Purple houses

I have been in South Africa since Wednesday afternoon. The clean(er) air has done me good and I can now sing nearly one octave – with lower and higher reaches still a croak. But it is hot here (in the 90s) and everyone is suffering from the heatwave and the absence of rain.

I gave myself Thursday off and tagged along with my MSH colleagues and the Board. First we went to Johannesburg for the official launch of the “No More Epidemic’’ campaign at the Nelson Mandela Institute.

This place is hallowed ground. It is both a museum (his work room, significant correspondence, photos, footage), a reminder about the evils of Apartheid, currently celebrated by honoring the journalists who showed the world what was going on here, and a conference facility.

A panel of public health experts shone light on ways that we can work together and prevent a repeat of the many epidemics that have killed millions of people over the last 100 years. It was helpful for me as I already have my eye on the next assignment in Cote d’Ivoire which is on the horizon and very relevant to this pre-occupation of no more epidemics.

After a finger food lunch we piled into a van to visit a “cradle-to-career” center in the Alex(andra) township. We toured the center that caters to the needs of a poor and very disadvantaged population, adding skills, hope, education, food, entertainment and space to people from infants to elderly. We know that talent is everywhere and that it takes opportunity to realize it. This place is doing just that with the help of an impressive list of supporters, worldwide.

We had a chance to sit in on a youth group (early twenties) discussing the rootcauses of the frightening HIV statistics (1700 new girls between 14 and 19 infected every week) and what to do about it. It was a refreshing open and honest conversation between very articulated boys and girls who have all become youth leaders and are educating their peers in the township; some do it through sports, some through entertainment, working with parents and teachers.

But there was one thing that touched me more deeply than anything else. Recently the organization has started to work on getting disabled children out in the open. Awareness about the plight of families with disabled kids is growing thanks to a campaign to paint the houses where these families live the color purple, with a picture of the kind of disability the member of the household has. It has been an amazing success as it has brought these kids out in the open, educate parents, provide services, teach them skills and set them to work.

Let’s see how we can create a movement #purplehouses4disabledkids

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November 2015
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