchment area of the clinic via a door-to-door campaign. This initiative was based on the government plan for Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV. We hope that by targeting all women (not only those who already have diagnosed HIV) we will be able to pick up new cases of HIV early and initiate treatment as soon as possible.

We began with a day of teaching delivered by KT founder Dr Carol Baker, educating us on the reasoning behind early booking in pregnancy, exclusive breastfeeding and contraception. Presenting to a medical professional late in pregnancy is a major problem in the areas served by the Keiskamma project. Contributing factors include cultural practises of non-disclosure, fear of the consequences of extra-marital pregnancy and worries around the perceived “compulsory” HIV testing. Exclusive breastfeeding has been difficult to establish as previous advice was to bottlefeed if mothers were HIV positive and clinics were providing free formula (see WHO guidelines for more information). The use of contraception appears to be patchy as there are high numbers of teenage and unplanned pregnancies.

Over the next three days, we were ‘released’ out into the village knocking on people’s doors and passing on our knowledge with the help of some brand new Xhosa pamphlets that we recently developed. It was a privilege to be invited into the homes of people from a culture that we had not encountered before. The range was quite extreme, from corrugated iron shack, to clay rondavel to 4 bedroom modern constructs. And the people we met inside had different stories to tell as well as different health issues. Although our main focus was promoting contraception, healthy pregnancies and exclusive breastfeeding, we also wanted to obtain a profile of the village and its health needs. These ranged from a 2 year old child that was failing to thrive, to a mother that presented to the clinic 5 months into her pregnancy, to an elderly man who needed walking aids.


It was heartening to see people hastening to Horton clinic the same day to get screened for HIV or have their blood pressure checked or be started on contraception. The immediate effects of our campaign were apparent. The experience gave us better understanding of the way the communities function and the cultural and social factors that affect people living with HIV and other stigmatised conditions. 

Spending three days working and living with some of the Community Health Workers was an insightful and often entertaining experience. We cooked to the beautiful sounds of their naturally harmonising voices and had our first experience of Miely Meal- pap doused in soured milk and sprinkled with salt (not entirely sure about that one but we were grateful for it all the same!) They looked bemused at my slightly confused look when first handing me the basin which I was meant to fill with a mixture of rain and boiled water to go and wash in as there was no running water in the entire village. One lovely lady was even kind of enough to demonstrate exactly how we should do this. Some of the community health workers themselves who were HIV positive spoke loudly and without self-consciousness about their diagnosis. There was a lot to learn from them and their input helped shape and direct our work.
Throughout the project, the teams both worked hard and looked after us, which we were very grateful for . We managed to visit 60 households in total and reached an estimated 300 members of the community. There were a few challenges along the way and we had to readjust our plans a few times to accommodate these but they did not have a significant impact on our work. From this project we were able to obtain valuable information on some of the barriers to access healthcare and also the level of understanding of certain aspects of health in the community. All in all it was a sometimes frustrating, often enjoyable and ultimately satisfying work trip that we hope we can build upon with future campaigns and new ventures.

Dr Amelia Hawkes

Dr Cavitha Vivek

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Christmas sale at Art in the Park

The Art Project

will be at

Art in the Park


Ann Bryant Gallery

in East London

on 29th November 2014

Ann Bryant Gallery
043 722 4044

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Miss Port Alfred Wows Mgababa!

Fish River Sun, the local hotel and golf complex, recently hosted a Miss Port Alfred competition as a fundraiser. Money raised from ticket sales was divided between three local charities and we were fortunate that one of these was the Bjorn Centre in Mgababa! 

The lovely Miss PA visited the centre to meet the staff and children and present the gift of R4000. The hotel have asked staff to write a wish list which the hotel will purchase and deliver. Our staff are still debating over the items they would like; high on the priority list at the moment are some new small mattresses and blankets for nap time! 

Keiskamma Trust and the Bjorn Centre would like to thank Fish River Sun for their continuing support, their kind generosity and their recognition of the work of the Bjorn Centre and its dedicated staff.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Teenagers Camp

Our visiting UK doctors reflect on the recent weekend camp for HIV positive children ages 12 to 18

On the 25th of October the health and social work teams worked together to organise a teenagers’ camp for HIV positive young people.

The activities started with a group discussion- the young people indicated the topics that they wanted to discuss and then these were worked through as a group. The first topic they wanted to talk about was peer pressure. All the teens seemed to be worried about alcohol abuse and teenage pregnancy. The temptation to follow the crowd must be incredibly hard to resist when you so want to be like everyone else and to fit in.

The young people were also invited to write down an event from their lives where they had felt stigmatised due to their HIV status. These moments were then put into a box and read out anonymously and discussed as a group. The children tried to give each other ways of working through their problems. A lot of the teenagers disclosed that people wouldn't eat with them, wouldn’t play with them or would gossip about them behind their backs.

As doctors from the UK, volunteering for the Trust, it was incredible to see the resilience of these young people. One of the main worries shared by the group was whether "HIV is a death sentence". It must be very difficult to keep on the right track, go to school and avoid social pressures if you are so unsure about your own future. So we worked hard to explain that with medication their condition can be controlled and they can look forward to healthy lives.

Peer educators tried to set an example of how to stay healthy and showed them that they can and should allow themselves to make plans for the future. We hope that by bringing these young people together they have been given a bit of fresh thinking on their lives and a chance to support each other.

The posters they made towards the end of the day recorded their thoughts and what they had learnt from the activities during the workshop. Their creativity and the messages they wanted to get across to people in their communities were really uplifting.

They also participated in some fun activities and games and everyone went home with a full stomach and hopefully, a lighter heart.

Our facilitators

Dr Amelia Hawkes

Dr Cavitha Vivek

Friday, 7 November 2014

‘The Untapped Connection’ Keiskamma Trust at the Gender, Water and Development Conference in East London (November 3-7)

On a rainy afternoon in Hamburg, the Music Academy’s concert ensemble, twenty experienced students, set off to East London to perform at the International Convention Centre as guests of a high-profile global conference. Keiskamma’s Art and Music programmes were invited by the organisers to participate in this event, thus offering an amazing opportunity to showcase some of our work.

The Art Project provided their beautiful 3 dimensional felt plants and ceramic pots to decorate the main conference hall. In addition, they had produced the conference bags, over 400 of them, which will serve as a lovely visual reminder to delegates as they go their separate ways at the end of the week.

The Music Academy provided the entertainment for the participants on the evening of Tuesday November 4th. In keeping with the theme of water, they performed Alla Hornpipe from Handel’s Water Music and other water-related pieces. The audience were hugely appreciative and really got into the mood when the ensemble played Ubuhle Ben Doda and Pata Pata, jiving enthusiastically and responding to the beat with emphatic ululations! The students also enjoyed the evening, a welcome break from their Matric and end-of-year school exams and study. They said they had such a warm welcome and they all talked about the amazing buffet food!

Keiskamma Trust particularly wishes to thank Glaudin Kruger and other organisers who invited us to this prestigious event, and, of course, everyone – artists, musicians, drivers and other staff – who enabled us to showcase our programmes to this international audience.